Irreligion in Uruguay

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Religion in Uruguay (Latinobarometro, 2015)[1]

  Deist (6.3%)
  Atheist or Agnostic (41.7%)
  Catholic (37.4%)
  Other Christian (9.9%)
  Umbanda (1.9%)
  Judaism (0.2%)
  Other (1.0%)

Irreligion in Uruguay refers to the extent of nonreligion in the country. According to different estimations, non-religious people ranges from 30%[2] to 40%,[3] and over 47% of the population according to Public Opinion Polls.

Uruguay is traditionally the least religious country in South America, due to chronological political events influenced by positivism, Laicism, and other thoughts from intellectual Europeans at the Nineteenth Century.[4] Also, the resistance of indigenous population to evangelization, simultaneous to the lack of solid establishment Church in the Colonial Era. It's known that, historically, Irreligion has been present in Uruguayan identity as a stable culture, according to Nestor DaCosta (2003).

Atheism and Agnosticism has become an oral tradition into several generations, non-believers are a statistical minority, but present for more than a Century. Some investigations present that in recent times, secularism and non-religious are growth in religious landscape of Uruguay due to the influence of postmodernism like in Western European. Some experts argue that the number of non-religious people has stagnated, but non-Christian faiths are growing in recent decades (Conwell Investigation, 2013).

Jason Mandryk exposed that secularism lost influence slowly by the increase of interest in spirituality topics also a certain revival into Christianity,[5] today new generations are less anti-catholics as previous, specially in marginal areas other forms of Christianity (like Evangelicals) are growing, but African-faiths are gaining influence in all Uruguayan sectors, previously was practiced by some poor African descendents, today is very attractive by higher class (for example) specially by women's.

Socially, Uruguay still a very secular nation, although religious temples are growing in number, the public life is still materialistic, religion has been present exclusively in private.[6]

Secularization in Uruguay[edit]

During the Spanish Colonial Period, the Church started with a less imposition than other Hispanic territories, the reason was the relative small number of indigenous peoples, that allowed an easy introduction of Catholicism as a religion of Spaniards and Mestizos, however, until the first half of XIX Century, the Church regulated the State, several institutions and lands like other countries in Latin America.[7] According to some historians, in fact the Uruguayan dioceses were the least powerful in the continent, for these reason the priests (both Spanish and the future migration of Italian priests) were majority less capable to teach and preferred evangelize the rural poor. Since the formation of Republic after the Great War, Uruguay start received Spanish, Italian and French immigrants, French immigrants in Uruguay were traditionally anti-clerical and Compte follower's, instead Spanish and Italians that came as Catholics but due to the little Church influence, several taken independence from religious authorities.

In latest years previous the definitely independence both Spain and Brazilian Empire, most into Uruguayans with higher education were influencing by skeptical European writers and the Ancient Greek Philosophy, from the independence the most cultured Uruguayans started to inserting a secular and humanistic political views against to Catholic Church, and also the tiny but growing number of afro-Brazilian beliefs practitioners. The earliest positive results was in 1859 by the renovation apostolic vicar and 1861 when the cemeteries passed to State authority removing religious-funerary ceremonies.[8] In the mid-1860's, the Colorado Party was consolidated in the Uruguayan Government bringing secular reformations that included consolidation of civil marriage and secularization of buildings, along with the increase of technology and urban areas, thousands with poor Catholic understanding were becoming irreligious, but principally due to a lack of religious knowledge than a real conscience of disbelief. Jose Pedro Varela in 1877 promoted the laicist education in Uruguay, although the Catholic side showed more contra-political resistance, several intellectual citizens supported this idea with a creation of secular schools with scientific education, a decade later the archbishop Mariano Soler managed to establish the liberty of Catholic impartation and the protection for public Catholic Schools.[9]

In 1890's the secular outbreak was subsided temporarily until the entry of Jose Batlle y Ordoñez in early 1900's with an aggressive secular politics in which even non-religious people was surprised like the divorce by women decision, the prohibition of religious symbols in children's hospital and the changes of departamental denominations, the Batllismo movement was consolidated with the total Church-State separation in 1917 with a secular Constitution and economics reforms under some marxist inspiration. After the Battlist period (1903-1931), the Church focused their efforts to educate Catholics and to be a Christian spiritual refuge for all citizens, at same time the rules and influence of Colorado Party was losing impact with a relative end in 1956.[10]

Chronological Statistics[edit]

