Europe does religion without the politics, suggests research

By staff writers
February 6, 2009

The Bertelsmann Stiftung International Religion Monitor study says its research shows that Christian faith still has a strong personal influence in Europe - but not so much on people's political outlook.

On average, nearly three-quarters (74%) of people surveyed in Germany, France, Austria, Poland, Switzerland and the UK think of themselves as religious or very religious.

Italy and Poland came top of the six countries, with 89% and 87% respectively of the population seeing themselves as religious. The United Kingdom (63%) and France (54%) were the lowest. Russia, which was not included as part of Europe in this study, came lower still with 51%.

Overall, 57% of respondents said they attend religious services and practiced their faith “more or less regularly”, and 61% pray.

Traditional Roman Catholic countries tend to have more highly religious adherents than Protestant countries – in Poland 40% of people class themselves as very religious, compared with only 19% of the British population. Poles also attend church more regularly than other Europeans – 64% reported a high level of public religious practice compared with 17% in Germany.

Young people are as likely as the older generation to believe in God or some idea of the divine and the afterlife, with 41% of young people holding strong religious beliefs compared to 42% of the population as a whole.

The secular online news source EU Observer recently reported on the study – one of the first pieces of comment by EUO on religious affairs. The article quotes the survey saying: "the role which [religion] plays in tying together the countries of the European Union should not be underestimated".

However the EU Observer suggests that religious belief influences the political views of only 27% of respondents (and only 29% in Poland), and comments that "Europeans remain strongly religious but like to keep faith out of politics".

A recent report by the Christian development agency Tearfund in the UK suggested that the decline in religion there may have levelled out somewhat, with slight increases in occasional or irregular adherence - though denominations are still struggling to hold numbers and there has been significant decline since the 1960s.

Sociologists such as Professor Grace Davie at the University of Exeter have long argued that religion and spirituality are mutating rather than disappearing in Europe, even though that continent retains its exceptionalism for having secularised more than any other continent.

She suggests the changing patterns of believing and belonging, which defy the simple interpretations of both secularist and 'religious revivalist' advocates, are due the emergence of "multiple modernities" in the world today - whereas the old secularisation thesis was that 'modernisation' was always accompanied by the demise of religion.

The data now suggests otherwise.


With acknowledgements to: NOVA Research Centre (, Bertelsmann Stiftung (, and The EU Observer ( ,

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