Religion in Europe

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Religion in Europe has been a major influence on today's society art, culture, philosophy and law. The largest religion in Europe for at least a millennium and a half has been Christianity. Three countries in Southeastern Europe have Muslim majorities. Ancient European religions included veneration for deities such as Zeus and Odin. Modern revival movements of these religions include Heathenism, Rodnovery, Romuva, Druidry, Wicca, and others. Smaller religions include Judaism, Dharmic religions, and some East Asian religions, which are found in their largest groups in Britain, France, and Kalmykia.

Over the last several decades, religious practice has been declining as secularization has increased.[2]

History[edit]

Little is known about the prehistoric religion of Neolithic Europe. Bronze and Iron Age religion in Europe as elsewhere was predominantly polytheistic (Ancient Greek religion, Ancient Roman religion, Finnish paganism, Celtic polytheism, Germanic paganism, etc.). The Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in AD 380. During the Early Middle Ages, most of Europe underwent Christianization, a process essentially complete with the Christianization of Scandinavia in the High Middle Ages. The emergence of the notion of "Europe" or "Western World" is intimately connected with the idea of "Christendom", especially since Christianity in the Middle East was marginalized by the rise of Islam from the 8th century, a constellation that led to the Crusades, which although unsuccessful militarily were an important step in the emergence of a religious identity of Europe. At all times, traditions of folk religion existed largely independent from official denomination or dogmatic theology.

The Great Schism of the 11th century and Reformation of the 16th century were to tear apart Christendom into hostile factions, and following the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, atheism and agnosticism have spread across Europe. 19th-century Orientalism contributed to a certain popularity of Buddhism, and the 20th century brought increasing syncretism, New Age, and various new religious movements divorcing spirituality from inherited traditions for many Europeans. The latest history brought increased secularisation, and religious pluralism.[3]

Religiosity[edit]

European countries have experienced a decline in church membership and church attendance.[4][5] A relevant example of ongoing trend is Sweden where the church of Sweden, previously the state-church until 2000, claimed to have 82.9% of the Swedish population as its flock in 2000. Surveys showed this had dropped to 72.9% by 2008.[6] However in the 2005 eurobarometer poll only 23%[7] and in the 2010 eurobarometer poll only 18%[1] of the Swedish population said they believed in a personal God.

Gallup poll 2007–2008[edit]

Lack of Importance of Religion in Europe by Gallup poll (2007–2008)
Country Percentage
 Estonia
  
84%
 Sweden
  
83%
 Denmark
  
80%
 Norway
  
78%
 Azerbaijan
  
74%
 Czech Republic
  
74%
 France
  
73%
 United Kingdom
  
71%
 Finland
  
69%
 Netherlands
  
66%
 Belarus
  
65%
 Russia
  
63%
 Albania
  
63%
 Bulgaria
  
62%
 Latvia
  
62%
 Belgium
  
61%
 Hungary
  
59%
 Slovenia
  
59%
 Spain
  
59%
 Germany
  
57%
  Switzerland
  
56%
 Ukraine
  
54%
 Lithuania
  
52%
 Slovakia
  
51%
 Montenegro
  
48%
 Serbia
  
45%
 Austria
  
42%
 Ireland
  
42%
 Moldova
  
31%
 Croatia
  
30%
 Greece
  
30%
 Armenia
  
29%
 Bosnia and Herzegovina
  
29%
 Portugal
  
27%
 Italy
  
26%
 Cyprus
  
24%
 Poland
  
23%
 Georgia
  
22%
 Macedonia
  
20%
 Romania
  
18%
 Malta
  
16%

During 2007–2008, a Gallup poll asked in several countries the question "Does religion occupy an important place in your life?" The table on right shows percentage of people who answered "No".[8]

Eurobarometer poll 2010[edit]

