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Nouvelles données ISSP sur la religion des Français

For more than 30 years, the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) has been conducting every year a quantitative survey in about 40 countries. In 2018, the questionnaire focused on religion, as was already the case in 1998 and 2008. This allows to measure changes over 20 years. In France, the survey is administered by the Pacte laboratory (Sciences po Grenoble, CNRS, UGA). The results for France have been published with analytical comments. Here are some global trends that emerge from the results.

The image of religions has not deteriorated, but it is not good. For many, religions sow conflict rather than peace, they are an obstacle to equality between men and women, and religious convictions are said to lead to intolerance. However, the image of Christians is much better than that of Muslims. The image of atheists and non-believers is also very good, and is clearly improving.

The survey highlights the complexity of the world of religious beliefs. While 14% undoubtedly believe in the existence of God and 27% are convinced of his non-existence, all the others are positioned on a gradient from probable belief to probable non-belief. Thus, 14% choose the statement "even if I have doubts, I have the impression that I believe in God" and 8% "I realize that I believe in God at certain times but not at others". Over 20 years, total unbelief and doubts increase while assured belief diminishes.

It seems that doubtful beliefs in God are quite often compatible with popular beliefs known as heterodox (lucky charms, forecasting the future, healers, signs of the zodiac). These popular beliefs are also frequent among those who are tempted by alternative spiritualities and by the mystical-esoteric nebula.

Surprisingly, the belief in an afterlife is significantly more developed among the young than among the elderly. They probably express more hope for the future - of a psycho-religious nature - than a real belief in an extra-mundane universe or in the great Christian story of salvation.

While 55% said they belonged to a religion in 1998, today only 46% recognize it. Religious practices are also on the decline. 8% attend a religious service every month, compared to 11% in 1998. While 52% said they prayed almost every week in 1998, this is now the case for only 30% of the population, with of course wide variations from one generation to the next.

The results show that religious socialization in childhood has a strong influence on the religiosity of today’s adults. From one generation to the next, there is a loss of religiosity but very little movement in the opposite direction : if one has never had a religious education, conversion is very rare.

The feeling of being irreligious increasingly dominates among the population. But many admit that religion can be useful in making friends and especially in finding comfort in times of hardship.

Of course, many other conclusions can be drawn from these data.

<For more information : the data file are accessible at ADISP.

D 3 août 2020    APierre Bréchon

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