These figures - just two among many coming out of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project - are helping policy makers, the general public, and even religious leaders to better understand the global religious landscape of today.
Information from the Pew Research Center is providing knowledge where previously there was often only speculation or anecdotes. Here are 5 advances in understanding religion coming from the project. (See my TEDx Talk for a live presentation of the findings.)
Based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers,** the study finds 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010. In addition, more than 400 million people (6%) practice various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. An estimated 58 million people – slightly less than 1% of the global population – belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism, to mention just a few.
At the same time, the new study also finds that roughly one-in-six people around the globe (1.1 billion, or 16%) have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population. Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith.
2. Globally, people who do not have a religious affiliation tend to be older, religiously affiliated people tend to be younger
The median age of two major groups – Muslims (23 years) and Hindus (26) – is younger than the median age of the world’s overall population (28). All the other groups are older than the global median. Christians have a median age of 30, followed by members of other religions (32), adherents of folk or traditional religions (33), the religiously unaffiliated (34) and Buddhists (34). Jews have the highest median age (36), more than a dozen years older than the youngest group, Muslims.
Most religions are younger, on average, than the religiously unaffiliated. A forthcoming Pew Research study will look at the implications this has for the future growth of religions.
3. Religious freedom can be restricted not only by governments, but also by the actions of people and groups in society
Pew Research measures religious restrictions, annually rating nearly 200 countries and territories since 2006, using two indexes:
- The Government Restrictions Index (GRI) measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs or practices. The GRI is comprised of 20 measures of restrictions, including efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups.
- The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups. This includes religion-related armed conflict or terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse. The SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities.
Likewise, certain types of social hostilities involving religion are more likely to be associated with higher government restrictions on religion. Sectarian or communal violence between religious groups has the strongest association with government restrictions on religion.
5. Initiatives to lower religious restrictions or hostilities are present in most countries, but effectiveness is uncertain
In 2011, interfaith-dialogue initiatives occurred in 110 of the 198 countries (56%), according to the sources used in this study. Efforts to combat or redress religious discrimination and increase tolerance were reported in a total of 76 countries (38%) in 2011. According to the sources coded for this analysis, in addition to interfaith dialogues, other educational and training initiatives to increase religious tolerance and decrease religious tensions occurred in a total of 39 countries (20%) in 2011. And in 2011, governments or groups in society intervened in a total of 29 countries (15%) on behalf of religious groups that previously had experienced problems acquiring land or obtaining building permits.
BONUS: Weekly Number Riddle
56% + 38% + 20% + 15% = 76%, how's that? Get a hint & get the answer.
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