A new report by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life offers the most current and fully sourced estimates of the worldwide Christian population as of 2010. In a conference call with journalists, Pew Forum staff members discussed the findings of Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population. The comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries provides data on the world’s Christian population by region, country and tradition and graphically illustrates Christian geographic distribution. Findings are based primarily on a country-by-country analysis of approximately 2,400 data sources, including censuses and nationally representative population surveys. The report is accompanied by an online quiz providing an opportunity for Web visitors to test their knowledge of Christianity around the world.
Global Christianity is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, an effort funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Alan Cooperman, Associate Director for Research, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Conrad Hackett, Demographer, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Brian J. Grim, Senior Researcher and Director of Cross-National Data, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
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Geographically Widespread, No Regional Center
Growth in Pentecostalism in Latin America
Christianity in China
Global Christian Population Holding Steady
Difficulty Measuring Growth in Denominations
The Global North and Global South
Christianity in Egypt
OPERATOR: Hello, and thank you for joining us today for the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life’s Q-and-A session on the findings from the new Pew-Templeton report, “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.” Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, will make opening remarks, and Alan Cooperman, associative director for research, will moderate the discussion.
They are joined by the lead researcher for this study, Conrad Hackett, who is a demographer at the Pew Forum. We will go to the question-and-answer portion after brief remarks from our speakers. Please know this call is being recorded, and I’ll be standing by if you should need any assistance. It’s now my pleasure to turn the call over to Mr. Luis Lugo. Please go ahead, sir.
LUIS LUGO, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: Thank you. Good afternoon to all of you, and again, thank you for joining us today, less than a week before Christmas, to discuss our comprehensive new report on the size and distribution of the world’s Christian population. As was mentioned, I’m Luis Lugo; I’m the director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. We are a project of the Pew Research Center, which is a nonpartisan organization that does not take positions on issues or policy debates.
This report offers the most current and fully sourced estimates of the world Christian population in more than 200 countries as of 2010. It provides data by region, country and tradition, and graphically illustrates the geographic distribution of global Christianity. It also presents some comparisons with the world’s Christian population a century ago.
Our findings are based primarily on a country-by-country analysis of approximately 2,400 data sources, including censuses and nationally representative population surveys. For some countries — most importantly, given its size, China — our estimates also take into account statistics from church groups, government reports and other sources.
It should come as no surprise that there are significant challenges in estimating the size of the Christian population in China. As we readily acknowledge in the report, the estimate we offer is only an approximate one. We’re pleased to have on the line Brian Grim, the Forum’s director of cross-national data, who has a lot of experience working in China and would be glad to address any specific questions you may have about that critically important estimate.
There are a couple of other things to bear in mind. First, please note, as we mentioned in the preface, that the definition of “Christian” we used in this report is a very broad one. Our intention is sociological rather than theological. We are attempting to count groups and individuals who self-identify as Christians. This includes people who hold beliefs that may be viewed as unorthodox or heretical by other Christians.
Also keep in mind that the report does not seek to measure religiosity or religious intensity: for example, how often people pray or go to church. Undoubtedly many of these folks we pick up are nominally Christian, but they self-identify as such, so they’re counted. You know we have another major line of work, survey research, where we do attempt to measure the extent of people’s religious attitudes, beliefs and practices in the United States and increasingly around the world.
But we also want to know about the size of these religious groups and how they are distributed across the globe. We want to learn which faith groups are growing or shrinking, and where they are growing or shrinking. So we have embarked on an effort to produce reliable estimates of the current size and growth rates of the world’s major faiths, beginning with the global Muslim population, on which we have issued two major reports. (See Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population, October 2009, and The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030, January 2011.)
Lastly, let me mention that our global demographic and survey work is part of a multiyear effort that we call the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project. The project is jointly and generously funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, and it seeks to analyze religious change and its impact on societies around the world. There is a third component of that work, coding research, that focuses on analyzing religious restrictions around the world.
