Views of Religion in Europe


Generally defined as a social-cultural system, religion includes beliefs, doctrines, morals, and worldviews. These concepts are often based on the lives and teachings of historical figures. They are also accompanied by specific rules and behaviors. For example, a religious community often has a distinctive dress code and may carry out rituals in response to changes in core beliefs. Often, religions promise a reward for obeying a set of rules or fulfilling a religious practice.

Many people who participate in a religion may fear the consequences of their actions after death. Some of the principles of religion are fear of punishment, adherence to a belief system, and the belief that a supernatural being exists. While there is a great deal of debate about the merits of religion, one thing is clear: religion is a source of support for many people.

Most respondents who claim to be religious agree that religion gives them a sense of purpose, gives them moral guidance, and helps them distinguish right from wrong. However, there are also many who believe that religion causes harm. In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, more than half of adults say that religion harms them. In Portugal, Ireland, and Austria, only a minority of people have negative views of religion. The survey was conducted in April and November 2016 with a sample of adults aged 18 and over. The sampling error was estimated to be about three percentage points.

Among Americans, the share of adults who say that they are spiritual but not religious is relatively high. More than four in ten (42%) describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. This category also has more ambivalent views than the group that is neither religious nor spiritual. Compared to other categories of adults, college graduates have the least positive views of religion.

Despite the widespread belief that Christianity has a negative influence on people’s lives, a recent survey showed that a majority of practicing Christians in Europe embrace spiritual ideas. In addition, religiously unaffiliated Europeans have more positive views of religion than those who are affiliated. The survey found that Europeans who consider themselves neither religious nor spiritual are less likely to have a soul and are more likely to believe that there are no spiritual forces in the universe.

In addition, more than half of adults in all three countries said that religion gives them a sense of purpose. In Italy, more than four in ten adults said that religion provides meaning. In Portugal, nearly half of adults said that religion gives them a sense of meaning. In Ireland, more than half of adults said that religion gives them reassurance. The survey also found that the number of people who feel that they have a connection to spirituality is higher in the South than in the East.

A substantial minority of Europeans, including Christians, believe that they have a soul. In Finland, for instance, seven in ten say they have a soul. Similarly, in Norway and Sweden, more than half of adults say they have a soul.