The Eurobarometer Poll 2010[1] found that, on average, 51% of the citizens of EU member states state that they "believe in God", 26% "believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" while 20% "do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force". 3% declined to answer. According to a recent study (Dogan, Mattei, Religious Beliefs in Europe: Factors of Accelerated Decline), 47% of Frenchmen declared themselves as agnostic in 2003. This situation is often called "Post-Christian Europe". A decrease in religiousness and church attendance in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden has been noted, despite a concurrent increase in some countries Greece (2% in 1 year)[citation needed]. The Eurobarometer poll must be taken with caution, however, as there are discrepancies between it and national census results. For example in the United Kingdom, the 2001 census revealed over 70% of the population regarded themselves as "Christian" with only 15% professing to have "no religion", though the wording of the question has been criticized as "leading" by the British Humanist Association.[9] Romania, one of the most religious countries in Europe, witnessed a threefold increase in the number of atheists between 2002 and 2011, as revealed by the most recent national census.[10]

Eurobarometer Poll 2005 chart results

The following is a list of European countries ranked by religiosity, based on belief in a God, according to the Eurobarometer Poll 2010.[1] The 2010 Eurobarometer Poll asked whether the person believed "there is a God", believed "there is some sort of spirit of life force", or "didn't believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force".

Eurobarometer Poll 2010[1]
Country "I believe
there is a God"
"I believe there is some
sort of spirit or life force"
"I don't believe there is any sort
of spirit, God or life force"
Malta Malta 94% 4% 2%
Romania Romania 92% 7% 1%
Cyprus Cyprus 88% 8% 3%
Greece Greece 79% 16% 4%
Poland Poland 79% 14% 5%
Italy Italy 74% 20% 6%
Republic of Ireland Ireland 70% 20% 7%
Portugal Portugal 70% 15% 12%
Slovakia Slovakia 63% 23% 13%
Spain Spain 59% 20% 19%
Lithuania Lithuania 47% 37% 12%
Luxembourg Luxembourg 46% 22% 24%
Hungary Hungary 45% 34% 20%
Austria Austria 44% 38% 12%
Germany Germany 44% 25% 27%
Latvia Latvia 38% 48% 11%
United Kingdom United Kingdom 37% 33% 25%
Belgium Belgium 37% 31% 27%
Bulgaria Bulgaria 36% 43% 15%
Finland Finland 33% 42% 22%
Slovenia Slovenia 32% 36% 26%
Denmark Denmark 28% 47% 24%
Netherlands Netherlands 28% 39% 30%
France France 27% 27% 40%
Estonia Estonia 18% 50% 29%
Sweden Sweden 18% 45% 34%
Czech Republic Czech Republic 16% 44% 37%
European Union EU27 51% 26% 20%
Croatia Croatia (joined EU in 2013) 69% 22% 7%
Switzerland Switzerland (EFTA) 44% 39% 11%
Iceland Iceland (EEA, not EU) 31% 49% 18%
Norway Norway (EEA, not EU) 22% 44% 29%

The decrease in theism is illustrated in the 1981 and 1999 according to the World Values Survey,[11] both for traditionally strongly theist countries (Spain: 86.8%:81.1%; Ireland 94.8%:93.7%) and for traditionally secular countries (Sweden: 51.9%:46.6%; France 61.8%:56.1%; Netherlands 65.3%:58.0%). Some countries nevertheless show increase of theism over the period, Italy 84.1%:87.8%, Denmark 57.8%:62.1%. For a comprehensive study on Europe, see Mattei Dogan's "Religious Beliefs in Europe: Factors of Accelerated Decline" in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion. Malta and Romania are the most religious countries and Estonia and Czech Republic are the least religious countries in Europe.

Maps[edit]

Belief "there is a God" per country based on Eurobaromer 2005 poll 
Belief "there is some sort of spirit or life force" per country based on Eurobarometer 2005 poll 
No belief in "any sort of spirit, God or life force" per country based on Eurobarometer 2005 poll 

Abrahamic religions[edit]

Baha'i Faith[edit]

The first newspaper reference to the religious movement began with coverage of the Báb, whom Bahá'ís consider the founder of a precursor religion, occurred in The Times on 1 November 1845, only a little over a year after the Báb first started his mission.[12] British, Russian, and other diplomats, businessmen, scholars, and world travelers also took note of the precursor Bábí religion[13] most notably in 1865 by Frenchman Arthur de Gobineau who wrote the first and most influential account. In April 1890 Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University met Bahá'u'lláh and left the only detailed description by a Westerner.[14]

