In my previous post Atheism is Everywhere?, we saw what seems to be an exponential increase in the visibility of those professing non-belief in a ‘God’ in recent years. Religious scepticism and other issues pertaining to non-belief are now featured on major television programmes, there has been an explosion of secular groups worldwide and many prominent people have come out to declare themselves as atheists.

But just how many many people in the world declare themselves to be atheists, agnostics or non-believers?

Gathering information on non-belief has tended to be difficult, given the social stigma attached with declaring oneself to be an atheist. Aside from being ostracised by family members, such a person runs a risk of facing problems at his place of employment, difficulty in running for public office. In certain Islamic countries, the act of apostasy (abandoning the faith) is a capital crime that attracts the death penalty. For this reason, incidences of self professed non-belief tends to be concentrated in mainly liberal democracies in the northern hemisphere, especially Europe (including Australia and New Zealand).

Despite the difficulty in compiling data, a number of studies have been conducted to establish how many people in the world declare themselves to be atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. In this post we shall look at a few.

Atheism World Map

Atheism World Map (Red – Religious, Green – Atheist)

Worldwide

As part of the 2007 Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Phil Zuckerman, in the third chapterAtheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns – compiled ‘a list of the top fifty countries containing the largest percentage of people who identify as atheist, agnostic, or non-believer in God’. According to Zuckerman, these figures are a ‘presentation of the findings of the most recently available surveys concerning rates of atheism, agnosticism, and non-belief in God in various countries worldwide’:

Country

Total country
population (2004)

% Atheist/Agnostic/ Nonbeliever in God

Number of Atheists/Agnostics
Nonbelievers in God
(minimum – maximum)

