Civil Society

These are the European countries where young people are least religious

Pope Francis arrives to lead a special audience for the faithful of the dioceses of Cesena and Bologna in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Pope Francis arrives to lead a special audience for the faithful of the dioceses of Cesena and Bologna in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican March 21, 2018. Image: REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Roles of Religion

“Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good.”

That’s the conclusion of a new report that looks at the religious beliefs of young people in Europe.

Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London, told The Guardian that religion was “moribund” in Europe.

“With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.”

Losing their religion

The report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion, found that young people in the Czech Republic are the least religious in Europe – 91% of 16 to 29 year olds say they have no religion.

The vast majority (80%) of young people in Estonia say the same, as do 75% of Swedes.

In the UK, 70% have no religion and only 7% call themselves Anglican (followers of England’s established church), while 6% of young people identify as Muslim.

In France, 64% do not follow a faith.

Overall, in 12 of the 22 countries studied, over half of young adults claim not to identify with any particular religion or denomination.

Who is practising their faith?

Some countries do buck the trend, however.

Only 17% of young Poles say they have no religion. In Lithuania just 25% say they are not religious.

But even Europeans who are religious don’t always practice their faith.

Less than half of European Catholics regularly go to Mass. In Poland, 47% go once a week. But in Belgium only 2% do.

The only European countries where more than 10% of 16 to 29 year olds say they attend religious services at least weekly were Poland, Portugal and Ireland.

The global picture

Image: Pew Research Centre

But other research suggests that the picture for religion worldwide might be much rosier.

According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of the global population who are unaffiliated with any religion will decline by 2050, even though their total numbers will go up.

That’s because, apart from Buddhists, numbers of all the world’s major religious groups will grow in the coming decades.

Image: Pew Research Centre

What’s behind the European exodus?

Bullivant says that religion is no longer passed down from parent to child, telling The Guardian that many young Europeans have been baptised but then “never darken the door of a church again”.

“Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children. It just washes straight off them.

“The new default setting is ‘no religion’, and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide,” he said.

“In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.”

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