Now I’d like to turn things over to the Pew Forum’s associate director for research, Alan Cooperman, who was the lead editor of this report and who will be the moderator for this conference call. Thanks again to everyone for joining us, and Alan, over to you.
ALAN COOPERMAN, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: Thank you, Luis. Hi, everybody. Thanks for being on the call, really appreciate it. I’m going to be very brief. Just so we’re all literally on the same page for this call, if possible, if you can be online during the course of the call, if you go to our website at pewresearch.org/religion and go to the global Christianity report, but don’t open up the online version of the report.
Rather, I’m going to suggest, if possible, that you open up the PDF, which you’ll find under the “quick links”; it’s the first of the quick links. The reason I suggest you open up the PDF rather than the online version of the report is that the PDF has page numbers on it, and so we may, during the course of the call, want to refer to particular pages. You may want to ask about something on a particular page, or someone here may want to talk about a particular page.
You’ll also find on the website interactive maps and sortable tables. So if you are interested in the estimated number of Christians or subgroups of Christians — such as Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians or other Christians — in any particular country, it’s very easy to find that data in the sortable tables. If you’re interested in regional data, you can find it in the maps as well.
And with that, I hope that I’ve filibustered enough that perhaps you’ve had a chance to get open the PDF on a back screen. I’m going to turn this over to the Pew Forum’s demographer, Conrad Hackett, to run through some of the key findings of the report. Conrad?
“Christians are by far the world’s largest religious group. Christians are also remarkably widespread.”
CONRAD HACKETT, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: Thank you, Alan. It’s a pleasure to be with you today. Our report finds there’s a large Christian population, as you might expect. We find there are 2.18 billion Christians around the world, representing nearly a third of the 2010 global population. Christians are by far the world’s largest religious group. Christians are also remarkably widespread. In two out of three countries and territories in the world, the majority of the population identifies as Christian. Our 2010 estimates of the global Christian landscape are based on our analysis of over 2,400 surveys and censuses.
Historical data is helpful to put our results in context. We include some comparisons to the global Christian landscape in 1910, based on historical work which was done at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, which is tied to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.
For those of you who now have the PDF version of the report open, I invite you to turn to page 12, which contains a population cartogram, or a “weighted” map, depicting the world distribution of Christians in 1910 and 2010. I’d like to take a minute to describe some interesting patterns revealed on this map.
First, you’ll see that the Christian percentage of the world hasn’t changed much in a hundred years when you look at the pie charts on the left side of the map. They visualize the Christian share of the world in 1910 and 2010. Then and now, about one in three people in the world are identified as Christians.
While the Christian share of the world hasn’t changed much, Christians have grown radically in absolute numbers. Each square on the maps represents 1 million Christians. You’ll see there are many more squares in the 2010 map than in the 1910 map because the Christian count has more than tripled from about 600 million Christians in 1910 to 2.18 billion in 2010. Of course, the absolute number of people in the world has also grown, and grown at about the same pace, which is the reason why the Christian percentage of the world hasn’t changed much in the last century.
However, the geography of where Christians are distributed has changed tremendously in the last hundred years. In the 1910 map, you’ll see the continent of Europe dominates the weighted map because at that time, two out of every three Christians in the world lived in one of the countries of Europe. While the majority of Christians lived in Europe in 1910, by 2010 only about one in four Christians live in Europe.
If you hunt for sub-Saharan Africa on the 1910 map, you see it’s very tiny. Then in 2010, the region is much easier to recognize because it has grown tremendously. In fact, it grew by a factor of 60 — that’s six-zero — over the century, and there was also a 10-fold growth in the number of Christians in the Asia-Pacific region.
Today, as a result of these changes, there is no indisputable regional center of Christianity. In terms of population, Europe was clearly at the center of the Christian world in 1910. You see this in the weighted map, and if you turn to page 9, you can also see it quantified in a pie chart. In 2010, no one region holds a majority of the world’s Christians. Of the five regions we discuss in the report, the Americas — including North America and Latin America — is the region with the greatest share of global Christians, over one-third.
