By Chijama Ogbu
Nigeria is the second ‘most religious’ country in the world with 93 per cent of the people believing in religion, according to a global survey.
The West African country is only bettered in the ranking by its neighbour Ghana, where 96 per cent professed belief in religion.
The poll results released at the weekend by the Win-Gallup International Religiosity and Atheism Index also indicated that globally, the number of people claiming to be religious dropped by 9 per cent while atheism rose by 3 per cent.
The poll, conducted during November 2011 and January 2012, was based on interviews with 52 000 men and women from 57 countries in five continents.
The poll showed that China had the highest number of atheists at 47 per cent, followed by Japan with 31 per cent, Czech Republic with 30 per cent and France with 29 per cent.
Identifying with a faith tradition did not always equal religiosity. Of the 51,927 people surveyed, 97 per cent of the Buddhists, 83 per cent of Protestants, 80 per cent of Hindus and 81 per cent of Catholics described themselves as religious.
The average dropped to 74 per cent among Muslims and only 38 per cent among Jews, the survey said.
Africa topped the list of most devout regions of the world, with 89 per cent saying they were religious. After that comes Latin America (84 per cent), South Asia (83 per cent) and the Arab world (77 percent).
North Asia came in the least religious at 17 per cent, followed by East Asia at 39 percent. North America reported 57 per cent religiosity, Western Europe 51 per cent and Eastern Europe 66 per cent.
Religious attachment ran high in what the survey called global flash-points — mostly Muslim Iraq (88 percent), Pakistan (84 percent), Afghanistan (83 percent) and Palestinian territories (65 percent).
The survey confirmed a decades-old trend of religiosity dropping in most countries as economic development progresses.
“It is interesting that religiosity declines as worldly prosperity of individuals rises,” the report reads.
“If citizens of each of the 57 countries are grouped into five groups, from the relatively poor to relatively rich in their own countries, the richer you get, the less religious you define yourself.”
Photo Credit: Global Index of Religiosity & Atheism
It was not clear why Vietnam, where the communist government has allowed some religious freedom but also harassed some faith groups in recent years, led the world in the drop in religiosity.
Traditionally Catholic Ireland has registered almost the steepest drop worldwide in people calling themselves religious. Only 47 percent of Irish polled said they were religious people, a 22-point drop from the 69 percent recorded in the last similar poll in 2005, according to the WIN-Gallup International
Average religiosity in the 57 countries included in the poll was 59 per cent, a decline of 9 points since 2005, it said.
At the same time, the number of people declaring themselves to be convinced atheists rose from 4 per cent worldwide in 2005 to 7 per cent this year. The biggest growth was in France.
The Deputy Managing Director of the RED C Research company in Dublin that conducted the Irish poll, Sinead Mooney, said two factors were responsible for the position of Ireland, which is just behind Vietnam, in the ranking of countries where religious feeling fell off most steeply.
“Obviously, there were all the scandals in the Church over that period — that was massive,” she said, referring to the repeated revelations of child sexual abuse by priests that have gravely damaged the image of Roman Catholicism there.
“Also, as countries get richer, they tend to lose some sense of religion,” she said. “We did become richer — at least at the beginning of that period.”
The countries where most people self-identified as religious were Ghana (96 per cent), Nigeria (93 per cent) and Macedonia (90 per cent). The most convinced atheists were found in Japan (31 per cent), Czech Republic (30 per cent) and France (29 per cent).Britain was not included in the survey because of technical problems when it was carried out from last November to January, Mooney said.
India has been ranked the 18th most religious country in the world with over 81 per cent citizens claiming to have religious sentiments, according to a latest survey.
It showed that only 13 per cent Indians considered themselves as “not religious” while 3 per cent claimed themselves as “convinced atheists”.
According to the survey, percentage change in atheism in India was found to be -1 per cent, while the percentage change in religiosity was recorded to be -6 percent.