Religion in Europe has been a major influence on art, culture, philosophy and law. The largest religion in Europe for at least a millennium and a half has been Christianity. Two countries in Southeastern Europe have Muslim majorities. Smaller religions include Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism which are found in their largest groups in Britain and France.
Little is known about the prehistoric religion of Neolithic Europe. Bronze and Iron Age religion in Europe as elsewhere was predominantly polytheistic (Ancient Greek religion, Ancient Roman religion, Finnish paganism, Celtic polytheism, Germanic paganism etc.). The Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in AD 380. During the Early Middle Ages, most of Europe underwent Christianization, a process essentially complete with the Christianization of Scandinavia in the High Middle Ages. The emergence of the notion of “Europe” or “Western World” is intimately connected with the idea of “Christendom”, especially since Christianity in the Middle East was marginalized by the rise of Islam from the 8th century, a constellation that led to the Crusades, which although unsuccessful militarily were an important step in the emergence of a religious identity of Europe. At all times, traditions of folk religion existed largely independent from official denomination or dogmatic theology.
The Great Schism of the 11th and Reformation of the 16th century were to tear apart “Christendom” into hostile factions, and following the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, atheism and agnosticism became widespread in Western Europe. 19th century Orientalism contributed to a certain popularity of Buddhism, and the 20th century brought increasing syncretism, New Age and various new religious movements divorcing spirituality from inherited traditions for many Europeans. The latest history brought increased secularisation, and religious pluralism.
European countries have experienced a decline in church membership and church attendance. A relevant example is that of Sweden where the church of Sweden, previously the state-church until 2000, claimed to have 82.9 % of the Swedish population as its flock in 2000. Surveys showed this had dropped to 72.9 % by 2008. However in the 2005 eurobarometer poll only 23% of the Swedish population said they believed in a personal God. It is generally thought that this disparity between church claims and numbers of people who actually believe in a god is likely to be the case in many other EU countries, especially in France and northern Europe, as recent trends and surveys are showing.
Gallup poll 2007–2008
During 2007–2008 a Gallup poll asked in several countries the question “Does religion occupy an important place in your life?” The table on right shows percentage of people who answered “No”.
Eurobarometer poll 2005
The Eurobarometer Poll 2005 found that, on average, 52% of the citizens of EU member states state that they believe in a god, 27% believe there is some sort of spirit or life force while 18% do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god or life force. 3% declined to answer. According to a recent study (Dogan, Mattei, Religious Beliefs in Europe: Factors of Accelerated Decline), 47% of Frenchmen declared themselves as agnostic in 2003.This situation is often called “Post-Christian Europe”. A decrease in religiousness and church attendance in western Europe (especially Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden) has been noted, but there is an increase in Eastern Europe, especially in Greece and Romania (2% in 1 year). The Eurobarometer poll must be taken with caution, however, as there are discrepancies between it and national census results. For example in the United Kingdom, the 2001 census revealed over 70% of the population regarded themselves as “Christian” with only 15% professing to have “no religion”, though the wording of the question has been criticized as “leading” by the British Humanist Association.
Eurobarometer Poll 2005 chart results
The following is a list of European countries ranked by religiosity, based on belief in a god, according to the Eurobarometer Poll 2005. The 2005 Eurobarometer Poll asked whether the person believed “there is a god”, believed “there is some sort of spirit of life force”, “didn’t believe there is any sort of spirit, god or life force”.
The decrease in theism is illustrated in the 1981 and 1999 according to the World Values Survey. both for traditionally strongly theist countries (Spain: 86.8%:81.1%; Ireland 94.8%:93.7%) and for traditionally secular countries (Sweden: 51.9%:46.6%, France 61.8%:56.1%, Netherlands 65.3%:58.0%). Some countries nevertheless show increase of theism over the period, Italy 84.1%:87.8%, Denmark 57.8%:62.1%. For a comprehensive study on Europe, see Mattei Dogan’s “Religious Beliefs in Europe: Factors of Accelerated Decline” in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion. Turkey and Malta are the most religious countries and Estonia and Czech Republic are the least religious countries in Europe.
Belief that “there is a god” per country
Belief that “there is some sort of spirit or life force” per country
No belief in “any sort of spirit, god or life force” per country
View of Rome from the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
St John’s Church, Bergen, Norway.
Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia.
The vast majority of theist Europeans describe themselves as Christians, divided into a large number of denominations. Christian denominations are usually classed in three categories: Catholicism, Eastern Christianity (comprising Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches) and Protestantism (a diverse group including Lutheranism-Zwinglianism, Calvinism-Presbyterianism and Anglicanism as well as numerous minor denominations, including Baptism, Methodism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, etc.).
Roman Catholicism is the largest denomination with adherents mostly existing in Latin Europe (which includes France, Italy, Spain, Southern [Wallon] Belgium, and Portugal), Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic, but also the southern parts of Germanic Europe (which includes Austria, Luxembourg, Northern [Flemish] Belgium, Southern and Western Germany, and Liechtenstein).
Eastern Orthodoxy (the churches are in full communion, i.e. they see each other as local churches, members of a single religious body)
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Albanian Orthodox Church
Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Church of Greece
Cypriot Orthodox Church
Romanian Orthodox Church
Georgian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church
Serbian Orthodox Church
Armenian Orthodox Church
Protestantism (see list of Reformed churches, Porvoo Communion)
Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church
Danish National Church
Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church—Synod of France and Belgium
Evangelical Church in Germany
Reformed Church in Hungary
Church of Sweden
Swiss Reformed Church
Church of England
Church of Ireland
Scottish Episcopal Church
Church in Wales
Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church
Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church
United Reformed Church
Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales
Church of Scotland
Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Methodist Church of Great Britain
Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Neo-Calvinism)
Baptist Union of Great Britain
Baptist Union of Sweden
Seventh-day Adventist Church
There are numerous minor Protestant movements, including various Evangelical congregations, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others.