Today we describe how Christianity has spread far from its historical origins. Christianity began in the Middle East and North Africa region of the world, but today, less than one out of every 100 Christians in the world lives in the Middle East and North Africa region. In fact, there’re actually more Christians in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, than in all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region combined.
Additionally, Germany is the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, but using our broad definition of Protestantism — which includes Anglicans and independent churches — there are more than twice as many Protestants in Nigeria as in Germany today. And today Brazil has twice as many Catholics as Italy has.
Additionally, I’d like to just give you a sample of a few results that didn’t make our press release or executive summary that you may find interesting. In Great Britain, the proportion of people identifying as Christian recently fell by about 6 percentage points in less than five years, as described in our spotlight on the United Kingdom. In Egypt, the Christian population is only half the size that media accounts typically claim, and we describe this in our spotlight on Egypt.
The share of Christians in India is greater than census data suggests because many Christians in Scheduled Castes, historically referred to as Untouchables or Dalits, identify as Hindu to maintain eligibility for affirmative-action-type benefits that are legally restricted to Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in India. We describe this in our methodology discussion.
Our report has a lot more to say about four Christian traditions: Catholicism, Protestantism, Orthodoxy and other Christians, as well as three Christian movements: pentecostalism, the charismatic movement and evangelicalism. We welcome your questions about any aspect of the report.
COOPERMAN: Conrad, great, thank you very much. With no further ado, let’s open it up to questions from the reporters on the line. We’ll take the first question, please.
BILL TAMMEUS, THE KANSAS CITY STAR: Hi, thank you. Some years ago it was suggested that South America would, maybe within the lifetime of the current generation, become a pentecostal continent. I’m wondering whether your research has turned up any evidence that that in fact is happening, or was that just someone’s pipe dream?
COOPERMAN Go ahead, Conrad.
HACKETT: OK, thank you very much. In the back of our report, on page 67, we talk about Christian movements, including pentecostalism, and we have a share of the global pentecostal count that’s in the Americas. But we don’t actually do any projections of the pentecostal movement. We do find evidence that in many Latin American countries, such as Brazil, there continues to be a large growth of the pentecostal population.
So for Brazil, for example, a study recently came out from the census bureau that was conducted in 2009 of about 200,000 households, and it showed a large increase in the number of people affiliated with pentecostal churches compared to the 2001 Brazilian census. We use that recent 2009 estimate to make sure we are capturing all the people who may have once attended a Catholic church who are now identifying as members of the pentecostal movement. But we don’t at this time attempt to project pentecostal populations.
BRIAN GRIM, PEW FORUM ON RELIGION & PUBLIC LIFE: If I can jump in, just speaking of Brazil, still, Catholics are in the clear majority, and across Latin America we still find Catholicism to be the largest religion.
COOPERMAN: Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement are clearly related, so in addition to the pentecostal numbers, we would also have charismatics, including Catholic charismatics. If you were to add those two together — and those two categories in our numbers are mutually exclusive, so you can add those together — you cannot add them together with the evangelical numbers, but you can add the pentecostal and the charismatic numbers together — you’ll see that together, that’s a substantial portion of the population in the Americas. It’s a quarter of the population. Correct, guys?
LUGO: Yeah. Let me also get into the act here. Indeed, with respect to Brazil, of course the single largest country — when we last polled on religion in Brazil for our 10-country pentecostal survey, about half of Roman Catholics identified as charismatic, so it shows you the importance of pentecostalism as a movement, not just in the growth of pentecostal churches, but in non-pentecostal churches where many of these beliefs and practices have been incorporated.
I also recall from that survey that a significant percentage of pentecostals in Brazil were converts to pentecostalism, which underscores the point that, yes, significant conversions are going on towards pentecostalism. It’s not even throughout Latin America, but certainly in countries like Brazil, Chile, Guatemala — conversions in significant numbers towards pentecostalism.
RACHEL ZOLL, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: I know that you began the news conference talking about the issue of China, but I was wondering if I could ask you to get into some detail about the numbers themselves. And although this is kind of a silly question, I just wanted to ask you how confident you are that these are accurate, or how confident you can be that any numbers about Christianity in China are accurate.
