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The International Religion Monitor: Religious Belief Around the World PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 14 July 2008 06:25
Warning: long post ahead.

Over the weekend, i stumbled across the International Religion Monitor: This is an effort by the Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany to survey religious attitudes across a wide variety of countries, cultures, and religious traditions. They have surveyed 21,000 people in 21 countries so far and are now publishing their results.

And naturally, they are highlighting their Australian findings because WYD is in the news.

The IRM has three basic categories that seem minimalist to me but one gets the feeling that some kind of vague belief in a supreme being seems like a major achievement to this group.

The three categories are:

"highly-religious", religious matters play a central role in their personality,

"religious" are at least "open" to religious matters and patterns of interpretation,

religious matters, practices and experiences hardly feature in the lives of the "non-religious" at all.

To give you an base point, the US is in the upper end of religiosity according to this study.

54% highly religious, 35% religious, 9% "non-religious"

(Which does correlate with Pew findings that even self-described "atheists" and "agnostics" have a surprising amount of religious belief in the US. (more on that in another post)

The most religious country they have studied? Nigeria where 91% of people are "highly religious" and no one qualified as "non religious"

The most non-religious nations? From the bottom up

Russia 3% "highly religious" 53% "non religious"
France 8% "highly religious" 49% "non religious"
Austria 5% "highly religious" 39% "non religious"
Great Britain 16% "highly religious" 37% "non religious"
South Korea 22% "highly religious" 50% "non religious"
Germany 14% "highly religious" 31% "non religious"
Switzerland 14% "highly religious" 18% "non religious"
Australia 19% "highly religious" 31% "non religious"

Their basic conclusion: Europe's religious situation is unique and cannot be assumed to be representative of the rest of the world.

For instance, the perception that young people are less religious than their parents and grandparents is typically Western European and does not correspond to the reality worldwide.

80 percent of all young Protestants outside of Europe are deeply religious and 18 percent are religious, compared to just seven percent of young Protestants in Europe who are deeply religious, and 25 percent can only be classified as nominal members of their church.??

Sherry's note: Europe is the part of the world least influenced by the whole Independent/Pentecostal movement which is huge elsewhere.

Catholics: Although the proportion of deeply religious Catholics in Europe is 25 percent, outside Europe this figure is 68 percent.

Fascinating: - more young Protestants are deeply religious (80%) than are young Catholics outside Europe. (68%) while a considerably larger number of young European Catholics are more deeply religious (25%) than young Euro Protestants (7%).

Sherry's question: Is the somewhat brighter picture for European Catholics a reflection of the influence of the Catholic lay movements in Europe?

The figures for France and Austria can only be described as bleak. Daily prayer is no longer common practice among young Europeans. In France, just nine percent of young adults pray daily, in Russia the figure is eight percent and in Austria only around seven percent. (To compare, the Pew study showed that 58% of US Catholics and 78% of US evangelicals pray daily outside of services.) Church attendance in France for the 20 something crowd is about 1%. (CARA says that the weekly attendance of Gen X US Catholics is 15% while 17% of Catholic Millennials attend Mass every week)

The former Communist bloc's situation is also grim: Only a third of young people in Eastern Europe and Russia have been christened, (baptized) and most young people have no connection at all to faith and the Church. Only 13 percent are deeply religious.?


According to these findings, the US is more religious than India. (41% "highly religious") (Although since HInduism is such a different animal, the questions might not have captured reality. Should we change the expression to "the US is a country of NIgerians run by Russians?"

Poland is not that high on the "highly religious" scale. (only 29%) While only 6% are considered "non religious", the vast majority of Poles fell into the "religious" category: At least "open" to religious matters and patterns of interpretation"

I e-mailed a close friend who is a Poland scholar and serious Catholic (and currently in Poland) and got his take:

My own sense is that Poles probably in general wouldn't do well on a test that asked them to articulate/or measured their beliefs in ways that would distinguish sharply between secular and sacred. There is a very real way in which this is almost still like Christendom - many people still seem to take for granted that religion/"the Church" and their faith just are. The sense of a distinct option to chose non-belief or other faiths does not seem as highly developed here - hence I think an effort to measure faith via some kind of "objective" multiple choice/fill in the blank test is likely to not get the full reality of religious experience in a place where even the atheists are pretty Catholic (in a very "traditional" sense).

There are modern Catholics here, and I think one of the reasons that both Catholicism and the Church are doing relatively well in influencing Polish society is that a good number of clergy really do get what it means to be a disciple - the homilies I've heard from Dominicans really do try to push people to think about what it means to be a Christian, and there is a lack of concern for liturgical correctness - I went to a mass for families with children where a kid with a microphone went around during the prayers of the people and encouraged other children to offer their own petitions - tis the kind of thing that would drive some Catholics bezerk if it was done in a US parish - but in Poland it fits.

But also I wonder if there is not a sense of expectations at work here too - in a country with some very powerful religious mojo, for someone to self-designate as "highly religious" or identify religion as playing such a major role in their own life might be because the benchmarks for comparison and expectations for what constitutes a high level of religiosity might be higher. Again, it could be that I'm seeing what I'm wanting to see - but it is hard to see so many people popping in spontaneously to pay visits to the Blessed Sacrament (and not just old ladies either - a good smattering of young moms, single women and young men too) or the gazzilion masses that every tiny parish has, or whole phalanxes of very young priests, nuns, etc. and not think that this isn't a religiously dynamic country.

My question: Of course, if we presume that people who live in an all-embracing religion-saturated culture would be a disadvantage when asked questions about self-conscious religious choice, how is it that people in Nigeria, Guatemala, Indonesia, Morocco, and Brazil (all countries at the top of the "highly religious" heap) were able to answer them? NIgeria, Guatemala, and Brazil are hotbeds of evangelical/Independent/Pentecostal Christianity but Morocco and Indonesia are not.

Here's another revealing tidbit:

"Most young religious Europeans view sex as a private matter and only a minority believe that their religious beliefs influence their sexual relationships.

Religious considerations have an impact on the love lives of just seven percent of young Protestants in Europe, 12 percent of Orthodox believers and 14 percent of Catholics.

However, the picture outside of Europe is quite different: here, no less than 67 percent of Protestants and 68 percent of free-church Protestants (i.e, evangelicals) see a connection between their religious beliefs and sexuality. Catholics outside of Europe are more emancipated in this respect. Only around half (52 percent) say that their personal faith affects their own sexuality."

Sherry's comments: Hence the inability to take Church teaching on the topic seriously. One's relationship with God is just not connected to one's sexual life.

Love how Catholics are more "emancipated"! That phrase says everything about the assumptions of the people behind the survey.


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