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Religious belonging and religious demography

Religiosity and the Italian youth

A survey on religiosity among young Italians was commissioned by the Centro orientamento pastorale and carried out by Instituto IARD. Conducted in 2004 among 3000 young people aged between 15 to (...)

A survey on religiosity among young Italians was commissioned by the Centro orientamento pastorale and carried out by Instituto IARD.
Conducted in 2004 among 3000 young people aged between 15 to 34 years, the survey revealed that almost 70% of the say that they are Catholic. 75% of this figure are aged 15-17 years, 72% are 30-34 years, with the lowest percentage being among 18-20 year olds (62%).
The highest percentage of Catholics was found in the South of Italy (80%) and the lowest percentage in the regions at the centre (59%).
On the subject of religious practices, 15% of the sample say that they attended Church every week over the previous six months. Furthermore, one out of five young persons prays everyday while one out of four admits to never praying.

See Riccardo Grassi, Giovani, religione e vita quotidiana. Un’indagine dell’Istituto Iard per il Centro di Orientamento Pastorale, Il Mulino, 2006.

D 27 September 2012    AFrançoise Curtit

Religious belonging among immigrants

According to the last Dossier Caritas, by the end of 2003, 49.5% of the total immigrant population in Italy was Christian (2,400,000 foreigners according to the Istituto nazionale di statistica (...)

According to the last Dossier Caritas, by the end of 2003, 49.5% of the total immigrant population in Italy was Christian (2,400,000 foreigners according to the Istituto nazionale di statistica and about 2,800,000 according to Caritas). This is due particularly to the recent increase in Orthodox believers coming from Eastern Europe. Of this figure, 22.6% are Roman Catholic, 20.3% are Orthodox, 4.7% are Protestant and 1.9% are members of other Christian religions.
After Roman Catholicism, Islam represents the second largest religion in the country, being 33% of the foreign population (730,000 persons). Jews represent 0.3% of the foreign population, Hindus 2.4% and Buddhists 1.9%.
The figures may however not be completely accurate – and may even need to be scaled down – for the Orthodox, the Protestants and the Eastern religions. The documents from Cesnur stress that a certain number of immigrants from the Far East say that they do not belong to any religion and that a good number of Chinese immigrants would in fact seem to be Christians. It is also worth keeping in mind that figures provided by the home countries often underestimate the minority religions on their soil. In preparing the official statistics in Italy, the percentage of immigrant believers is calculated based on the estimations in their countries of origin. The official number of Muslims in a country does not necessarily translate to the same number among immigrants in Italy.

Religious belonging is closely linked to the job market, considering particularly the case of "domestic workers". 70% of these workers are Christian (347,000 out of 490,000 female foreigners), followed by 11.4% of Muslim women and only 3.7% of members of the Eastern religions.

D 27 September 2012    AAlessandra Marchi

Religious Minorities

In 2013, one could count in Italy 836 religious and spiritual minorities operating in an organized fashion were counted (CESNUR report). Over the last 10–15 years, the image of minority religions (...)

In 2013, one could count in Italy 836 religious and spiritual minorities operating in an organized fashion were counted (CESNUR report). Over the last 10–15 years, the image of minority religions in Italy has profoundly changed, both from a quantitative point of view and because of the presence of new actors on the national scene. Currently, a sharp increase in religious faiths other than Catholicism can be observed; with the continuous flow of foreign immigrants into Italy (particularly from North Africa and Eastern European countries (see 2013 Statistics), the importance and internal composition of the minority religions present in the country is consequently changing. This concerns primarily Muslims, and secondly, Orthodox Christians immigrating from Eastern Europe, as well as Hindus, Buddhists, followers of the Sikh and Radhasoami religions, a notable Pentecostal, Neo-Pentecostal, and Baptist presence (from China, Korea, the Philippines, and Sub-Saharan Africa), and members of the Coptic Church. If we consider only Italian citizens, including naturalized ones, a percentage of 2.5% of the total resident population profess a non-Catholic religious identity. If we consider all residents within the Italian territory, the percentage of religious minorities increases to 7.6%.

76% of Italians claim to be believers, 15% are atheists and non-believers, 4-5% say they are “searching something”. Out of all the Italians declaring themselves Catholic (79% of the population), 22% define themselves as “convinced and active from a religious point of view”, 32% consider themselves “convinced but not always active”, 35% adhere to Catholicism for traditional or educational reasons, and 7–8% because they share its fundamental ideas even if they interpret them in an autonomous and subjective way (See "Gli Italiani, la religione, la Bibbia").

Jewish 40.000
Historical Protestants 60.000
Pentecostal evangelicals 300.000
Other evangelicals 50.000
Immigrant Evangelicals (Ethnic Churches) 300.000
Orthodox 1.400.000
Jehovah’s Witnesses 400.000
Mormons 25.000
Islam 1.500.000
Hinduists 135.000
Buddhists 100.000
Sikh 30.000
Baha’I 3.000
Total 4.343.000 (tot. Population: 61.482.297)

Source: Brunetto Salvarani, “I (difficili) numeri delle religioni in Italia”, in A. Melloni (ed.), Rapporto sull’analfabetismo religioso, Il Mulino 2014, p. 390.