GRIM: Thank you, Rachel. In the report we have a spotlight on China, and then we have another 14 pages on China in the appendix. So maybe one way to answer your confidence question is that the more we have to write about it, the more nuanced the estimate is. I’ll just summarize a few of the findings on China, and then within that give you an idea of where our confidence level is.
There’s broad consensus that in China there are tens of millions of Christians today, both from government sources and independent researchers. Anyone visiting China can see that there are steeples of churches dotting the landscape in most major cities, and they’re usually affiliated with the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Catholic Patriotic Association. Both of these associations operate their own seminaries, employ thousands of clergy and are served by a printing press in Nanjing that purports to publish more than 10 million Bibles annually.
Then when we looked at the different estimates for the full size of Christianity, not just counting the official denominations, we saw a range from about 1 percent of the population to about 8 percent of the population. Given that 1 percent is more than 10 million, just the margin of error in a survey can be very — you can have a very different result because of sampling. But our ballpark estimate, looking at a whole variety of sources that are outlined in the methodology, is that about 5 percent or one out of every 20 Chinese today is Christian, and this puts it in the middle of the different ranges of estimates.
But where there’s less consensus from researchers in China is the number of Christians who worship in unregistered churches, or those that are not affiliated with the state-approved Protestant and Catholic associations. In practice, unregistered churches, sometimes referred to as “house churches,” are forced to operate on the edges of the law. This is because there are very few specific laws that clearly establish the limits and freedoms of religious groups in society. Because of this ambiguous relationship that these types of group have — and it’s sometimes adversarial — relationships between the government and Christian groups that aren’t willing to join these state associations make it difficult to measure the size of these groups because both the government and the groups themselves can be suspicious of attempts to measure them.
“Just 30 years ago, most researchers weren’t even sure if religion had survived the Cultural Revolution in China, but today’s researchers are unanimous in agreement that religion is growing, including Christianity.”
But again, there is clear consensus that religion has grown in China. In fact, just 30 years ago, most researchers weren’t even sure if religion had survived the Cultural Revolution in China, but today’s researchers are unanimous in agreement that religion is growing, including Christianity. But whether the growth will continue or it’s reached a peak, we don’t know. Then again, if you have a look at the appendix, you can see the somewhat in-depth discussion of the different estimates.
I think that we have some degree of confidence that the size of the Christian population of China is more than 2 or 3 percent of the population but less than the higher estimates of 7 or 8 percent. So the number that we’ve settled on is 5 percent. Again, in some ways, that’s an arbitrary number, but there seems to be evidence that there’s a large Christian population beyond those affiliated with the officially recognized groups, but to estimate the size of these unregistered believers is very difficult.
The last note I’ll make is that measuring religion in China is a very difficult endeavor, first, because nationally representative surveys, where we can have access to data, are very limited. And even if these surveys exist, China is in such a state of flux with massive movements of people migrating that there may have been whole villages that have now moved to cities and trying to even count these people is a challenge in itself.
COOPERMAN: In addition to Brian, who’s an expert on religion in China, we also consulted some other experts on religion in China, and should you wish to contact some people, we could help you with that separately offline, as well.
JOHN ALLEN, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER: Good morning. Obviously, one of the megatrends that you spot in the study is the distribution of Christians away from Europe to the rest of the world. One thing that struck me reading through the data is that it seems to me that the Protestant percentages in Europe have dropped more dramatically than, say, the Catholic or Orthodox percentages. That is to say, the Protestant footprint in Europe has declined, it would seem, more significantly than those other two traditions. First of all, I want to know, is that accurate? Am I reading that correctly? And secondly, if I am, do you have any thoughts as to why that might be?
COOPERMAN: Just to make sure I understand your question, you’re asking if we see a greater decline in Protestantism in Europe than we do in Catholicism and Orthodoxy?
