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Religious opinions, beliefs and attitudes

Religious development

The majority of Italians continue to describe themselves as "practicing Catholics", but according to a survey published recently, a good many of them are willing to change the order or even the (...)

The majority of Italians continue to describe themselves as "practicing Catholics", but according to a survey published recently, a good many of them are willing to change the order or even the content of the Ten Commandments.
A study carried out by the centre for social studies, Censis, for the Italian episcopate, shows that 57.8% of Italians say they are "practicing Catholics", thus confirming the roots of Catholicism in the country.
In addition to these 57.8% there are 28.7% non-practicing Catholics. A mere 9.2% of Italians said they were agnostic or atheist and 4.3% said they belonged to another religion.
Only 21.4% of practicing Catholics, however, said they go to church every Sunday, according to the Censis study. Another study carried out by the weekly newspaper Expresso shows that the moral standards of today have altered the order of the 10 Commandments.
According to this study carried out on believers and non-believers, a majority of Italians would be in favour of making the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" first instead of fifth. They also feel the second commandment should be the one on stealing. Italians said they would move the first commandment "You shall have no other God but me" to the seventh spot.
The Espresso’s study also shows that Italians today would be in favour of a new Decalogue, of which the first commandment would be to "not commit any act of violence against children". According to the newspaper, the new commandments Italians would like to see are to "always protect peace", "protect nature and animals", "treat men and women equally", "not be racist" or "not use science to alter human beings".

Source: AFP news item from 18 Nov. 2004.

D 27 September 2012   

Religious beliefs

Throughout Europe, the decline in terms of religious practice and engagement with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church is more pronounced than that of religious beliefs. This can probably (...)

Throughout Europe, the decline in terms of religious practice and engagement with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church is more pronounced than that of religious beliefs. This can probably be explained by the fact that an espousal of beliefs requires less effort than a commitment to practice. Belief appears to survive almost by cultural inertia as a part of tradition that is internalised during primary socialisation, while practice and ethics demand more involvement and motivation. These tendencies only emerge partially in the Italian case.
Nationwide research conducted in 2007 suggests that the section of the population that does not believe in God (12.8%) or believes only in an undefined higher power (4.5%) is limited. Most Italians accept the notion of God predominating in Italian culture, namely that of a higher being who takes an interest in all human beings. However, for part of the population, this belief is no longer as firm as it was in the past. For instance, 12% of Italians believe in God sporadically at certain times in their lives while 25% are uncertain about their faith. In contrast, 46% have no doubt in their belief in God.
Overall, over 80% of Italians appear to identify with the Christian notion of God, although a large proportion of these individuals experience doubts with regard to this belief. Uncertainty with regard to religious reference points is an emerging cultural trait that is apparent if we compare the data over approximately 15 years (Table 1). It is interesting to note that the number of people who believe in God (82.6%) is slightly lower than that of those who describe themselves as Catholic (86.1%).

Table 1 – Faith in the existence of god

ISSP 1991 Enquête 2007
Non believer 9,4 12,8
Sporadic faith 10 11,7
Faith mingled with doubt 20,6 25,1
Faith without doubt 51,4 45,9
Total 100 (983) 100 (3160)

Source : Indagine sulla nuova religiosità in Italia, Apsor (Associazione piemontese di sociologia delle religioni), Torino, 2007 (échantillon de 3160 individus)

If we analyse the survival rate of other religious beliefs over the past 30 years, it is evident that a belief in hell and sin has remained stable (shared by 50% and 65% of the population respectively) while a belief in heaven appears to be less constant. In any event, more Italians believe in heaven than hell, perhaps because people tend to prefer the idea of a reward rather than a punishment in the afterlife. The most important aspect that emerges from a comparison of people’s belief in heaven and hell on one hand and belief in life after death on the other, at least in the most recent surveys (1994 and 2007), is that significantly higher numbers of Italians believe in heaven or hell than in life after death. These contradictions reflect the fact that the issue of our ultimate end has become obscure and unclear for many Italians.

Table 2 – Non-Catholic adherence to other beliefs

EVS 1981 ISSP 1991 Survey 1994* Survey 2007**
Life after death 57 66,4 45,2 39,8
Hell 33 4 8,5 52,3 49,7
Heaven 44 58 74,3 63,5
Sin 66 65,7 64,8

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

Source: Franco Garelli, Enzo Pace, Annalisa Frisina, “Portrait du Catholicisme en Italie”, in Alfonso Perez-Agote, Portraits du catholicisme, une comparaison européenne (Presses Universitaires Rennes, 2012). Research conducted as part of the work of the GERICR - European Interdisciplinary Research Group on Religious Change.

D 27 August 2015    AMariachiara Giorda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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