Religious Diversity in France

For a century now, France has experienced unprecedented religious diversity, despite the fact that the French state has a strong secular tradition.

Since the 1905 law on the separation of church and state, France has witnessed many different religions. In addition to the four recognized in 1905 (Catholicism, Reformed and Lutheran Protestantism, and Judaism), France has religions that are geographically and historically new. Islam, Buddhism and Orthodoxy now have their place in the French religious landscape. As a result, France is the European country with the largest number of Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists.

Despite the absence of official statistics since 1872 (when it was forbidden to collect data on the religious affiliation of the population), the following picture can be painted:

  • Catholicism remains the leading religion in France, despite a significant decline since the 1980s. Although Catholics now make up more than 60% of the population, only 10% of them actually practice their religion.
  • Atheism, which denies the existence of a divine essence, and agnosticism, which doubts its existence, have been on the rise for several years. Those who can be called "irreligious" make up almost 30% of the French population.
  • Islam has become the second largest religion in France. There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in France, practicing or non-practicing, representing 7% of the population.
  • Protestantism accounts for 2% of the population, or 1.2 million people.
  • Judaism has about 600,000 members (1%), most of whom are Sephardic.
  • Buddhism in France has 300,000 followers, mostly from Asia, to which should be added 100,000 followers from other countries, bringing the total to 400,000.
  • Other religious movements, in spite of the many polemics and controversies they may provoke because of their more or less sectarian character, are experiencing a certain vitality. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, number 140,000 "proclaimers."

Religious practice is low among the young and increases somewhat with age. This decline among younger generations can be explained by the fact that adherence to religion is less and less a matter of social conformity and more a matter of individual practice, and therefore requires fewer outward manifestations.


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