Year Unaffiliated Christianity Others Survey
1908 37.2 37.2
62.8 62.8
0 Census[11]
1910* 39 39
61 61
0 Pew Forum[12]
1950* 37 37
63 63
0 Pew Forum
1970 31 31
68 68
1 1
Pew Forum
1970 28.4 28.4
67.8 67.8
3.8 3.8
Conwell Studio
1980 35 35
61.4 61.4
3.6 3.6
2006 40.4 40.4
58.2 58.2
1.3 1.3
2014 37 37
60 60
3 3
Pew Forum
2020 29.8 29.8
61.2 61.2
9.0 9
Conwell Studio


  1. By 1900, about ten percent of total Non-religious people in the World lived in Uruguay,[13] today in whatever way don't reach at least 0.1% knowing the boom of World's growth population accompanied by the growth of non-religious since the Communist State or post-modernism influence.
  2. In the table of timeline evolution into Nones, Christians and Others the sources demonstrate stability trends in more than a Century, however while in National Census (INE) irreligious population round usually two fifths of population, in Pew Forum statistics round a third with a decrease between 1910 and 1970 and a growth for 2014. Until 1963 were separated atheists/agnostics to deists, in 1908 approximately 37% of population reported themselves as non-believers the atheist/agnostic group growth from 6 to 14% between 1963 and 1994. According to Latinobarometro, irreligious Uruguayans grown rapidly from 18% in 1995 to 38% in 2013.
  3. Statistically, Catholics still a relative majority even during the Batllist Government, although the ´Catholic Ghetto´ was know since 1920's the Catholic Uruguayans who still fought to evangelize the nation along with rural poor Catholics, differentiated for the secular and urban society inhabited by a convivience of non-religious peoples and open-minded Catholics.

Possible future decrease[edit]

According to Pew Forum projections, unaffiliated population (irreligious) will be in the 40 percent traditional atmosphere with 42.1 percent by 2050, the irreligious natality rate is insignificant more higher than Christians both with 2 kids per woman as of 2010.[14] Actually other sources and even some experts Uruguayans think that religion and more special spirituality are growing into Uruguayan society. Perhaps the idea of vinculate religion with ecclesiastic institution is gradually replacing by the seek of spiritual identity or alternative explaining why ´Irreligious´ figures are apparently growing along with the increase of spiritual centers and Churches.

Jason Mandrik explain that secularism in Uruguay was involved on internal crisis since the lost of anticlerical politics impact, economic crisis and dictatorship governments that predominated in Uruguay during the second half of Twenty Century, those phenomena caused increase of drug addiction, suicides and crime especially in low urban sectors, although previously there was an interest for know other philosophies and beliefs as part of a culturized population. In his investigation, only ethno-religious practitioners are growing far from the national growth (0.3%) contrary to non-religious that even demographically has negatives growths representing 27% of population as of 2010, by 2025 was projected under a quarter part.

Gerardo Caetano sayed in end's 1990 that the strength of Uruguayan ´laicite´ is losing force in the country, slowly in the concentrated cities but in marginal areas and with more nature contact syncretism is today strongly rooted than ever. Several non-practicing Catholics are looking alternative churches specially into Evangelicals, Jehovah Witness and Scientology. Other historians argues about the new age boom that includes centers of energy renovation and alternative medicine. Parallel of rest Latin American countries when public life is just changing to be more secular (depending the grade between countries), the situation of Uruguay is an increase of importance about religious views in society that could drop secularism.


  1. ^ "Latinobarómetro Database".
  2. ^ "Christianity in its Global Context, 1970–2020 (P.60)" (PDF). Gordon Conwell PDF.
  3. ^ "Flash 6_ Religion" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-23. Retrieved 2012-10-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Nigel Barber: Uruguay: A Secular Outpost Legalizes Abortion". HuffPost. Retrieved 2012-10-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Kurian, George; Mark, Lamport (7 May 2015). Encyclopedia of Christian Education, Volumen 3. Roman & Litllefield. p. 1334. ISBN 978-0-8108-8493-9.
  6. ^ Phil Zuckerman (30 October 2006). The Cambridge Companion to Atheism - Michael Martin - Google Books. ISBN 9781139827393. Retrieved 2012-07-15. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ "Religion in Uruguay". Country Studies.
  8. ^ Armet, Stephen. "Explaining How Uruguay Became a 'Religious Ghetto' (PDF)". ResearchGate.
  9. ^ Pereira, Carmen. "Religion and the Secular State: Uruguayan Report (PDF)" (PDF).
  10. ^ Jermyn, Leslie; Wong, Winnie (2010). Uruguay - Leslie Jermyn, Winnie Wong - Google Books. ISBN 9780761444824. Retrieved 2012-07-15. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ "PROLADES - Religión en Uruguay" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Religion in Latin America". Pew Research Center. November 13, 2014.
  13. ^ "Annual Table of World Religions, 1900-2025".
  14. ^ "Religions in Uruguay | PEW-GRF".