Starting in the 1890s Europeans began to convert to the religion. In 1910 Bahá'u'lláh's son and appointed successor, `Abdu'l-Bahá embarked on a three-year journey to including Europe and North America[15] and then wrote a series of letters that were compiled together in the book titled Tablets of the Divine Plan which included mention of the need to spread the religion in Europe following the war.[16]

A 1925 list of "leading local Bahá'í Centres" of Europe listed organized communities of many countries - the largest being in Germany.[17] However the religion was soon banned in a couple countries: in 1937 Heinrich Himmler disbanded the Bahá'í Faith's institutions in Germany because of its 'international and pacifist tendencies'[18] and in Russia in 1938 "monstrous accusations" against Bahá'ís[18] and a Soviet government policy of oppression of religion resulted in Bahá'í communities in 38 cities across Soviet territories ceasing to exist.[19] However the religion recovered in both countries. The religion has generally spread such that in recent years the Association of Religion Data Archives estimated the Bahá'ís in European countries to number in hundreds to tens of thousands.[20]

Christianity[edit]

View of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the largest European Roman Catholic Church
Cathedral of Saint Sava in Serbia is the largest Orthodox church in the world
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia is one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals
The St John's Church, Bergen is a Lutheran church in Norway
Calvinist Temple Saint-Étienne (Protestant St. Stephen's Church) in France

The majority of Europeans describe themselves as Christians, divided into a large number of denominations.[21] Christian denominations are usually classed in three categories: Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism (a diverse group including Lutheranism, Zwinglianism-Calvinism-Presbyterianism, and Anglicanism as well as numerous minor denominations, including Baptism, Methodism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, etc.).

European culture, throughout most of its history, has been nearly equivalent to Christian culture.[22] The Christian culture was the predominant force in western civilization, guiding the course of philosophy, art, and science.[22][23]

Christianity is still the largest religion in Europe according to a 2011 survey, 76.2% of Europeans considered themselves Christians at that time.[24][25] According to a 2012 study about Religiosity in the European Union in 2012 by Eurobarometer Christianity is the largest religion in the European Union (account 72% of EU population), Catholics were the largest Christian group in EU, and accounted for 48% of the EU population, While Protestants made up 12%, and Eastern Orthodoxs made up 8%, and other Christians 4%.[26]

Roman Catholicism is the largest denomination with adherents mostly existing in Latin Europe (which includes France, Italy, Spain, southern [Wallon] Belgium, Portugal), Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, western Ukraine, and the Czech Republic, but also the southern parts of Germanic Europe (which includes Austria, Luxembourg, northern [Flemish] Belgium, southern and western Germany, and Liechtenstein).

There are numerous minor Protestant movements, including various Evangelical congregations.

Islam[edit]

Islam came to parts of European islands and coasts on the Mediterranean during the 8th-century Muslim conquests. In the Iberian Peninsula and parts of southern France, various Muslim states existed before the Reconquista; Islam spread in southern Italy briefly through the Emirate of Sicily and Emirate of Bari. During the Ottoman expansion, Islam was spread into the Balkans and even part of central Europe. Muslims have also been historically present in modern-day Russia, beginning with Volga Bulgaria in the 10th century and the conversion of the Golden Horde to Islam. In recent years, Muslims have migrated to Europe as residents and temporary workers.