Baitul Futuh Mosque in UK, largest in western Europe
Islam in Europe
Islam came to parts of European islands and coasts on the Mediterranean during the 7th century Muslim conquests. In the Iberian Peninsula various Muslim states existed before the Reconquista. During the Ottoman expansion Islam was spread into the Balkans and southeastern Europe. Muslim have also been historically present in Russia. In recent years, Muslims have migrated to Europe as residents and temporary workers.
Muslims account for about 9% of the population in France, 5.8% in the Netherlands, 5% in Denmark, just over 4% in Switzerland and Austria, and almost 3% in the United Kingdom. Muslims make up over 95% in Turkey, 38–70% in Albania, 40% in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 33.3% in Macedonia, about 20% in Montenegro, 12% in Bulgaria and between 10 and 15% of the population of Russia & 90% in Kosovo Islam has been a factor in the cultural development of the Balkans and parts of Russia.
History of the Jews in Europe, Jews and Judaism in Europe,
The Jubilee Synagogue in Prague, Czech Republic.
The Jews were dispersed within the Roman Empire from the 2nd century. At one time Judaism was practiced widely throughout the European continent; throughout the Middle Ages, Jews were frequently accused of ritual murder and faced pogroms and legal discrimination. The Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany decimated Jewish population, and today, France is the home of largest Jewish community in Europe with 1% of the total population. Other European countries with notable Jewish populations include Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and Italy.
Numerous minor religious communities are found in Europe, partly non-European religions practiced in diaspora communities, partly new religious movements; among the larger communities are:
Buddhism thinly spread throughout Europe and growing rapidly in recent years, about 3 million. In Kalmykia, Tibetan Buddhism is prevalent.
Hinduism mainly among Indian immigrants in the United Kingdom. In 1998 there were an estimated 1.4 million Hindu adherents in Europe.
Sikhism, nearly 1 million adherents of Sikhism in Europe. Most of the community live in United Kingdom (750,000) and Italy (70,000). Around 10,000 in Belgium and France. Netherlands and Germany have a Sikh population of 12,000. All other countries have less than or 5,000 Sikhs.
Jainism, small membership rolls, mainly among Indian immigrants in the United Kingdom.
The Bahá’í Faith, upwards of 60,000, with populations of several thousand in Russia, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Albania, et al.
various Neopagan movements, taken together accounting for an estimated 40,000 adherents in the UK, besides smaller numbers in other European countries.
A number of countries in Europe have official religions, including Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, the Vatican City (Catholic); Greece (Eastern Orthodox); Denmark, Iceland, Norway (Lutheran); and the United Kingdom (Anglican). In Switzerland, some cantons are officially Catholic, others Reformed Protestant. Some Swiss villages even have their religion as well as the village name written on the signs at their entrances.
Georgia has no established church, but the Georgian Orthodox Church enjoys de facto privileged status. Much the same applies in Germany with the Evangelical Church and the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church, and the Jewish community. In Finland, both the Finnish Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church are official. England, a part of the United Kingdom, has Anglicanism as its official religion. Scotland, another part of the UK, has Presbyterianism as its national church, but it is no longer “official”. In Sweden, the national church used to be Lutheranism, but it is no longer “official” since 2000 and has lost more than 10% of its adherents since the same year. Azerbaijan, France, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain and Turkey are officially “secular”.
There is increasing atheism or agnosticism among the general population in Europe, with falling church attendance and membership in many countries. In 2005, a survey of the EU’s members at that time found that among EU citizens, 52% believe in a god, 27% in some sort of spirit or life force and 18% had no form of belief. The countries where the fewest people reported a religious belief were the Czech Republic (19%) and Estonia (16%). In such countries, even those who have a faith can be disdainful of organized religion. Across the EU, belief was higher among women, increased with age, those with strict upbringing, those with the lowest levels of formal education, those leaning towards right-wing politics, and those reflecting more upon philosophical and ethical issues.:10-11
The secular lifestyle is gaining ground in Europe, not only have many European countries experienced a decline in church membership and church attendance (see examples above) both for traditionally strongly theist countries and for traditionally secular countries, (see also examples above) but also with respect to marriage. While several religions mandate opposite sex marriage as the only “natural” one and typically frown on either cohabitation or same sex marriage, the general population in Europe disagrees more and more and a growing number of countries is allowing for either same-sex marriage or a water-downed version of same sex civil unions refer same sex marriage map.
Furthermore in 2008, the highest ever number of births outside of marriage were recorded in the European Union, just short of 37%, up 13 % compared to the year 1995 with first-births out of wedlock and cohabitation figures being even higher. Several countries recorded a majority of births outside of marriage – these include Iceland, Estonia (59.1%), Slovenia (54.1%), Sweden (54.6%), France (51.3%), and Bulgaria (51.1%). These countries tend to be less religious ones (less than half of the population believing in God) whereas half of the European population believes in God.
More strikingly, with Austria approving same sex civil unions starting from 1 January 2010, the Portuguese parliament legalizing same-sex marriage in May 2010, and the Irish parliament following in July 2010, an ever increasing number of European countries allows for either same sex marriage or same-sex civil unions. The largest religious group in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church, has been strongly opposed to these laws, threatening to excommunicate politicians voting in their favour.
A European country has also been the first officially atheist state in the world. Albania was an officially (and constitutionally binding) atheist state from 1967 to 1991 during the communist regime.