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Irreligion (adjective form: non-religious or irreligious) is the absence, indifference to, or rejection of religion. [1] According to the Pew Research Center's 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world's population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated. [2]


Irreligion may include some forms of theism, depending on the religious context it is defined against; for example, in 18th-century Europe, the epitome of irreligion was deism, [3] while in contemporary East Asia the shared term meaning "irreligion" or "no religion" (無宗教, Chinese pron. wú zōngjiào, Japanese pron. mu shūkyō Korean pron. mujonggyo), with which the majority of East Asian populations identify themselves, implies non-membership in one of the institutional religions (such as Buddhism and Christianity) and not necessarily non-belief in traditional folk religions collectively represented by Chinese Shendao and Japanese Shinto (both meaning "ways of gods"). [4]

According to cross-cultural studies, since religion and fertility are positively related while secularism and fertility are negatively related, secularism is expected to decline throughout the 21st century. [5] By 2060, according to their projections, the number of unaffiliated will increase by over 35 million, but the percentage will decrease to 13% because the total population will grow faster. [6] [7]


The term irreligion is a combination of the noun religion and the prefix ir-, signifying "not" (similar to irrelevant). It was first attested in French as irréligion in 1527, then in English as irreligion in 1598. It was borrowed into Dutch as irreligie in the 17th century, though it is not certain from which language. [8]


Human rights

In 1993, the UN's human rights committee declared that article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights "protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief." [17] The committee further stated that "the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views." Signatories to the convention are barred from "the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers" to recant their beliefs or convert. [18] [19]

Most Western democracies protect the freedom of religion, and it is largely implied in respective legal systems that those who do not believe or observe any religion are allowed freedom of thought.

A noted exception to ambiguity, explicitly allowing non-religion, is Article 36 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (as adopted in 1982), which states that "No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion." [20] Article 46 of China's 1978 Constitution was even more explicit, stating that "Citizens enjoy freedom to believe in religion and freedom not to believe in religion and to propagate atheism." [21]


Although 11 countries listed below have nonreligious majorities, it does not mean that the majority of the populations of these countries don't belong to any religious group. For example, 68% of the Swedish population belongs to the Lutheran Christian Church, [22] while 59% of Albanians declare themselves as religious.[ citation needed ] Also, though Scandinavian countries have among the highest measures of nonreligiosity and even atheism in Europe, 47% of atheists who live in those countries are still members of the national churches. [23]

A Pew 2015 global projection study for religion and nonreligion, projects that between 2010 and 2050, there will be some initial increases of the unaffiliated followed by a decline by 2050 due to lower global fertility rates among this demographic. [24] Sociologist Phil Zuckerman's global studies on atheism have indicated that global atheism may be in decline due to irreligious countries having the lowest birth rates in the world and religious countries having higher birth rates in general. [25]

According to Pew Research Center's 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world's population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated. [2] A 2012 Worldwide Independent Network/Gallup International Association report on a poll from 57 countries reported that 59% of the world's population identified as religious person, 23% as not religious person, 13% as "convinced atheists", and also a 9% decrease in identification as "religious" when compared to the 2005 average from 39 countries. [26] Their follow-up report, based on a poll in 2015, found that 63% of the globe identified as religious person, 22% as not religious person, and 11% as "convinced atheists". [27] Their 2017 report found that 62% of the globe identified as religious person, 25% as not religious person, and 9% as "convinced atheists". [28] However, researchers have advised caution with the WIN/Gallup International figures since other surveys which use the same wording, have conducted many waves for decades, and have a bigger sample size, such as World Values Survey; have consistently reached lower figures for the number of atheists worldwide. [29]

Being nonreligious is not necessarily equivalent to being an atheist or agnostic. Pew Research Center's global study from 2012 noted that many of the nonreligious actually have some religious beliefs. For example, they observed that "belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of Chinese unaffiliated adults, 30% of French unaffiliated adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults." [30] Out of the global nonreligious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%). [30]

The term "nones" is sometimes used in the U.S. to refer to those who are unaffiliated with any organized religion. This use derives from surveys of religious affiliation, in which "None" (or "None of the above") is typically the last choice. Since this status refers to lack of organizational affiliation rather than lack of personal belief, it is a more specific concept than irreligion. A 2015 Gallup poll concluded that in the U.S. "nones" were the only "religious" group that was growing as a percentage of the population. [31]

