The Return of Secularization: New Data and Evidence

Roberto Stefan Foa
31. Mai 2016 bei GESIS in Köln (Konferenzraum Ost) 13.45 Uhr


Abstract Abstract: In the 1960s, it was widely held that religion was on the decline. Education, urbanization, and the rise of secular ideologies would lead religious belief, and religious practice, to wither away (Berger 1967; Inglehart 1977). The decades since have not been kind to secularization theory, as the outbreak of sectarian conflict in formerly 'secular' societies such as Bosnia or Northern Ireland, the rise of religious movements and parties in India, Israel, or the Arab Middle East, the return of religious faith to the post-communist world – as well as the restructuring of global politics along the lines of a "clash of civilizations" and the rise of international terrorism - have led to a profound questioning of the theory that religious values and identities are inevitably on the wane (Huntington 1996; Toft et al. 2011). This paper assesses new evidence of worldwide secularization, using a combination of World Values Survey data since 1981 and WIN-Gallup data collected in 2012 and 2014. Contrary to the common perception, religiosity is in decline across most regions of the world,while the explicit rejection in religion – in the form of overt atheism – is growing in prevalence. The global number of atheists has doubled in thirty years, and within the next decade, atheism is set to surpass Islam as the world's second most widespread religious belief-system after Christianity.


Zur Person Dr. Roberto Stefan Foa recently graduated from the Harvard University Department of Government. He was previously designer of the Indices of Social Development ( at the World Bank in Washington DC, is a member of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research at the Higher School of Economics, and is a Principal Investigator for the World Values Surveys. His research ( examines quality of government, democratic transition, comparative social indicators, social trust, and patterns of global civil society.