COOPERMAN: Well, to be candid, in the historical comparisons we made, we haven’t focused on the differences by tradition. We really focused on the country- and regional-level differences over time, and so there’s a lot of attention on just trying to get the data right for each country. That said, it does seem to me that many countries in Europe that have historically large Protestant populations have experienced or seem to be experiencing some recent change in the size of those Protestant populations. I alluded to the spotlight on the United Kingdom, where we describe how the Office of National Statistics’ large household survey shows a significant drop in the overall Christian percentage, just in the last five years. Brian, do you have anything to add on that?
“Despite the Communist government’s attempts to minimize religion in Russia for much of the 20th century, more than 70 percent of Russians today identify as Christians, and those are primarily Orthodox.”
GRIM: One thing I could add that I found surprising in the study is that given the communist domination of much of Eastern Europe for nearly a century, combined with the growing secularism in Western Europe, it still comes as somewhat of a surprise to some, I think, that three-quarters of Europeans are affiliated with some Christian tradition. So for instance, you mentioned Orthodox, John. Despite the Communist government’s attempts to minimize religion in Russia for much of the 20th century, more than 70 percent of Russians today identify as Christians, and those are primarily Orthodox. So maybe that’s a decline from 1910 figures, but within the context of what’s going on within Russia, that 70 percent of the country identifies with Orthodox Christianity still may seem surprising to some.
LUGO: Perhaps John had in mind the specific focus on Germany, Conrad, where we do suggest that the decline has been predominantly concentrated in the Protestant community in Germany, as opposed to the Catholic community.
HACKETT: Thank you, Luis. Yes, my own impression is that a Catholic identity tends to stick in a way that may not always be true for other kinds of Christian identities in countries that are undergoing a lot of religious change, and that may be part of what’s going on here.
COOPERMAN: I’ll just throw in — John, as we noted, the historical data were provided to us, and we’re very grateful for them. They were provided to us by Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. We’re glad to provide you with contact information for Todd; he’s really the leader in this field of historical analysis of church sizes.
We used this data for comparison purposes, but we tended not to try to get down to comparing percentages of Catholics in particular countries, 1910 to now, for a variety of reasons. But one reason is that the 1910 data is really done somewhat differently. Borders of countries have changed since 1910, a lot of things have happened, and we began to feel that it wasn’t best to try to get too deep. The comparisons are good at a regional level, but you get to individual countries and a lot of things have changed, including the definition of what is Protestantism, with so many new independent churches in some places.
But I think if you talk to Todd, one thing you’ll see is that in his estimates for 1910, Catholics made up about half the global Christian population. And you’ll see that today, by our estimates, they still make up about half of the global population, whereas Protestantism — again, depends on how you’re defining it exactly, but if you take the same broad measure and you include Anglicans and independents in your measure of Protestants, you’ll see that Protestantism also has grown since 1910. The major subgroup of Christianity that has shrunk in proportional terms, not absolute numbers but proportional terms, since 1910, according to Todd — one that shrunk the most is Orthodox Christianity.
But I suggest, John, you might want to get into that in more depth with Todd Johnson, and again, we’d be glad to supply his contact to you or any other reporters who are interested in talking to him.
CATHY GROSSMAN, USA TODAY: Thank you. I’d like to ask my traditional question after these surveys, which is to ask the researchers: Of all the findings, what finding surprised you the most?
HACKETT: Sure. Well, actually, one thing that I didn’t anticipate going into the study is just the fact that two out of three countries and territories in the world have majority Christian populations, and, furthermore, 90 percent — nine out of 10 — of all Christians live in a country that has a Christian majority. That is not something I expected.
“I was surprised, frankly, and I think a lot of people may be surprised to find that Christians make up, roughly speaking, the same proportion of the world’s population today that they did a hundred years ago.”
