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Map of religions reveals a world of change for Christians, Muslims and Jews

By Cathy Lynn Grossman
Religion News Service

Muslims will overtake Christians by the end of this century.

India, now mostly Hindu, will become the world’s largest Muslim country.

The numbers of people with no religious identity will soar in the United States and Europe, but the unaffiliated will lose worldwide market share as Christians maintain a steady growth.

All these changes are drawn from the Pew Research Center’s new projections, released Thursday, April 2, that map global faith traditions and how they’re likely to shift by 2050.

The report says nothing about the transcendent message of any religion. It makes no claims about believers’ level of devotion or practice.

Instead, it’s a story of nitty-gritty statistics: Which group is having babies (lots of babies or just a few)? Which ones have many young people, and which are slowly graying out? Whose followers are on the move — from one nation to another, or switching religions?

“Demographics are an underappreciated force that is shifting the contours of faith,” said Conrad Hackett, the Pew demographer who led the six-year study. Hackett analyzed projected changes for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religions, other minority religions and the unaffiliated.

Those contours matter. The Pew Research Center doesn’t delve into political forecasting, but readers of the report’s projections from 2010 to 2050 might feel a thumb press down on many sore spots and raise questions beyond the scope of Pew’s data:

• Will prejudice against Muslims rise as the percentage of people in Europe who are Muslim climbs to 10.2 percent, up from today’s 5.9 percent? “The projected growth rate is only about 1 percentage point a decade,” said Hackett. “But it’s a very visible change: More people wearing veils, more behaving in culturally distinct ways.”

• Who will assume the minority voice in the U.S. public square as Muslims outpace Jews as the country’s third-largest group, after Christians and the unaffiliated?

• Will religious tensions flare as India becomes the world’s most populous Muslim nation, supplanting Indonesia? “The quality of interfaith relations in such a country (about to pass China as the world’s most populous) will be of global importance,” said Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research.

• How will more secular regions such as Europe and the U.S. relate to deeply religious regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, divided among Christians and Muslims?

“The question is: ‘How will we understand each other?’” said Cooperman. “Sub-Saharan Africa is 12 percent of the world population now, and it will be 20 percent by 2050. That’s huge growth for people to get their heads around.”

The report, sponsored by the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, offers many more head-spinning numbers and a religion-by-religion, region-by-region analysis of data from 198 countries and territories, representing nearly all the world’s population.

“No one has done anything like this before, so we had no idea about the big picture,” said Hackett.

Among the major findings:

• “As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third of the Earth’s 6.9 billion people. Islam came in second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.” Four in 10 of all the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.

• While Christian numbers will continue to grow, Muslims, who are younger and have a higher birth rate, will outpace them. By 2050, “there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” Barring unforeseen events — war, famine, disease, political upheaval and more — Muslim numbers will surpass Christians after 2070.

• Worldwide, the unaffiliated will fall from 16 percent to 13 percent. Christians, Muslims and Hindus live in areas with “bulging youth populations,” high birthrates and falling levels of infant morality, the report said. Even the global tally for Jews is expected to rise, based on the high birthrate of Orthodox Jews in Israel. Meanwhile, the unaffiliated are “heavily concentrated in places with low fertility and aging populations, such as Europe, North America, China and Japan,” the report said.

• Nearly two-thirds of all the unaffiliated worldwide live in China, the research found. “If Chinese authorities allow greater freedom of religion, the share of unaffiliated in the world population could shrink even more dramatically than the report predicts,” said Ariela Keysar, associate director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, who consulted on the project.

• While religious switching has a significant impact in North America and Europe, in many countries, changing one’s religion is difficult — if not illegal. There’s no data on religious switching among China’s 1.3 billion people, with nearly 50 percent of them in the unaffiliated ranks, for example. But in the 70 countries where survey data was available, the report found that Buddhists and Jews are the primary losers on the switch-in/switch-out balance sheet, Hackett said. “In the USA, there are famous converts like Richard Gere, but there’s a lot of disaffiliation among those who grew up Buddhist.”

• In the U.S., Christians will decline, from more than three-quarters of the population (78.3 percent) in 2010 to two-thirds (66.4 percent) in 2050. Religious “churn” — people leaving their childhood faith for a different faith or none at all — is the primary driver of change.

• The Muslim share of the U.S. population is projected to climb to 2.1 percent, up from less than 1 percent today. Jews will fall from 1.8 percent to 1.4 percent.

• In 2010, there were 159 countries with a Christian majority, but that will fall by eight countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. By 2050, Muslims will hold the majority in 51 countries, up by two from 2010, including Nigeria, which just elected a Muslim president, and the Republic of Macedonia.

“In many ways the value of projects like this is not to say what the world will look like in 2050. The world could change,” said Cooperman. “But they tell us about the world today and the recent path. Peering into the future greatly illuminates what is happening today and its consequences.”

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World’s Youth Leaders Gather to Address the Challenges of Militarization, Nuclear Weapons and the Misuse of Religion

Kathmandu_street
File:  A busy street in Kathmandu.

(Kathmandu, July 10, 2009)  The International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security was inaugurated by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, in Kathmandu on 10 July 2009.  Organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious organization accredited with the United Nations and headquartered in New York, the Summit brought together approximately 100 Nepali and 50 international religious and civil society leaders from 25 countries.[1]   Other prominent participants in the Summit included Mr. Kul C. Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF; Mr. Taijiro Kimura, Director, UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific; Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General, the World Conference of Religions for Peace; and Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network.

Globally nearly 1,000 people a day die from various kinds of weapons.  Military spending in 2008 reached a new high of $1.464 trillion, even as the global economy faltered and the majority of the world’s population continued to live in extreme poverty.   Four billion dollars worth of small arms are traded legally each year, while another $1 billion is traded illegally.  The world is confronted with proliferation of nuclear weapons, continued use of cluster munitions, landmines and other conventional weapons, rising military expenditures at the expense of development, and the misuse of religion in support of violence and war.

His Excellency Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the President of Nepal, stated that “We need to harness the power of the world’s religions to counter violence with the message of peace, love and compassion, especially among the youth of our nations. I want to compliment the Religion and Peace Academy of Nepal (RAPAN) and the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) for convening a very timely ‘International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security’ in Kathmandu.”

Mr. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, and president of Mayors for Peace, a global coalition of mayors from 2,926 cities in 134 countries and regions, stated in his message that “The possibility of proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons are growing, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is on the verge of collapse.  Mayors for Peace welcomes the possibility of working with the world’s religious communities and young people through the Religions for Peace global network to promote our 2020 Vision, a program to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” 

Mr. Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF noted that “Youth are the soul of the society.  They are essential to transform culture of violence we are seeing at present to culture of peace, which is an intrinsic and inherent part of Nepali culture.  Based on my long association with Religions for Peace, I am confident that this conference will help advance a powerful campaign for peace and non-violence through multi-religious cooperation in Nepal and around the world.” He urged the World Conference of Religions for Peace to support a massive campaign to rollback violence in Nepal as a direct follow-up of this conference in Nepal, and consider similar campaigns in other post-conflict countries in the world.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said, “This Summit intends to further unleash the positive socially transformative power of religion, underline the crucial role of young people in shaping our world, and highlight the added value of multi-religious cooperation and multi-stakeholder approach to disarmament for shared security, development and peace.”

Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network said, “This Summit is a great opportunity for religious youth leaders to discuss major challenges to shared security and develop action plans.  Based upon these, Religions for Peace youth leaders from national, regional and global networks will launch a campaign on reducing military expenditures to advance shared security.”

[1] Afghanistan, Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the US.  

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