Unbelief is Now the World's
BY KIMBERLY WINSTON ©2012 Religion News Service
A new report on global religious identity shows that while Christians and Muslims make up the two largest groups, those with no religious affiliation--including atheists and agnostics--are now the third-largest "religious" group in the world.
The study, released December 18 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that more than eight in 10 (84 percent) of the world's 7 billion people adheres to some form of religion. Christians make up the largest group, with 2.2 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide, followed by Muslims, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent worldwide.
Close behind are the "nones"--those who say they have no religious affiliation or say they do not believe in God--at 1.1 billion, or 16 percent. That means that about the same number of people who identify as Catholics worldwide say they have no religion.
"One out of six people does not have a religious identity," said Conrad Hackett, a primary researcher and demographer on the study. "But it is also striking that that overwhelming majority of the world does have some type of religious identity. So I think people will be surprised by either way of looking at it."
The next largest groups, the report finds, are Hindus (1 billion people, or 15 percent), Buddhists (500 million people, or 7 percent) and Jews (14 million people, or 0.2 percent). More than 400 million people--6 percent--practice folk traditions from African, Chinese, Native American or Australian aboriginal cultures.
An additional 58 million people--slightly less than 1 percent of the global population--belong to "other" religions, such as the Baha'i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, and Zoroastrianism.
In addition to the numbers of adherents, the study also looks at where they live. Christians are the most evenly distributed, while Jews are fairly evenly divided between North America and the Middle East. The United States has the highest number of Christians of any nation, at more than 243 million, or 78 percent of the total U.S. population.
Meanwhile, the majority of the world's religiously unaffiliated—76 percent--live in the Asia-Pacific region, with 700 million in China alone, where religion was stifled during the Cultural Revolution.