COOPERMAN: I’ll tell you, I was surprised, frankly, and I think a lot of people may be surprised to find that Christians make up, roughly speaking, the same proportion of the world’s population today that they did a hundred years ago. I tried asking — and you’ll see in the quiz we asked people this question. I tried just asking friends, family, acquaintances, including some people who know quite a bit about religion around the world, and I got quite a few people who thought that the Christian population probably had grown substantially in percentage terms over the last century. So it may be a surprise to know that, yes, it has grown substantially in real numbers, and it has spread substantially to areas in which it was not very prevalent a century ago, but in absolute terms it’s a picture of relative stability.
You might note in the report that at one point we say that the global Christian population by Todd’s estimate in 1910 was 35 percent and by our estimate today is 32 percent. You might say: Well, is that a decline? I guess part of what I’m saying here is it could nominally be a decline, but given the differences in the way these are measured, our sense that the 1910 numbers are not based on scientific surveys and censuses quite to the same degree that our current numbers are, we’d rather play it safe and suggest that this is, roughly speaking, the same ballpark — a third then, a third now — rather than trying to say that a 3 percentage point decline is a real decline. We just don’t know that that’s the case.
GRIM: I might betray my age a little bit by how I start to answer this, but for those that grew up in the United States during the Cold War period and went to houses of worship, it was a frequent prayer that I remember hearing that — of being thankful to be able to worship in a country where there was freedom of religion, and a lot of prayers were for Christians behind the Iron Curtain, which existed back then.
Just like I was mentioning about people not really knowing whether or not religion survived the Cultural Revolution in China, there really was no idea whether or not religion would somehow have a rebound after so many decades of communism in Eastern Europe; in Cuba, where we still see about two-thirds of the population affiliated with primarily Catholicism; Russia — almost two out of three people are affiliated with the Orthodox Church. And in China, though the Christian numbers are relatively smaller, we’re seeing hundreds of millions of people affiliated with religion.
So I think that that was part of what I think people will find surprising, that religion has endured despite a century of attacks from not only communism, but also — not that you would call it an attack — but the more secularization of many Western societies.
It is no small thing to keep up with a rapidly expanding, mobile population, which is essentially what Christianity has managed to do in the last 100 years.”
LUGO: If I could just add to — and this was something that we tried very hard to capture in the executive summary and elsewhere, Cathy, underscoring what Alan just said, that in percentage terms there has been relative stability, but always keeping in mind that to maintain that relative stability in terms of percentage, there has to have been significant growth in absolute numbers. So it’s both a picture of stability, but also significant dynamism in global Christianity. It is no small thing to keep up with a rapidly expanding, mobile population, which is essentially what Christianity has managed to do in the last 100 years.
HACKETT: If I could just add on — Alan alluded to a quiz. I’m not sure if we’ve made you all aware of this, but there is a quiz on the landing page for our report, next to the tabs for the sortable tables and the maps. In social science research, a lot of times when research is done, if someone first learns about the result, they have a tendency to say: Oh, yeah. That sounds right. So we encourage you maybe to ask your colleagues to take our quiz and see how they do, and whether they in fact know some of the things which we document in this report. We found, informally, that many people are surprised by the change that’s taken place over the last hundred years in global Christianity, and the quiz might be a way to just reveal how much new information there is here, compared to what people commonly know about global Christianity.
COOPERMAN: Thank you, Cathy. Was that sufficient?
GROSSMAN: Yes. Thank you.
TROY ANDERSON, TOTHESOURCE.ORG: Hi — wanted to find out how Christianity compares to other fast-growing religions in the world and what your projections are for the numbers and the decades ahead?
HACKETT: Thank you very much for that question. We are in the midst of a project where we’re doing projections for all the major religions of the world. We have done so already for global Islam, and we had a report that came out projecting that the global Muslim population is likely to grow at a rate faster than the world’s general population in the decades ahead. We are getting our data ready and looking forward to having the final results and being able to share them for Christians and other major world religions in terms of projections. But unfortunately, we just don’t have the information yet, so please stay tuned.
COOPERMAN: Let me just chip in. For some of you, our longtime followers of our research — we’re very appreciative of that. Some of you may be newer coming to see what we do. Those who’ve been following what we do for a while will be aware that we actually put out two reports on global Islam. The first report was a baseline report on the current number, the current size and distribution of the Muslim population around the world, country by country, and then we did the projections.