CountryPercentage of population
who are nonreligious
Date and source
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czech Republic 75 [32]
Flag of Estonia.svg  Estonia 70 [33]
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands 68 [34]
Flag of Vietnam.svg  Vietnam 63 [33] [35]
Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark 61 [33]
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden 54 [33]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom 53 [36]
Flag of Albania.svg  Albania 52 [37] [38] [39]
Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 52 [33]
Flag of Azerbaijan.svg  Azerbaijan 51 [40]
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 51 [33] [35] [41]
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 48 [42]
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 48 [35]
Flag of Belarus.svg  Belarus 48 [35]
Flag of Uruguay.svg  Uruguay 47 [43]
Flag of France.svg  France 44 [33]
Flag of Cuba.svg  Cuba 44 [44]
Flag of South Korea.svg  South Korea 56 [35] [45]
Flag of Finland.svg  Finland 43 [33]
Flag of Hungary.svg  Hungary 43 [35]
Flag of Iceland.svg  Iceland 42 [46]
Flag of Latvia.svg  Latvia 41 [35]
Flag of Chile.svg  Chile 38 [47]
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium 35 [35]
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 30 [48]
Flag of Bulgaria.svg  Bulgaria 30 [35]
Flag of Germany.svg  Germany 21–34 [49] [50] [51] [52] [53]
Flag of Luxembourg.svg  Luxembourg 30 [35]
Flag of Slovenia.svg  Slovenia 30 [35]
Flag of Spain.svg  Spain 29 [54]
Flag of Switzerland.svg   Switzerland 26 [55]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 24 [56]
Flag of Slovakia.svg  Slovakia 23 [35]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 26 [57]
Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina 21 [58]
Flag of Botswana.svg  Botswana 21 [59]
Flag of Jamaica.svg  Jamaica 21 [60]
Flag of Lithuania.svg  Lithuania 19 [35]
Flag of El Salvador.svg  El Salvador 19 [61]
Flag of Singapore.svg  Singapore 17–19 [62]
Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 18 [35]
Flag of Ukraine.svg  Ukraine 16 [63]
Flag of Nicaragua.svg  Nicaragua 16 [64]
Flag of Belize.svg  Belize 16 [65]
Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa 15 [66]
Flag of Croatia.svg  Croatia 13 [35]
Flag of Guatemala.svg  Guatemala 13 [67]
Flag of Austria.svg  Austria 12 [35]
Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal 11 [35]
Flag of Costa Rica.svg  Costa Rica 11 [68]
Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines 11 [35]
Flag of Colombia.svg  Colombia 11 [69]
Flag of Suriname.svg  Suriname 10 [70]
Flag of Honduras.svg  Honduras 9 [69]
Flag of Brazil.svg  Brazil 8 [71]
Flag of Ecuador.svg  Ecuador 8 [72]
Flag of Peru.svg  Peru 8 [73]
Flag of India.svg  India 7 [35]
Flag of Ireland.svg  Ireland 7 [74]
Flag of Mexico.svg  Mexico 7 [69]
Flag of Venezuela.svg  Venezuela 6 [69]
Flag of Serbia.svg  Serbia 6 [35]
Flag of Poland.svg  Poland 5 [35]
Flag of Bolivia.svg  Bolivia 5 [75]
Flag of Greece.svg  Greece 4 [35]
Flag of Montenegro.svg  Montenegro 3 [76]
Flag of Panama.svg  Panama 3 [77]
Flag of Turkey.svg  Turkey 3 [35]
Flag of Romania.svg  Romania 2 [35]
Flag of Tanzania.svg  Tanzania 2 [35]
Flag of Paraguay.svg  Paraguay 2 [78]
Flag of Malta.svg  Malta 1 [35]
Flag of Iran.svg  Iran 1 [35]
Flag of Uganda.svg  Uganda 1 [35]
Flag of Nigeria.svg  Nigeria 1 [35]
Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand <1 [79]
Flag of Bangladesh.svg  Bangladesh <1 [35]

See also


    Related Research Articles

    Accurate demographics of atheism are difficult to obtain since conceptions of atheism vary across different cultures and languages from being an active concept to being unimportant or not developed. In global studies, the number of people without a religion is usually higher than the number of people without a belief in a deity and the number of people who agree with statements on lacking a belief in a deity is usually higher than the number of people who self-identify as "atheists". According to sociologist Phil Zuckerman, broad estimates of those who have an absence of belief in a deity range from 500 to 750 million people worldwide. Other estimates state that there are 200 million to 240 million self-identified atheists worldwide, with China and Russia being major contributors to those figures. According to sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera's review of numerous global studies on atheism, there are 450 to 500 million positive atheists and agnostics worldwide, with China having the most atheists in the world.

    Ietsism is an unspecified belief in an undetermined transcendent reality. It is a Dutch term for a range of beliefs held by people who, on the one hand, inwardly suspect – or indeed believe – that "there must be something undefined beyond the mundane and that which can be known or can be proven", but on the other hand do not necessarily accept or subscribe to the established belief system, dogma or view of the nature of a deity offered by any particular religion. Some related terms in English are agnostic theism, eclecticism, deism and spiritual but not religious.

    Atheism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.

    Irreligion in Australia

    Atheism, agnosticism, deism, scepticism, freethought, secular humanism or general secularism are increasing in Australia. Post-war Australia has become a highly secularised country. Religion does not play a major role in the lives of much of the population.

    Surveys show that Americans without a religious affiliation, sometimes referred to as "Nones" range around 23.8%, 26%, 24.8%, 33%, 21%, and 31.4% of the population, with 'nothing in particulars' making up the majority of this demographic. Since the early 1990s, independent polls have shown the rapid growth of those without a religious affiliation.

