Religion ‘less important’ to most people than 20 years ago, surveys find

Denver, Colo., Apr 27, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Participants in a study spanning 27 countries say that religion plays a less important role in public life than it once did, though in many parts of the world, participants said that religion’s importance is on the rise, or that they would like to see an increased role for religion in society.

In the study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, 37% of respondents say religion plays a “less important role” in their countries than it did 20 years ago, while 27% say it plays a more important role.

Nearly 40% of respondents said they favor an increased role for religion in society.

In addition, Pew studies suggest that although fewer people in the US and Canada believe that religion plays an “important role,” a majority of respondents in several Asian and African countries say religion’s role in their lives has become more important in recent years.  

Fifty-eight percent of Americans surveyed and 64% of Canadians say religion has a “less important role” than 20 years ago, Pew says. Roughly half of Europeans said the same thing, and 1 in 5 Europeans said there has been no change in the role of religion over the past 20 years.

By contrast, more than half in Indonesia (83%), the Philippines (58%) and India (54%) believe that religion has a bigger impact on their country today than it did 20 years ago, Pew says.

In the Philippines, young adults are 15% more likely to favor an increased role for religion than older people.

Sixty-five and sixty percent, respectively, of people in Nigeria and Kenya favor a greater role for religion in society. In addition, 96% and 93% respectively in those countries said religion is “very important” in their lives.

In contrast, people tended to say religion has become less important or there has been no change in South Korea, Japan and Australia.

In Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims have clashed in recent years, a majority of Nigerian Muslims— 88%— are in favor of a more important role for religion, while a smaller majority of Christians— 61%—say the same, Pew says. However, more Christians than Muslims are inclined to say there has been no change in the relative importance of religion in Nigeria.

The Pew authors noted that some countries have a large majority of respondents “concentrated at one end of the question of how important religion is to them,” which makes a reliable analysis of the question difficult.

“For example, so many survey takers in Indonesia, Kenya, Tunisia and Nigeria say religion is very important to them that there is a lack of respondents who say religion is ‘somewhat’ or not too important,” the authors wrote.

“The reverse is true in countries with less religious publics. An overwhelming majority of Swedish and Japanese respondents say religion is less important to them.”


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