Westerners more likely to say religion is less important now than 20 years ago

People in north America, Europe and Australia are more likely to believe that religion plays a diminished role in society compared to 20 years ago.

A new study by the Pew Research Center found that people in Spain were most likely to see religion as less important now than 20 years ago (65 per cent), followed closely by Canada (64 per cent) and Australia (63 per cent). Only 7 per cent of Spaniards felt its role was more important today.

Across the 11 European countries surveyed, people were more likely to see religion's role as less important. The only exception to this was France, where opinion was evenly divided between more (39 per cent) and less (38 per cent).

In the US, 58 per cent said the role of religion in society was less important, while only one in five said it was more important. Close behind was the UK (52 per cent less vs 21 per cent more).

Indonesians were by far the most likely to say that religion played a more important role now than 20 years ago (83 per cent), followed by Nigerians (65 per cent) and Kenyans (60 per cent).

The survey also asked people how they felt about religion taking on a more important role in society and revealed widespread scepticism across European countries about this.

Out of the European countries surveyed, Sweden was the most strongly opposed to this (51 per cent), followed by France (47 per cent) and the Netherlands (45 per cent), while Greece was the most supportive (51 per cent). The UK was evenly split at 31 per cent against and 32 per cent for.

The US was more favourable about religion becoming increasingly important (51 per cent for vs 18 per cent against), as were South Africa (66 per cent for vs 8 against), Kenya (74 per cent for vs 8 per cent against), Nigeria (74 per cent for vs 8 per cent against).

The strongest support for religion playing a more important role in society was found in Indonesia (85 per cent for vs 4 per cent against).

Across the 27 countries surveyed, Pew found that those who said their faith was very important to them were more likely to favour religion playing an important role in society.

"Opinions vary widely across the countries surveyed on whether religion plays a more or less important role compared with 20 years ago," said Pew.

"But overall, there is a strong correlation between those who see religion's role in society growing and those who think religion is very important in their lives."