When is a person an atheist

The WIN-Gallup study on “Religiosity and Atheism” recorded (2012) around 73 percent of the world's population in 57 countries. Based on a self-assessment, 59 percent describe themselves as “religious”, 23 percent as “non-religious”. Only a minority (13 percent) - with a focus on East Asia and West Europe - describe themselves as atheists. However, the proportion of religious people decreased by 9 percentage points to 59 percent between 2005 and 2012.

Since the descriptions of religious affiliations are handled very differently around the world - from formal membership through baptism in Christianity (with the possibility of leaving the church) to automatic religious affiliation if the father is a Muslim (without leaving this religion) a simple and unmistakable way to grasp these affiliations, to ask people themselves.

In the worldwide WIN-Gallup survey (in which WIN stands for "Worldwide Independent Network Of Market Research", in Germany TNS EMNID works for the network) in 57 countries in 2012 the question was: "Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious persons or a convinced atheist? " (“Regardless of whether you are attending a place of worship, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a staunch atheist?”).

This question takes into account the knowledge that group membership and individual self-image are not congruent. “Non-denominational” in Germany is not the same as “without religion”, just as “church member” does not mean that these people see themselves as religious.

The “Top 10” of the countries with the highest proportions of “convinced atheists” are on the one hand the Asian countries China, Japan and South Korea as well as the European EU countries Czech Republic, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The "Top 10" countries with the highest proportions of people who see themselves as religious are in Africa (Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya), Eastern Europe (Macedonia and Romania), Latin America (Peru and Brazil), and Fiji Islands and Iraq.

Religiousness of members of religious communities

The variations among members of the religious communities with regard to the question of whether they see themselves as "religious", non-religious "or as an" atheist "are more pronounced among Muslims than among Christians or Hindus. And just as there are hardly any atheists among the members of religions, there are hardly any religious among the “non-denominational”.

Members of religious communities who see themselves as “non-religious” or “staunch atheists” are most common among Jews (56 percent) and Muslims (23 percent), followed by Christians of various denominations (15-17 percent).

For these people - who assign themselves to religious communities but see themselves as “not religious” - the term “cultural Jew”, “cultural Muslim” or “cultural Christian” makes sense. Growing up in the culture, customs and habits of a family with a corresponding religion, one has internalized the most important values, everyday and eating habits so much that they are retained even if they are not (no longer) based on religious grounds.

Applied to Germany, this would mean that the proportion of “non-religious” among the members of religious communities, which WIN-Gallup recorded in 57 countries, is even more pronounced in Germany. The percentage of 23 percent “cultural Muslims” in 57 countries should therefore only represent the minimum value in Germany; the applicable value can be assumed to be significantly higher.

Religiousness is more pronounced among the poor (66 percent) than among those with higher and high incomes (49 percent).

This also applies to formal schooling, which also partially defines future income. Those formally poorly educated are more religious (68 percent) than those with a formally good education (52 percent).

With regard to the question of whether there is a trend in how religiosity is changing, there is a possibility of comparison between a survey in 2005 and that in 2012: religiosity is falling by an average of 9 percentage points worldwide, while atheism is increasing by 3 percentage points.

Apart from Vietnam, the countries with the higher rates of change are all Christian dominated countries: Switzerland, France, South Africa, etc.

Germany is also one of the “Top 10” countries in which self-assessed religiosity is decreasing.

However, an overview with all participating countries also indicates that this trend is not one-dimensional - there are countries in which the proportion of “religious” has increased - and also that - apart from the “Top 10”, the proportions are stable are.

The same pattern - both larger proportions and decreasing proportions - can also be seen among the “convinced atheists”. (The difference between the 37 countries shown - with 7 percent atheists - to the 13 percent of all 52 participating countries in 2012 is primarily due to the fact that China is not included because there was no corresponding survey there in 2005.)

In a grouping according to world regions, this lack of China becomes clear:

Finally, the overview of all (2012) participating countries and the proportions of "religious", "non-religious" and atheists "according to self-assessment.


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