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Panorama de l’implantation religieuse

It is difficult to know exactly the religious composition of France : the available information provides from polls, therefore, the results are always estimations (see the sources of data heading).

Secularism is a constitutional principle in France. However, France has during a long time been a nearly entirely Catholic country, and remains a country of Catholic culture : many bank holidays have their source in the teachings of the Catholic Church. One can also note that the Bible comes on top of the list of "fundamental books" (according to a TNS-SOFRES poll for SNCF, July 2004, entitled les livres fondateurs des Français) and that there is a Bible in 37% of French homes (IPSOS survey for ABF 2010, les Français et la Bible).
Recent polls confirm the dominant number of Catholics in France : 61 % according to the IFOP survey of 2011, les Français et la croyance religieuse.

The number of Catholics is however steadily diminishing since the 1950s (it was of 81% in 1965, see the IFOP survey of 2010 le catholicisme en France). Even though one can find nowadays in France more people declaring that they believe in God (56%) than people who declare not to believe (IFOP survey les Français et la croyance religieuse, April 2011), the number is much lower than it was in 1947 (there were 66% of believers). The Roman Catholic Church itself foresees a diminution of the membership (see an article in La Vie).
The 2019 Annual Activity Report of the Conference of Bishops of France reveals a slight decrease in the contribution to the Church’s funds, around minus 4%. The number of donors is also decreasing, but this decrease is offset by the steady increase in average donation, which increased by nearly 14% between 2013 and 2017. Quests, legacies and offerings made on the occasion of religious ceremonies (baptisms, weddings or funerals) are also on the rise ; however, the number of sacraments is decreasing (see Arnaud Bevilacqua, "L’Église de France fait son bilan annuel, La Croix, 24 June 2019).

Other religious groups, of smaller but growing numbers, can be found in the French landscape : a Sociovision survey of 2014 gives the following numbers : 48% of French declare themselves to be Catholic, 6% Muslim, 2% Protestant, 1% Jew, 1% Buddhist, 1% of another religion. The latter can be Hindu, Orthodox, from an Eastern Christian Church, Jehova’s Witness, as well as a large number of groups belonging to the "new religious movements".
According to the same survey, the relation to religion ranges from 10% of practicers, to 36% believers but not practicers, 14% belonging to a denomination but non believer, and 39% "non of all this".
A survey called Trajectoires et origines (Trajectories and Origins), although mainly interested in immigrants, provides information on religious belonging (in French).

The number of persons without any religious convictions is increasing. France has the 6th rank of the countries with the most atheists (2.733.000) and the 9th rank in percentages (4,2%) in 2016 (Brian J. Grim, Tood M. Johnson, Vegard Skirbeck, et al., Yearbook of International Religious Demography 2017, Leiden : Brill, 2017, p. 16).

For further details, see the other religious groups and religious minorities headings.
See also :
 A.-L. Zwilling, "The struggle for laïcité in France" on the O-re-la website.
 OBSERVATOIRE DE LA LAÏCITÉ, Étude sur la visibilité et l’expression religieuses dans l’espace public en France, July 2019
On religious visibility and expression in public space in France.

D 12 septembre 2019    AAnne-Laure Zwilling

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