This report is the baseline report on the current size and distribution of the Christian population. That’s baseline data, which is essential to then making the projections. But in addition to the baseline data on how many Christians there are in each country in the world and where they live, we also in order to make those projections need quite a bit of additional information that it takes time to collect, and that includes the age distribution of Christians, men and women in every country in the world, fertility rates, mortality rates, migration and other data.
If you go and look at our global Islam report, it’s a sizeable, almost inch-thick report, chock-full of that kind of information. So we are gathering that additional data for Christians today, and I hope that at some point in 2012 or perhaps 2013 we’ll have projections for Christians and projections for many of the world’s other major faiths, but we don’t have them yet; we only have the baseline data.
ANDERSON: So at this point you can’t say which religion is the fastest-growing in the world or how much growth you expect in Christianity by 2050 or so?
COOPERMAN: Correct. At this point we cannot say that, and I’ll just note that any time anyone were to make such a suggestion, which religion is fastest-growing, a very important issue would be, over what time period are you talking about? Are you talking about over the last two years, over the last 10 years, over the last 50 years, over the last hundred years, etc.? In our projections report for Muslims, we went back to 1990 and we projected forward to 2030, so a total of 40 years. Stay tuned; we’ll be working on this. But it’s a very complicated question, in fact, even to begin to analyze it. One thing we’ll try to do is be consistent about the way we handle it.
ANDERSON: If I can, just one last question. The size of Christianity in overall numbers has tripled over the last century or so. In what denominations or what segments of Christianity has most of the growth occurred?
HACKETT: We probably have hints to answer that question. There’s information in our report that may be very useful. Again, turning to the back of the report on page 70, we have some analysis of information from Todd Johnson at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. His organization has gathered information about all the denominations in the world and categorized them, and we have a breakdown of the distribution of Protestant denominations based on his data.
One thing that you’ll see looking there is that historically pentecostal denominations pick up about 11 percent of all Protestant Christians in the world. The pentecostal phenomenon is a movement that was just beginning a hundred years ago. Certainly the very large size of pentecostal denominations, and the broader pentecostal movement, is a story of dramatic growth over the last century. So that would be part of the answer to that question.
COOPERMAN: I think that we have put more emphasis and are more confident about speaking about where the growth has taken place than in which denominations. That’s our particular emphasis, and partly it is because we can look at where Christians were a century ago. We have a little less confidence in the historical data on what Christians’ denominations were a century ago, bearing in mind that a century ago, there were nowhere near the number or sophistication of surveys that we have today.
A lot of what we’re looking at — or what Todd Johnson is looking at — from a century ago is church membership data. We think it’s very important and useful for historical comparisons, but there are also limits to what we’ll want to do with it, in terms of looking at individual denominations in individual countries.
LUGO: Let me add to that. This is not an easy thing to wrap one’s mind around in terms of the measurement because Protestantism has changed dramatically. We pick this up, for instance, in the United States, where obviously we’ve done the most polling on this, where people’s identification with particular denominations has become more and more tenuous. And denominational leaders will tell you this.
“Protestantism is to some extent becoming post-denominational.”
When we did our big religious landscape survey — a survey of over 35,000 Americans — we detected the growth was in nondenominational churches. Protestantism is to some extent becoming post-denominational. We also saw growth incidentally among pentecostal churches in this country. But if you go abroad, it’s the emergence of independent churches that really do not think of themselves as affiliated with any historic Protestant denominations. They may have had an origin there but no longer view themselves that way.
So it’s a lot more difficult to wrap one’s mind around Protestantism writ large. In fact, I’m sure many of those independent churches wouldn’t even consider themselves Protestant in the way we think of it. When we get to the level of denominations in the U.S. sense, it becomes very, very difficult to map that onto a fast-growing global Christian community.
COOPERMAN: Thank you, Luis. That’s what I was trying to say. You nailed it.