Muslims make up over 98% of the population in Turkey,[27] 90% in Kosovo, 40% in Bosnia and Herzegovina,[28] 56% in Albania,[29][30] 33% in Macedonia,[31] 19,11% in Montenegro,[32] between 10 and 15% in Russia,[33] 9% in France,[34][35][36] 8% in Bulgaria,[37] 6% in the Netherlands, 5% in Denmark, just over 4% in Switzerland and Austria, between 3 and 4% in Greece and almost 3% in the United Kingdom.[38] The total number of Muslims in the European Union in 2007 was about 16 million (3.2%).[39]

Judaism[edit]

The Jews were dispersed within the Roman Empire from the 2nd century. At one time Judaism was practiced widely throughout the European continent; throughout the Middle Ages, Jews were frequently accused of ritual murder and faced pogroms and legal discrimination. The Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany decimated Jewish population, and today, France is the home of largest Jewish community in Europe with 1% of the total population (between 483,000 and 500,000 Jews).[40][41] Other European countries with notable Jewish populations include Germany, the United Kingdom (291,000 Jewish),[41] and Russia (194,000) which the home for the Eastern Europe's largest Jewish community.[41]

Deism[edit]

During the Enlightenment, Deism became influential especially in England and France. Biblical concepts were challenged by concepts such as a heleocentric universe and other scientific challenges to the Bible.[42] Notable early deists include Voltaire.[43]

Irreligion[edit]

The trend towards secularism during the 20th century has a number of reasons, depending on the individual country:

  • France has been traditionally laicist since the French Revolution. Today the country is 40% Atheist. The remaining population is made up evenly of both Christians and people who believe in a god, but aren't involved in organized religion.[44] France society overall is still secular.
  • Some parts of Eastern Europe were secularized as a matter of state doctrine under Communist rule in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Albania was an officially (and constitutionally binding) atheist state from 1967 to 1991.[45] The countries where the fewest people reported a religious belief were the Czech Republic (19%, traditionally Catholic) and Estonia (16%, traditionally Lutheran).[46] The region of Eastern Germany, which was also under Soviet occupation, is believed to be the least religious region in Europe.[47][48] Other post-communist countries, however, have seen the opposite effect, with religion being very important in countries such as Romania,Lithuania and Poland.
  • The traditionally Protestant countries have seen a general decrease in church attendance since the 1970s. This concerns Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.[49]

The trend towards secularism has been less pronounced in the traditionally Catholic countries of Mediterranean Europe. Greece as the only traditionally Eastern Orthodox country in Europe which has not been part of the communist Eastern Bloc also retains a very high religiosity, with in excess of 95% of Greeks adhering to the Greek Orthodox Church. The trend is also visible in the decrease of the importance of marriage: in 2011, 39.5% of births in the European Union were outside of marriage.[50] Several countries in Europe recorded a majority of births outside of marriage in 2011 - these include Iceland (65.0%), Estonia (59.7%), Slovenia (56.8%), Bulgaria (56.1%), France (55.8%), Norway (55.0%), Sweden (54.3%).[50] These countries tend to be less religious ones (less than half of the population believing in God) whereas half of the European population believes in God.[51]

According to Pew Research Center survey in 2012 religiously unaffiliated (include agnostic and atheist) make up about 18.2% of Europeans population.[52] according to the same survey religiously unaffiliated make up a majority of the population only in two European countries: Czech Republic (75%) and Estonia (60%).[52]

Agnosticism[edit]

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, atheism or agnosticism has increased, with falling church attendance and membership in various European countries.[53] The 2010 eurobarometer poll found that on total average, of the EU27 population, 51% "believe in a God", 26% believe in "some sort of spirit or life force" and 20% had neither of these forms of belief.[1] Across the EU, belief was higher among women, increased with age, those with strict upbringing, those with the lowest levels of formal education and those leaning towards right-wing politics.[46]:10–11

Atheism[edit]

A 2010 Eurostat Eurobarometer poll, revealed that 51% of European Union citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 26% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 20% that "they do not believe there is a spirit, God, nor life force". Results were varied widely between different countries, on the one end 94% of Maltese respondents stating that they believe in God and on the other end only 16% of the people of Czech Republic stating the same.[1]

Neopaganism[edit]

Wicca[edit]

Wiccans gather for a handfasting ceremony at Avebury in England.

