What do you think religion will look like in thirty years?
If you said that religion will disappear, you would be very, very wrong.
The Pew Research Centre, an American nonpartisan think tank, has undertaken a comprehensive study and prediction of the future of religion, looking forward globally to 2050.
The conclusions are surprising.
Drawing from over 2500 different data sources from around the world, the study suggests that many of the myths we think are true about religious faith and religions are simply false. Religion and religious faith is not going away.
There are many reasons for that conclusion, but there are eight key results of the study which should be considered.
Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest global religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
Much of this has to do with demographics. Christians are older and not having babies. Muslims have a younger population and larger families.
Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share, as a percentage, of the world’s total population.
The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
In the North America, the number of Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the United States than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
The reason for this is simply fertility, according to the Pew study, and immigration.
The last conclusion the study offers is four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Again the study says, “Religions with many adherents in developing countries – where birth rates are high, and infant mortality rates generally have been falling – are likely to grow quickly.”
And what of Christians?
Over the coming decades, the study says, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from people switching to other faiths or no faith at all. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.
The study even ventures into the next fifty years, suggesting that although not intended as a prediction, Islam will surpass Christianity as the most populous faith by 2070 and both Christianity and Islam will parallel each other in growth after that. Again, that growth in both faiths will happen mostly in Africa.
Is this bad news? Depends on how you look at the world. But it reminds us that we live in a very different world; one which is changing all the time. What we knew is not what we will be. And what we will be is a very, very different world.
Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.