GRIM: Just going back to China a bit, following the Communist takeover of China in 1949, the Christian groups were gradually organized into two, what they call, patriotic associations, and both of them refused to use the term “denomination” to describe themselves. So even in China they view the Christian, especially the Protestant, presence in China as post-denominational.
But then that’s what’s been part of the conflict in China; they’re trying to fit everybody under one Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestants. Taking different theological perspectives and trying to fit it under one umbrella has been part of the tension that makes house churches a continuing presence in the country.
LUGO: Could I just also follow up on that and if I could ask a question because it’s one of the things that we have in the report. We don’t emphasize it a lot, but I know that many folks out there speak in terms of the “Global North” and the “Global South” when they speak about these things. I wonder, Conrad, if you could address that issue. When we take all this data and cut it, not just in terms of easily identified regions such as Asia or Europe and so forth, but when we think in terms of those broader categories of the Global North and the Global South, who’s included in that, and what do we find in terms of the shift in Christianity?
HACKETT: Sure, thank you, Luis. The Global North and the Global South are terms that many have used to describe the groups of countries that, at least at one time, captured those that were most developed and those that were still in the process of developing. Today those categories are somewhat crude, but they do function to describe something about where Christians were a hundred years ago.
A hundred years ago, the Global North had the majority of the world’s Christian population. At that time, about eight in 10 of the world’s Christians lived in the Global North, which was — to define it, North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan — with the rest of the world being the Global South. In 2010, the Global North had about four out of 10 Christians.
Six out of 10 Christians live, in 2010, in those other parts of the world, and that reflects largely the kind of tremendous growth in the share of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and in Latin America that we alluded to earlier. For example, over this time period, in 1910 about, I believe — correct me if I’m wrong here, my colleagues — but I think it was about one in 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa was Christian in 1910, and it’s about six in 10 in 2010, if I remember correctly.
COOPERMAN: Conrad, I would jump in and also ask a question, if I could, because in your opening remarks you talked a little bit about Egypt, which is a very interesting country, a lot in the news of course these days, including with regard to its Christian population. So tell us a little bit, if you could — why do you think that the Christian population of Egypt is less, actually so much less, than it’s often reported?
HACKETT: Thanks, Alan. What’s typically reported in the news is that the Coptic Christian population in Egypt is 10 or even 15 and sometimes 20 percent of the Egyptian population. And these estimates seem to be based upon claims primarily from the Coptic Orthodox Church that they have this number of members.
However, religion has been measured in the Egyptian census going back over a hundred years, and we also have many high-quality demographic surveys measuring religion. What these census and survey data points indicate is that for decades, the Christian population in Egypt has been less than 10 percent of the population and that Christians in Egypt have lower fertility rates than the Muslim majority. So the Christian population is not growing, and there may be a small number of converts to Christianity from Islam, but it’s unlikely that that number is very large.
Based on census data from the most recent 2006 census, we see that 5 percent of people in the census claim to be Christian. We’ve talked to a number of experts to try to assess whether there could be some kind of an undercount of Christians, and what the experts we’ve spoken with have told us is that Coptic Christians are a proud people who, in spite of sometimes difficult circumstances in Egypt, nonetheless are very proud and want to be identified as Christians as a general rule. And so, based on the demographic evidence, it seems to us that the actual statistic is about one in 20, or 5 percent, of the country is Christian.
COOPERMAN: Great. Thank you very much, Conrad. We promised everyone we’d keep this call on time, and so we’re winding up, unless I hear a sudden request to get in a last question. I’d urge you all, if you want to know more, if you want to set up individual interviews, if you want to follow up from anything at this conference, please be in touch with our communications team, in particular with Erin O’Connell or with Mary Schultz, and they’ll be glad to set that up for you.
Thank you all very, very much for continuing to follow our work and for joining us on this call. I know a lot of you would like to be heading off for Christmas, so get your stories done, and thank you. Thank you very much.
This written transcript has been edited by Amy Stern for clarity, grammar and accuracy.