A study by Ronald Hutton compared a number of different sources (including membership lists of major UK organizations, attendance at major events, subscriptions to magazines, etc.) and used standard models for extrapolating likely numbers. This estimate accounted for multiple membership overlaps as well as the number of adherents represented by each attendee of a pagan gathering. Hutton estimated that there are 250,000 neopagan adherents in the United Kingdom, roughly equivalent to the national Hindu community.[54]

Neo-Druidry[edit]

The religious development of Druidry was largely influenced by Iolo Morganwg.[55] Modern practises aim to imitate the practises of the Celtic peoples of the Iron Age.[56]

Germanic Neo-Paganism[edit]

An Odinist wedding in Spain, 2010

In the United Kingdom Census 2001, 300 people registered as Heathen in England and Wales.[57] However, many Heathens followed the advice of the Pagan Federation (PF) and simply described themselves as "Pagan", while other Heathens did not specify their religious beliefs.[57] In the 2011 census, 1,958 people self-identified as Heathen in England and Wales. A further 251 described themselves as Reconstructionist and may include some people reconstructing Germanic paganism.[58]

Ásatrúarfélagið was recognized as an official religion by the Icelandic government in 1973. For its first 20 years it was led by farmer & poet Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson.[citation needed] By 2003, it had 777 members,[59] and by 2008, it had 1,270 members, corresponding to 0.4% of Iceland's population.[citation needed] In Iceland, Germanic Paganism has an impact larger that the number of its adherents.[60]

In Sweden, the Swedish Forn Sed Assembly (Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige) was formed in 1994 under the name Swedish AsatruSociety (Sveriges asatrosamfund) and is since 2007 recognized as a religious organization by the Swedish government. In the spring 2010, on the "year-ting", the Communion changed its name to the current name. In Denmark Forn Siðr was formed in 1999, and was officially recognized in 2003[61] The Norwegian Åsatrufellesskapet Bifrost was formed in 1996; as of 2011, the fellowship has some 300 members. Foreningen Forn Sed was formed in 1999, and has been recognized by the Norwegian government as a religious organization.[citation needed]

Dharmic religions[edit]

Jain temple in Antwerp, Belgium

Buddhism[edit]

Buddhism is thinly spread throughout Europe, and the fastest growing religion in recent years[62][63] with about 3 million adherents.[64][65] In Kalmykia, Tibetan Buddhism is prevalent.[66]

Hinduism[edit]

Hinduism mainly among Indian immigrants. Growing rapidly in recent years, notably in the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands.[67][68] In 1998, there were an estimated 1.4 million Hindu adherents in Europe.[69]

Jainism[edit]

Jainism, small membership rolls, mainly among Indian immigrants in Belgium and the United Kingdom, as well as several converts from western and northern Europe.[70][71]

Sikhism[edit]

Sikhism has nearly 1 million adherents in Europe. Most of the community live in United Kingdom (750,000) and Italy (70,000).[72][73] Around 10,000 in Belgium and France.[74] Netherlands and Germany have a Sikh population of 12,000.[75][76] All other countries have 5,000 or fewer Sikhs.

Other religions[edit]

Other religions represented in Europe includes:

Official religions[edit]

A number of countries in Europe have official religions, including Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Vatican City (Catholic); Greece (Eastern Orthodox); Armenia (Apostolic Orthodoxy) ; Denmark, Iceland and the United Kingdom (England alone) (Anglican). In Switzerland, some cantons are officially Catholic, others Reformed Protestant. Some Swiss villages even have their religion as well as the village name written on the signs at their entrances.

Georgia has no established church, but the Georgian Orthodox Church enjoys de facto privileged status. Much the same applies in Germany with the Evangelical Church and the Roman Catholic Church, and the Jewish community. In Finland, both the Finnish Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church are official. England, a part of the United Kingdom, has Anglicanism as its official religion. Scotland, another part of the UK, has Presbyterianism as its national church, but it is no longer "official". In Sweden, the national church used to be Lutheranism, but it is no longer "official" since 2000. Azerbaijan, France, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain and Turkey are officially "secular".

Rastafari, communities in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and elsewhere. Traditional African Religions (including Muti), mainly in the United Kingdom and France, including West African Vodun and Haitian Vodou (Voodoo), mainly among West African and black Caribbean immigrants in the UK and France.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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