Christianity has long been the prevailing religion in Europe, and it remains the majority religious affiliation in 27 of the 34 countries surveyed. But historical schisms underlie this common religious identity: Each of the three major Christian traditions — Catholicism, Protestantism and Orthodoxy — predominates in a certain part of the continent.
Catholic-majority countries are prevalent in the central and southwestern parts of Europe, cutting a swath from Lithuania through Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, and then extending westward across Croatia, Austria, Italy and France to the Iberian Peninsula. And Protestantism is the dominant Christian tradition in much of Northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia. There are substantial populations belonging to non-Christian religions — particularly Islam — in many European countries. In Bosnia, roughly half of the population is Muslim, while Russia and Bulgaria have sizable Muslim minority populations.
But in most other countries surveyed, Muslims and Jews make up relatively small shares of the population, and surveys often are not able to reliably measure their precise size. While large majorities across the continent say they were baptized Christian, and most European countries still have solid Christian majorities, the survey responses indicate a significant decline in Christian affiliation throughout Western Europe. By contrast, this trend has not been seen in Central and Eastern Europe, where Christian shares of the population have mostly been stable or even increasing.
Indeed, in a part of the region where communist regimes once repressed religious worship, Christian affiliation has shown a resurgence in some countries since the fall of the USSR in In most other parts of Central and Eastern Europe, Christian shares of the population have been relatively stable by this measure. Meanwhile, far fewer Western Europeans say they are currently Christian than say they were raised Christian.
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What are the reasons for these opposing patterns on different sides of the continent? Some appear to be political: In Russia and Ukraine , the most common explanation given by those who were raised without a religion but are now Orthodox is that religion has become more acceptable in society. Another important reason is a connection with their national heritage.
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In Western Europe, there are a variety of reasons why many adults who were raised Christian have become unaffiliated. Not only is religious affiliation on the decline in Western Europe, religious commitment also is generally lower there than in Central and Eastern Europe. This is not to say that Central and Eastern Europeans are very religious by conventional measures of religious behavior.
Europeans throughout the continent generally show far less religious commitment than adults previously surveyed in other regions. That said, on balance, Central and Eastern Europeans are more likely than Western Europeans to say that religion is very important in their lives, that they attend religious services at least monthly, and that they pray every day.
For example, fully half or more of adults in Greece, Bosnia, Armenia, Georgia and Romania say religion is very important in their lives, compared with about one-in-ten in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and several other Western European countries. Western Europeans also are more likely than their neighbors in the East to say they never pray e.
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Western Europeans also express belief in God at lower levels than people in Central and Eastern Europe, where large majorities say they believe in God — including overwhelming shares in several countries, such as Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and Romania. Western Europeans also are less likely to say they are certain of their belief in God.
In Western Europe, far fewer people believe their lives are preordained — roughly four-in-ten or fewer in most of the countries surveyed. Belief in the evil eye is also common in Central and Eastern Europe. In fact, the levels of belief in the evil eye across Central and Eastern Europe are comparable to those found in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, where indigenous religions have had a broad impact on the respective cultures.
Levels of belief in reincarnation are more comparable across the region. In most Central and Eastern European countries surveyed, a quarter or more say they believe in reincarnation — that is, that people will be reborn in this world again and again. In many Western European countries surveyed, roughly one-fifth of the population expresses belief in reincarnation, a concept more closely associated with Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism than with Christianity.
Europeans across the continent are largely united in support of a separation between religion and government. More than half of adults in most countries say religion should be kept separate from government policies, rather than the opposing view that government policies should support religious values and beliefs.
In seven Central and Eastern European countries, however, the view that church and state should be separate falls short of a majority position. In Western Europe, meanwhile, majorities in nearly every country surveyed say religion should be kept separate from government policies. Age differences are stronger in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe on this issue: Younger adults across most of Western Europe are more likely than those ages 35 and older to prefer separation of church and state.
In Central and Eastern Europe, meanwhile, younger and older adults express roughly similar views on this question. While majorities in most Central and Eastern European countries tie being Christian to being truly Serbian, Polish, etc. On balance, adults in Western European countries are less likely to view these nativist elements as important to national identity. But not everyone across Western Europe feels this way.
The two sides of Europe do not appear to be moving closer on these questions with younger generations. In fact, the opposite is true: In Western Europe, young adults ages 18 to 34 are less likely than their elders to regard birthplace and ancestry as crucial to national identity, while in Central and Eastern Europe, young adults and older people are about equally likely to feel this way. Concerning the importance of family background to national identity, there is a bigger gap between young adults in Western Europe and young adults in Central and Eastern Europe than between the adult populations as a whole.
While public opinion on the importance of religion, birthplace and ancestry to national identity is different in Central and Eastern Europe than it is in the West, people throughout the continent largely agree on some other elements of national belonging.
In fact, overwhelming majorities of adults in every European country surveyed — East and West alike — say it is important to respect the laws of their country in order to truly belong. And large shares in both Eastern and Western European countries say speaking the national language is important to sharing their national identity. This may reflect the fact that multiple languages are spoken in these countries, including large numbers of Russian speakers in Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus.
About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts. And in Ukraine, politicians have expressed plans to apply for membership in the future.
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Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rules of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.
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