Sweden

8,986,000

46 – 85%

4,133,560 – 7,638,100

Vietnam

82,690,000

81%

66,978,900

Denmark

5,413,000

43 – 80%

2,327,590 – 4,330,400

Norway

4,575,000

31 – 72%

1,418,250 – 3,294,000

Japan

127,333,000

64 – 65%

81,493,120 – 82,766,450

Czech Republic

10,246,100

54 – 61%

5,328,940 – 6,250,121

Finland

5,215,000

28 – 60%

1,460,200 – 3,129,000

France

60,424,000

43 – 54%

25,982,320 – 32,628,960

South Korea

48,598,000

30 – 52%

14,579,400 – 25,270,960

Estonia

1,342,000

49%

657,580

Germany

82,425,000

41 – 49%

33,794,250 – 40,388,250

Russia

143,782,000

24 – 48%

34,507,680 – 69,015,360

Hungary

10,032,000

32 – 46%

3,210,240 – 4,614,720

Netherlands

16,318,000

39 – 44%

6,364,020 – 7,179,920

Britain

60,271,000

31 – 44%

18,684,010 – 26,519,240

Belgium

10,348,000

42 – 43%

4,346,160 – 4,449,640

Bulgaria

7,518,000

34 – 40%

2,556,120 – 3,007,200

Slovenia

2,011,000

35 – 38%

703,850 – 764,180

Israel

6,199,000

15 – 37%

929,850 – 2,293,630

Canada

32,508,000

19 – 30%

6,176,520 – 9,752,400

Latvia

2,306,000

20 – 29%

461,200 – 668,740

Slovakia

5,424,000

10 – 28%

542,400 – 1,518,720

Switzerland

7,451,000

17 – 27%

1,266,670 – 2,011,770

Austria

8,175,000

18 – 26%

1,471,500 – 2,125,500

Australia

19,913,000

24 – 25%

4,779,120 – 4,978,250

Taiwan

22,750,000

24%

5,460,000

Spain

40,281,000

15 – 24%

6,042,150 – 9,667,440

Iceland

294,000

16 – 23%

47,040 – 67,620

New Zealand

3,994,000

20 – 22%

798,800 – 878,680

Ukraine

47,732,000

20%

9,546,400

Belarus

10,311,000

17%

1,752,870

Greece

10,648,000

16%

1,703,680

North Korea

22,698,000

15%*

3,404,700

Italy

58,057,000

6 – 15%

3,483,420 – 8,708,550

Armenia

2,991,000

14%

418,740

China

1,298,848,000

8 – 14%*

103,907,840 – 181,838,720

Lithuania

3,608,000

13%

469,040

Singapore

4,354,000

13%

566,020

Uruguay

3,399,000

12%

407,880

Kazakhstan

15,144,000

11 – 12%

1,665,840 – 1,817,280

Mongolia

2,751,000

9%

247,590

Portugal

10,524,000

4 – 9%

420,960 – 947,160

USA

293,028,000

3 – 9%

8,790,840 – 26,822,520

Albania

3,545,000

8%

283,600

Argentina

39,145,000

4 – 8%

1,565,800 – 3,131,600

Kyrgyzstan

5,081,000

7%

355,670

Dominican Republic

8,834,000

7%

618,380

Cuba

11,309,000

7%*

791,630

Croatia

4,497,000

7%

314,790

(from 2007 Cambridge Companion to Atheism – Chapter 3 – Atheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns  [Zuckerman], pg.56)

Europe

According to Wikipedia, Eurostat is a Directorate-General of the European Commission located in Luxembourg. Its main responsibilities are to provide the European Union with statistical information at European level and to promote the harmonisation of statistical methods across the Member States of the European Union, candidate countries and European Free Trade Association countries. Since 1973, the European Commission has been monitoring the evolution of public opinion in the Member States, thus helping the preparation of texts, decision-making and the evaluation of its work. In 2005 it came out with its Eurobarometer survey, and below were the findings with regard to the study of religiosity across Europe:

Country 

Belief in a god 

Belief in a spirit
or life force 

Belief in neither a spirit, god or life force 

Turkey

95%

2%

1%

Malta

95%

3%

1%

Cyprus

90%

7%

2%

Romania

90%

8%

1%

Greece

81%

16%

3%

Portugal

81%

12%

6%

Poland

80%

15%

1%

Italy

74%

16%

6%

Ireland

73%

22%

4%

Croatia

67%

25%

7%

Slovakia

61%

26%

11%

Spain

59%

21%

18%

Austria

54%

34%

8%

Lithuania

49%

36%

12%

Switzerland

48%

39%

9%

Germany

47%

25%

25%

Luxembourg

44%

28%

22%

Hungary

44%

31%

19%

Belgium

43%

29%

27%

Finland

41%

41%

16%

Bulgaria

40%

40%

13%

Iceland

38%

48%

11%

United Kingdom

38%

40%

20%

Latvia

37%

49%

10%

Slovenia

37%

46%

16%

France

34%

27%

33%

Netherlands

34%

37%

27%

Norway

32%

47%

17%

Denmark

31%

49%

19%

Sweden

23%

53%

23%

Czech Republic

19%

50%

30%

Estonia

16%

54%

26%

(from the 2005 Eurobarometer survey)

What about Africa?

From Zuckerman’s report:

  • According to a 2004 survey commissioned by the BBC, Hiorth (2001) Inglehart et al (2004, 1998), Barrett et al (2001), the 1999 Gallup International Poll, and Johnstone (1993), less than 1% of those in Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, are atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious.
  • According to Johnstone (1993), 2.7% of those in Congo, 4% of those in Zimbabwe, 4% of those in Namibia, 1.5% of those in Angola and the Central African Republic, and 5% of those in Mozambique are nonreligious.
  • According to a 1999 Gallup International Poll, nearly 11% of South Africans chose “none” as their religion. According to Inglehart et al (2004), 1% of South Africans do not believe in God.

Uganda

As far as Uganda is concerned, Uganda Bureau of Statistics in 2002 conducted the Uganda Population and Housing Census in which household-based data on population, housing, agriculture, micro and small enterprises as well as community–based data was collected. It is considered to be the most comprehensive census ever undertaken in Uganda, gathering data from up to the sub-county level. On religious affiliations of Ugandans, it reported the following:

Religious Denominiations Number Percent
Catholics 10,242,594 41.9
Church of Uganda 8,782,821 35.9
Muslims 2,956,121 12.1
Pentecostals 1,129,647 4.6
SDA 367,972 1.5
Other Christians 286,581 1.2
Traditional 241,630 1.0
Other Non-Christians 159,259 0.7
Orthodox 35,505 0.1
Bahai 18,614 0.1
None 212,388 0.9

(from Uganda Population and Housing Census pg.8)

None’… 212,388.

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