by Kashmira Gander, The Independent
A new study charting how religions will develop globally over the next four decades has predicted that one in 10 of the next generation of Europeans will be Muslim.
Research published today by a US think tank has also revealed that Christianity will no longer be the world’s dominant faith by 2050, as almost all of the major religious groups will increase in numbers.
As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with nearly a third of all 6.9 billion people on Earth adhering to it, while Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 per cent of the global population.
Over the course of the next four decades, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world for the first time in history – at 31 per cent and 30 per cent of the global population, respectively.
In those four decades, four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pew Research Centre study suggests.
The Hindu population will rise by 34 per cent from a little over 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion, while the global Jewish population is expected to grow from a little less than 14 million in 2010 to 16.1 million worldwide in 2050.
The number of followers of so-called folk religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions – are projected to increase from 405 million to nearly 450 million.
Meanwhile, the number of Buddhists will be about the same size as it was in 2010, due to low fertility rates and aging populations in countries such as China, Thailand and Japan.
At the same time, the number of atheists, agnostics, and other people not affiliated with any religion will decline, from 16 per cent in 2010 to 13 per cent by the middle of the century, but increase in countries including the US and France.
In Europe, the percentage of Muslims will rise to around 10 per cent of the population in 2010.
While a larger Muslim population is not an issue in itself, Conrad Hackett, the lead researcher and demographer for the Pew report, stressed in an interview with the New York Times that this figure may be seized by anti-immigrant groups who warn of a Muslim-dominated “Eurabia”.
“We just don’t see that happening,” Dr. Hackett said.
The results are the culmination of a six-year study compiled from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers from across the world. Researchers took into account the current size and geographic distribution of the world’s major religions, age differences, fertility and mortality rates, international migration and patterns in conversion.
The Pew Research Centre study reasons that religious populations will grow because adherents are younger and have more children, while a smaller portion of people will switch or take up new faiths.
According to the study, Muslims have the highest fertility rate, an average of 3.1 children per woman – higher than 2.1, the minimum needed to maintain a stable population. Christians came in second, at 2.7 children per woman, Hindu at 2.4, while Jewish women gave birth to 2.3 children on average.
All the other groups have fertility levels under 1.8, which is too low to sustain their populations.