There has been “a notable decline across the globe in self-description of being religious” in the last seven years, according to a poll by WIN-Gallup International.
The poll asks people to specify, “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?”
Based on interviews with more than 50,000 men and women in 57 countries across five continents, the same poll question was used also in 2005, providing trend data. The 39 countries polled in both waves saw those self-identifying as religious drop by 9% in seven years. Most of the shift is toward those saying they are not religious; the category of “convinced atheist” has also risen 3% overall (13% in total).
Some individual countries have seen even more marked shifts. The country often known as “Catholic Ireland” now ranks among the most non-religious countries on the Religiosity Index, having seen a 22% decrease (less than half, 47%, now consider themselves religious).
In line with other surveys, the poll also found that religious views correlate with greater poverty, and that people are less likely to identify as religious the more formal education they have received.
IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx commented, “Our member organizations variously support the non-religious, and promote humanist values around the world, but it is not part of IHEU’s mission per se to convert religious believers to atheism. However, global trends in secularization are interesting and important and beneath the headlines this poll contains more interesting information.
“Of course, it is significant that some of the biggest decreases in religiosity have occurred in countries which have seen serious public crises within organized religion, such as Ireland and the United States.”
“But missing from most reports is that many who identify as “not religious” do still identify with a religious position, and this differs widely from religion to religion. So, across the polled countries, 16% of self-identifying Christians nevertheless identified as “not religious”, compared to 20% of self-identifying Muslims. So there is a higher propotion of “not religious” Muslims than Christians, according to this poll. It surely has some implications for more conservative Islamic notions prohibiting apostasy and ideas of what it is to be a Muslim that so many Muslims describe themselves as “not religious”. This has some implications as well for some western commentators, those who regard Muslims as homogenous, dogmatic bloc.”
Hindus were most likely to identify as religious, while only 38% of Jews described themselves as religious, making Judaism the most secularized religion.
Eggerickx continued, “It should also be noted that while many around the world think of religious skepticism as a western export, the highest proportion of self-identifying “convinced atheists” today are in East Asia, with China and Japan together at the top of the Atheism Index. Given that 47% of the Chinese respondents identify as atheists, this means that around half the “convinced atheists” in the world live in this one, very populous country.”
The top three most “religious” countries in the world were Ghana, Nigeria, and Armenia. “Now, Nigeria has huge problems with Christian-Muslim sectarian conflict at the moment, and problems with Islamism and “witchcraft” abuses. But while all countries have problems, Ghana’s current situation with religious strife doesn’t compare. This should remind us that a measure of religiosity by the numbers is not a measure of the strength of individual conviction, or sectarian conflict, or of superstition, or the extent of theocracy, and so on. Likewise, the highest proportions of self-identifying atheists are in China, Japan and the Czech Republic. We know that China has significant issues on its human rights record, freedom of expression, and indeed freedom of religion and belief. So, while secular countries do tend to be wealthier and rank more highly for press freedom and for happiness, China’s record shows that secularization purely in terms of numbers of atheists is no guarantor of the humanist values held dear in many secular countries.”