Archive for April 2011

Faith in European politics

April 26, 2011

We publish our free quarterly research bulletin VISTA today. You can download a copy from the VISTA pages on this blog but here’s a taster from the current Issue for those of you who may not otherwise see it.


If you ask an average European* whether politics is important in their lives more than half of them will say that it is not.  However a closer look at the European Values Study data suggests a more complex picture.  We have focussed in on three aspects, the importance of politics to today’s Europeans, active involvement in political parties and their confidence in political institutions.


Only 9% of Europeans say that politics is very important in their lives with 60% saying that politics is not, or not at all important to them.  The most politically disengaged are the Portuguese and the Spanish with only 4.7% and 5.2% saying that politics is important, whereas 14% of Greeks say so. Further questions asking how interested they are in politics and how often they discuss political matters with their friends suggest similar levels of disinterest.

However, when asked how often they followed politics on TV, radio or in the papers a surprising contrast emerged.  In every one of the countries the level of political engagement through the media was significantly higher with almost 50% following political matters on a daily basis.


Given that so few say that politics is important to them, it is perhaps no surprise that the percentage of those who say they belong to a political party  is also very low. Overall just under 4% of Europeans belong to a political party or group but in some countries the percentage is much lower than that, only 2% in GB and Spain and 1% in Poland.  Only in the Netherlands is there a notably higher level of political engagement by belonging with nearly 12% saying that they belong to a political party.


The third measure of political engagement we considered relates to the confidence in political institutions, namely the parliament,   government, and political parties in the countries in question, and the EU.  Overall the political institution that enjoys the greatest confidence of Europeans is the EU with 7.5% of Europeans saying they are very confident about it.   This is followed by their own Parliament (3,9%), their government (2.8%) and finally the political parties themselves (1.4%).  As Figure 3 clearly shows however, there are significant national variations with Germany, GB and the Netherlands being much more euroskeptic, and Spain, Portugal, Poland and Italy ranking the EU as much more trustworthy than their national parliaments.  Tellingly in no country does confidence in political parties rise above 3%.


It is clear that Europeans are largely disengaged from politics when it comes to active participation in political parties or even political debate over coffee with their friends.  Nevertheless, they are avid consumers of political matters in the media which may evidence a keen self-interest if nothing else.

The crisis of confidence that political institutions are suffering is perhaps most clearly illustrated by comparison with levels of confidence in the church, another widely questioned institution.  In every country but Belgium the church enjoys much more confidence than political institutions.  Europeans appear to have more faith in faith than in politics.

The non-religious Swiss increases in size

April 20, 2011

25% of the Swiss are non-religious

A March 31st report by (31st March, 2011) carried news of a survey indicating that one in four Swiss citizens chose to describe themselves as ‘non-religious’. This was significantly up from the 1% who claimed to be non-religous in 1970 and the 11% who did so in the year 2000.

The Natural Science Foundation funded survey was carried out by Lausanne University professor Jörg Stolz and Münster University professor Judith Könemann, who suggested caution in interpreting the data. They pointed out that these unaffiliated individuals ‘might believe in God or be alternatively spiritual.’

The survey polled 1,229 people and a further 73 in-depth interviews produced a categorisation of people as one of four types: distanced (64%), institutional (17%), secular (10%), and alternative (9%). Institutionals represent the active churchgoers whilst the majority ‘distanced’ group attended occasional church services but did not consider religion to be very important in their lives. Most ‘alternatives’ were women and interested in’meditation, reincarnation and herbal remedies’.

Commenting on the findings, Markus Ries, a theologian at Lucerne University, predicted that in 25 years time there would be much more plurality regarding religious and non-religious practice, mirroring the increasing plurality in society at large.

In 2000, 161,075 people or 2.2% of the population belonged to so-called free churches (non-state recognised Christian denominations). For the moment Switzerland remains a Protestant country with 32% of the population claiming allegiance, a slim 1% ahead of the Roman Catholic population.

Further information about the changing face of religion in Switzerland and a number of useful links to the websites of various Swiss Churches is available by following this link.

Ukrainian ‘native believers’ restore Slavic traditions at cost of neo-Nazi claims

April 19, 2011

A Sylenkoite priest preaching in a Ukrainian temple (Source: Yuri Samson, Narodna Pravda)

Transitions Online (12th April 2011) reports that there are 80 neo-pagan associations with a likely membership of 3,000 adults currently active in the Ukraine. The main vehicles for popularising neo-pagan views are magazines and rock bands. In the Ukraine, the associations describe themselves as rodnovery, or ‘native believers’, in contrast to the term ‘pagan’ which normally carries negative connotations for Ukrainians.

