eurel     Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà

Croyances religieuses

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 août 2015    AMariachiara Giorda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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