    According to the Pew Research Center in a 2014 survey, self-identified "atheists" make up 3.1% of the US population, even though 9% of Americans agreed with the statement "Do not believe in God" while 2% agreed with the statement "Do not know if they believe in God". According to the 2014 General Sociological Survey, the number of atheists and agnostics in the U.S. had remained relatively flat in the previous 23 years. In 1991, only 2% identified as atheist, and 4% identified as agnostic. In 2014, only 3.1% identified as atheists, and 5% identified as agnostics. In 2009, Pew stated that only 5% of the US population did not have a belief in a god and out of that small group only 24% self-identified as "atheist", while 15% self-identified as "agnostic" and 35% self-identified as "nothing in particular". According to the 2008 ARIS, only 2% the US population was atheist, while 10% were agnostics. A survey using binary wording found that around 26% of Americans don't believe in god, but they were not comfortable with directly admitting it. However, methodological problems have been identified with this particular study since people do not have binary relationships to questions on God and instead have more complex responses to such questions.

    Irreligion in New Zealand refers to atheism, agnosticism, deism, religious scepticism and secular humanism in New Zealand society. Post-war New Zealand has become a highly secular country, meaning that religion does not play a major role in the lives of many of the population.

    Irreligion and atheism are present among a minority of mainly young people in Pakistan.

    Irreligion in Germany

    Irreligion is prevalent in Germany. As of 2009, more Germans are non-believers in Eastern Germany than Western Germany. When taken overall, Germany is a remarkably secular nation, though in spite of this, many areas in Western Germany don't have demographics of irreligion comparable to that of several nearby European countries.

    Irreligion in the Republic of Ireland

    Ireland has been traditionally devoutly Catholic throughout most of its modern history.

    Irreligion, according to the South African National Census of 2001, accounts for the religious beliefs of 15.1% of people in South Africa, the majority of those being White.

    Irreligion in Ghana is difficult to measure in the country, as regular demographic polling is not widespread and available statistics are often many years old. Many Ghanaian nationals claim the Christian faith. Many atheists in Ghana are not willing to openly express their beliefs due to the fear of persecution. Most secondary educational institutions also have some form of religious affiliation. This is evident in the names of schools like Presbyterian Boys School, Holy Child School and many others. Atheists form a very small minority in Ghana.

    Irreligion in Uruguay refers to the secularity or atheism in the country. Over 47% of the population is irreligious. Uruguay is traditionally the least religious country in South America.

    The relationship between the level of religiosity and the level of education has been studied since the second half of the 20th century.

    China has the world's greatest irreligious population, and the Chinese government and Communist Party is officially atheist. Despite limitations on certain forms of religious expression and assembly, religion is not banned, and religious freedom is nominally protected under the Chinese constitution. Among the general Chinese population, there are a wide variety of religious practices. The Chinese government's attitude to religion is one of skepticism and non-promotion. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 47% of Chinese people were convinced atheists, and a further 30% were not religious. In comparison, only 14% considered themselves to be religious. More recently, a 2015 Gallup poll found the number of convinced atheists in China to be 61%, with a further 29% saying that they are not religious compared to just 7% who are religious. Since 1978, the constitution provides for religious freedom: "No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens because they do, or do not believe in religion". The Chinese state officially recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. In order to be a member of the Communist Party of China an individual "must accept atheism".

    Irreligion in the Philippines is particularly virtually non-existent among Filipinos, with Christianity being the dominant faith. Less than 0.1% of Filipinos lack a religious affiliation. It is difficult to quantify the number of atheists or agnostics in the Philippines as they are not officially counted in the census of the country, although the National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2010 gathered that 73,248 Filipinos have no religious affiliation or have answered "none". Also, atheism is growing as people are educated more and became more logical. Simply not believing that there is a God or a creator. However, since 2011, the non-religious increasingly organized themselves, especially among the youth in the country. There is a stigma attached to being an atheist in the Philippines, and this necessitates many Filipino atheists to communicate with each other via the Internet, for example via the Philippine Atheism, Agnosticism and Secularism, Inc. formerly known as Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society.

    Irreligion in Latin America refers to various types of irreligion, including atheism, agnosticism, deism, secular humanism, secularism and non-religious. According to a global survey conducted in 2011, 16% of the population has no religion.

    The secular movement refers to a social and political trend in the United States, beginning in the early years of the 20th century, with the founding of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism in 1925 and the American Humanist Association in 1941, in which atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, freethinkers, and other nonreligious and nontheistic Americans have grown in both numbers and visibility. There has been a sharp increase in the number of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated, from under 10 percent in the 1990s to 20 percent in 2013. The trend is especially pronounced among young people, with about one in three Americans younger than 30 identifying as religiously unaffiliated, a figure that has nearly tripled since the 1990s.

    While Italy is a predominantly Christian country, the prevalence of irreligion and general secularism is significant: most surveys put the share of religiously unaffiliated population around 11.5-13%. The Global Religious Futures project predicts this number to grow to 16.3% by 2050, despite the unaffiliated group having slightly lower fertility rate than the religious ones. The WIN/GIA Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism survey, using a different definition, found that 23% of the population was "not a religious person" in 2012, which grew to 26% by 2017.


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