Magazines such as Perun, Snezhen, and Svarog carry numerous articles featuring metal bands, may of which encourage nationalism, racism and the cult of violence. Ancestral devotion is used to stir up resentment and prejudice towards those ‘not privileged to be white’. However, supporters also point to other rodnovery groups which avoid these extremist views and promote the rule of nature and the pagan gods, pointing to their essentially peaceful co-existence with humankind and nature.

Some rodnovery pagan shrines have been attacked in recent years, following the movement’s resurgence after the demise of communism and official prohibition. Local Orthodox priests are usually suspected. The rodnovery movement’s recognised ‘wise man’ or magus, Svitovit Pashnyk, recently spoke out against the destruction of shrines in several locations across the Ukraine.

The Ukrainian associations are linked to similar groups in Russia and Belarus although most acknowledge the historical precedence of the Kyevian state over that of Moscovy and consequently international meetings tend to favour the Ukraine as the location of choice. Most rodnovery claim that their civilisation dates to over 7,500 years ago and that long before the rise of Mesopotamian states, the white race had spread from the Carpathians to the River Don.

For further information there is also a short piece on the Ukraine in the wikipedia article on Slavic neo-paganism.

Non-religious young people in Britain

April 15, 2011

Dr. Rebecca Catto (Lancaster University) has published her initial reflections on a small-sale survey of non-religious young people on the guardian online. ‘Beyond Grayling, Dawkins and Hitchens, a new kind of British atheism‘  reports on a one year project that explores the worldviews of young people who self-identify as atheists, free thinkers, humanists, secularists, and/or sceptics.

Catto reports that these ‘new atheists’ may be ‘more flexible and open to different perspectives than older non-religionists (some report attending events with actively Christian friends), and prefer to engage with online communitiesthan belong to official organisations. They are strongly influenced by family and education. Some have reacted against Christian upbringings; have been influenced by writers like Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris; one man is looking to challenge the influence of the Christian Union on his university campus; and another would like to break the association between Britishness and Christianity. For one woman, the important thing is being pro-human rather than anti-religious.’

This greater flexibility on the part of the new atheists compared to older non-religionists is supported by our own analysis of data from the European Values Survey in which we examined generational differences and secularisation.

The challenge to Christian witness is not necessarily that the new atheist perspective is a ‘faith-free’ zone. For some it would appear to be a search for truth and morality and for whom ‘the secular can be just as moral, emotional and sacred as the religious.’  Lesslie Newbigin serves as an important reminder that our task in Christian mission is to demonstrate the truth that Christian versions of morality, the sacred, and human nature are more adequate, beautiful, and compelling than its rivals.

Norwegian belief and Ice Age 2

April 11, 2011

The percentage of Norwegians who claim to attend church at least once a month has declined over the last ten years from 11 to 7% of the population, according to the Norwegian BAR magazine. During the same period, the percentage of self-described ‘atheists’ has increased from 10 to 18%. The percentage of children being baptised has fallen from 81% in 2000 to 68% in 2009. Figures from the Norwegian Research Institute, KIFO, indicate that while 81% of the Norwegian population remain in membership of the Norwegian (Lutheran) Church, this figure falls to 72% among the 20-30 year olds. However, census figures returned to the Church in March 2011, showed that the average Church of Norway member went to church once a year in 2010, that in 2010, 78% of Norwegians were church members, 66% had their children baptised, and confirmations had declined from 68.3% in 2000 to 64.9% in 2010. The percentage of Norwegians opting for a Church funeral was 91.1% in 2010.

In their book ‘Religion in Norway today: between secularism and secularisation’ Ulla Schmidt and Pål Ketil Botvar, point to the significant numbers of Norwegian young people who are leaving the Church for new religious movements. Meanwhile, and lending support to europeanmission’s own pan-European research (download from here), there is a noticeably low level of religious orientation and activity among 55-65 year olds. Botvar comments ‘This group has been vaccinated against religion.’

Consequently, the opinion shapers for the last ten to fifteen years in the media, education and government appear to have been active secularists and it may be that children and young people are gaining most of their religious impressions from the globalised entertainment industry.

Norwegian Professors, Liv Lied and Dag Øistein Endsjø, responsible for a book on religion and popular culture in Norway, suggest that Norwegian young people are far more likely to have learnt about ‘a ship that rescues animals from a flood’ from Ice Age 2 than from the book of Genesis. Consequently the religious preferences of many young people are drawn from popular culture and not the traditional teaching of the church. The authors argues that the Church has to understand popular culture in order to know how best to communicate with and disciple young people today. Equally importantly, the authors describe religious identity in Norway as something that is built according to personal choices and preferences – the Church cannot assume that it’s dogmatic teachings are being accepted without challenge or adaptation.

The willingness of the Norwegian church to adapt does not seem to be an issue, rather it seems to be a failure of the Church to understand what kind of religious identity and experience Norwegians want and how best to address that with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.