Understanding Tomorrow's Religious Landscape


Understanding Tomorrow's Religious Landscape

24 Apr 2015

A new report by the Pew Research Center forecasts a changing religious landscape over the next four decades, including a rise in religious affiliation. The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics looks at the major findings.

A new report from the Pew Research Center, The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, finds rapid changes in the world's religious profile, driven in part by the size of the youth population among its major religions, differences in fertility rates, and people switching faiths.

The report, released on 2 April 2015, comes at a key moment as the role of religion in world affairs, including in conflict, makes headlines daily. The report's findings are based on the size of a population, focusing on four main factors: fertility rates, mortality rates (life expectancy), the initial age profile of the population and migration.

One of the findings that has been reported most widely since the report's release is the growth of Islam across the world, which is predicted to grow faster than any other religion up to 2050, and the rise in religious affiliation in general.

But there are many other points to note in the report, especially when looking in detail at the changing pattern of the religious landscape in other parts of the world, including in sub-Saharan Africa. The total population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow faster than any other region, from 823 million in 2010 to 1.9 billion in 2050.

Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa expected to rise from 24% in 2010 to 38% in 2050.

The report predicts that the share of the world's Christians living in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow from 24 per cent in 2010 to 38 per cent by 2050.  Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia are all expected to rise up the list of the most Christian populated countries in the world by 2050.

In Nigeria, the most recent religious demographics (2010) show a roughly even split in which 46 per cent of the population identify with Christianity and 46 per cent with Islam. In the report, Nigeria is projected to have the world's third-largest Christian population by 2050, of 155 million compared to 78 million in 2010. However, due to fertility rates being higher in the Nigerian Muslim community, Islam is projected to make up 59 per cent of the population by 2050, and Christianity to fall to 39 per cent.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, Islam is expected to gain 2.9 million new converts, while Christianity is expected to lose 2.7 million through people changing religions.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the report predicts a sizable rise in the Muslim population, which is expected to grow by 74 per cent from 2010 to 2050. Meanwhile, previous reports have suggested a departure of Christians from the region, lowering the projected share of Christians in places such as Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Syria. This report shows that the number of Christians in the region is expected to remain about the same, as the suggested previous fall in the population is offset by the immigration of Christians into the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

Hindus were the largest religious group in the Asia-Pacific region in 2010, with around 1 billion adherents. The number of Hindus is expected to grow by 2050 to nearly 1.4 billion, but followers of Islam in the region are expected to grow even faster and become the largest religious group by mid-century, with an increase of almost 50 per cent to nearly 1.5 billion.

By 2050, India will have the largest number of Muslims.

The report also suggests that by 2050, India will be the country with the largest number of Muslims, with more than 310 million, overtaking Indonesia. The majority of India's population will remain Hindu (77 per cent) and the Muslim population will remain at 18 per cent.

Buddhism is predicted to change least amongst world religions; this is reflected in the Asia-Pacific region where the population of adherents is expected to drop from 481 million in 2010 to 476 million in 2050. In Myanmar, the number of those affiliated to Buddhism is expected to rise from 38 million in 2010 to almost 45 million in 2050.

In Europe, the total population is projected to decline, the only region where this is the case. A particularly notable finding is that the Christian population in the region is expected to fall by about 100 million, dropping from 553 million in 2010 to 454 million in 2050. The Muslim population expected to rise by 63 per cent, growing from 43 million in 2010 to 71 million in 2050. In contrast to the worldwide findings, the share of Europe's population with no religious affiliation is projected to increase from 19 per cent in 2010 to 23 per cent in 2050.

Those with no religious affiliation expected to fall to 13% from 16%.

As Brian Grim has noted elsewhere on this site, it is significant that the report finds that those with no religious affiliation is expected to fall to 13 per cent of the global population in 2050, compared to 16 per cent in 2010, particularly for the implications for peace and conflict around the world.

Studies such as this are vital in enabling policy makers, business leaders and the wider community to be able to gain a better understanding of how changes to the religious landscape around the world may affect all regions, not only religiously, but also socially and economically.

Key Findings
  • As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world's largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 per cent) of the 6.9 billion global population. Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 per cent of the global population.
  • Muslims are the fastest-growing major religious group, largely because they have the highest fertility rate and the youngest population. As a result, the Muslim population is expected to increase from 1.6 billion people to 2.76 billion people (30 per cent of all people in 2050).
  • The report ends its projections in 2050, due to the rising uncertainty of predictions beyond that date. However, it does say that if the predictions were extended into the second half of this century, the projections forecast Muslims and Christians to be roughly equal in number around 2070, with Muslims the slightly larger group after that year.
  • The share of the world's population that is Christian is expected to remain steady (at about 31 per cent), but the regional distribution of Christians is forecast to change significantly.
  • Nearly four-in-ten Christians (38 per cent) are projected to live in sub-Saharan Africa in 2050, an increase from the 24 per cent who lived there in 2010. And the percentage of the world's Christians living in Europe – which fell from 66 per cent in 1910 to 26 per cent in 2010 – will continue to decline, to roughly 16 per cent in 2050.
  • The number of religiously unaffiliated people is increasing in places such as the United States and Europe, but globally the opposite is true. The unaffiliated are expected to decrease as a share of the world's population between 2010 and 2050 (from 16 per cent to 13 per cent). This is attributable mostly to the relatively old age and low fertility rates of large populations of religiously unaffiliated people in Asian countries, particularly China and Japan.
  • Buddhists, concentrated in Asia, are expected to have a stable population (of just under 500 million) while other religious groups are projected to grow. As a result, Buddhists will decline as a share of the world's population (from 7 per cent in 2010 to 5 per cent 2050).
  • Jews, the smallest religious group for which separate projections were made, are expected to grow 16 per cent, from a little less than 14 million in 2010 to 16.1 million worldwide in 2050.
  • Indonesia is currently home to the world's largest Muslim population, but that is expected to change. By 2050, the study projects India to be the country with the largest number of Muslims – more than 310 million – even though Hindus will continue to make up a majority of India's population (77 per cent). Pakistan will have the second-largest population of Muslims, with Indonesia dropping into third place.
  • Several countries are projected to have a different religious majority in 2050 than they did in 2010. The number of countries with Christian majorities is expected to decline from 159 to 151, as Christians are projected to drop below 50 per cent of the population in Australia, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom.
  • By 2050, Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to join the list of countries with the 10 largest Muslim populations. All told, more than six-in-ten of the world's Muslims (62 per cent) are projected to live in the 10 countries with the most Muslims in 2050, slightly fewer than the share of the world's Muslims that lived in the top 10 countries in 2010 (66 per cent).


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