D 16 July 2015    AMariachiara Giorda

Religious affiliation and practice

The majority of Italians continue to be affiliated to Catholicism, an affiliation that is resisting the test of time and the spread of modernity. For a very long time Catholic identity has (...)

The majority of Italians continue to be affiliated to Catholicism, an affiliation that is resisting the test of time and the spread of modernity. For a very long time Catholic identity has represented a national constant in a country whose history and political culture are too impregnated with faith and tradition for this identity to be relegated to the margins of life in society.
However, during recent decades, changes can be identified in the country which indicate both the presence of a more deeply-rooted religious pluralism and a greater number of people saying that they have no religion (table 1). Mainly as a result of immigration flows from abroad which have recently impacted Italy, those declaring a religious affiliation other than to Catholicism have increased from 0.8% in 1991 to almost 5% in 2007. This growth does not relate to religious minorities historically present on a national level (like Evangelist Protestants, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.), but rather the religions of new immigrants (i.e. Orthodox Christianity or Islam), who have rediscovered in their land of adoption a religious identity which is fostering community bonds and backing up their requests for citizenship. In parallel, the number of those claiming no religion has increased slightly: today they account for about 9% of the population.

Table 1 – Italian population by religious belonging, in percent
Comparison between two surveys based on representatives samples of Italian population aged from 16 to 74

Survey 1994* Survey 1997**
Catholic 88,6 86,1
Other religion 2,6 4,8
Reformed 8,8 9.1
Total 100 (4500) 100 (3160)

*Source: Vincenzo Cesareo, Roberto Cipriani, Franco Garelli, Clemente Lanzetti, Giancarlo Rovati, La religiosità in Italia, Mondadori, Milano, 1995 (échantillon de 4 500 individus).
**Source : Indagine sulla nuova religiosità in Italia, Apsor (Associazione piemontese di sociologia delle religioni), Torino, 2007 (sample of individuals)

Even with these changes, affiliation to Catholicism still remains high in Italy, considering that it involves 85% of the population today. However, this religious reference is not socially significant, because it groups together very diverse ways of interpreting the Catholic identity. It can be stated that Italy is characterised by a dual religious pluralism. Alongside pluralism related to the presence of several religions, another type of pluralism can be identified, internal to the Italian Catholic identity. The most recent analyses have taken a look at this phenomenon, by recognising four types of affiliation to Catholicism (table 2): “Catholics by tradition and culture” and those who say they are “committed, but not very active” (each of these types accounts for approximately 30% of the population), while a little less represented are “committed, active Catholics” (more than 1/5 of Italians) and notably “Catholics on their own terms”, who only partially share the religious model of affiliation (approximately 7%). These are very different groups, characterised by specific religious and ethical profiles, who illustrate the pluralism of reference points which characterises Italian Catholicism today. On the other hand, the “no religion” group is pretty homogeneous, characterised by approaches and visions of society typical of those who do not grant any value to the religious dimension and have not had intensive socialisation with the church.

Table 2 – Evolution of Italian catholic population according to the religious membership type, in percent

Membership type of religion Survey 1994* Survey 1997**
Convinced and practising 20,2 21
Convinced but not always practising 36,9 28,8
By tradition, education 24,8 31.6
You share some ideas 8,7 7,5
Other 0,6 2
Without religion 8,8 9,1
Total 100 (4377) 100 (3008)

*Source: Vincenzo Cesareo, Roberto Cipriani, Franco Garelli, Clemente Lanzetti, Giancarlo Rovati, La religiosità in Italia, Mondadori, Milano, 1995 (sample of 4 500 individus).
**Source : Indagine sulla nuova religiosità in Italia, Apsor (Associazione piemontese di sociologia delle religioni), Torino, 2007 (sample of 3 160 individuals)

Taking into consideration the last 10 years (by including in the analysis those with “no religion”), interesting constants and changes in the quantitative evolution of different types of religiosity can be observed. The groups located at the two extremities of the religious field - i.e. “committed, practising Catholics” and those with “no religion” – evolve only slightly; these therefore relate to sufficiently solid subcultures to survive the passing of the years. On the other hand, “committed, practising Catholics” decrease appreciably over the period, whereas the group which identifies with Catholicism for reasons of tradition and culture is experiencing strong growth. In a society which underlines its multi-ethnic and multi-religious character, it seems that the tendency to re-appraise the traditional religion (the requirement to be rooted in a history and culture able to offer security and reference points when faced with innovations) is on the increase among Italians. Within this group are to be found not only those who declare themselves to be Catholic by virtue of tradition, rather than personal conviction, i.e. for cultural and symbolic reasons, than for specifically spiritual reasons; but this also includes all those who identify with a “religion of values” of which religious groups as well as the Catholic Church itself can claim to be the representatives, in order to counter the crisis in ethical reference points and to reaffirm values which cannot be renounced. These forms of affiliation to Catholicism seem pretty much in line with the values of religious groups, even if they do not automatically imply acceptance of the dogma.
It is therefore easy to state that Catholic sentiment is being enriched by new forms of affiliation, the majority of which were previously unknown. Compared to other national contexts, in Italy we can record fewer attitudes of “faith without religious affiliation” (expression of an autonomous spiritual quest, which makes no mention – not even critically – of a religious group or a church) and more attitudes of affiliation to Catholicism without strong religious participation.

D 27 August 2015    AMariachiara Giorda

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