Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Religiosity on rise in Asia-Pacific, proportion of freethinkers on decline

By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 6 Apr 2015

A trend of increasing religiosity is taking hold in the Asia-Pacific region, while North America and Europe are experiencing the reverse with a projected spike in the proportion of people unaffiliated with any religion, showed a recent report by Washington-based think-tank Pew Research Centre.

In Singapore, Islam and Hinduism are projected to make the highest gains, with Muslims replacing Christians as the second-largest faith group by 2050. The report, The Future Of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, was published on Thursday.

Pew’s researchers took six years to analyse information from about 2,500 data sources, including censuses, demographic surveys, general population surveys and other studies. Demographic projections made in the report were also based on the current size and geographic distribution of the world’s major religions, age differences, fertility and mortality rates, international migration and patterns in conversion between religions.

The report projected that in the Asia-Pacific region, the proportion of freethinkers is projected to decline from 21 per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2050. Over the same period, the proportion of this group in Europe and North America is expected to increase from 19 per cent to 23 per cent, and from 17 per cent to almost 26 per cent, respectively.

“Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion — though increasing in countries such as the United States and France — will make up a declining share of the world’s total population,” it added.

The report also projected that the number of Muslims, a comparatively youthful population with high fertility rates, will nearly equal the number of Christians by 2050, if current demographic trends continue. As of 2010, Christians made up nearly a third of all 6.9 billion people on Earth. Muslims were the next largest group, comprising about 23 per cent.

The report projected Singapore’s total population to reach 7.9 million in 2050. The proportion of Muslims is projected to increase from 14.3 per cent in 2010 to 21.4 per cent in 2050, overtaking Christians as the second-largest group behind Buddhists. Over the same period, Singapore’s proportion of Hindus is expected to rise from 5.2 to 10.0 per cent. The report said the increases were “mostly because of migration from India and Malaysia”.

By 2050, freethinkers will make up 16 per cent of the total population, down slightly from 16.4 per cent in 2010. Over the same period, the proportion of Christians and Buddhists here will decrease from 18.2 to 17 per cent, and 33.9 to 27 per cent, respectively.

Commenting on the report, observers here questioned the assumption that migration patterns will continue over the next few decades.

Dr Mathew Mathews, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), pointed out that the Government had previously said it wanted to preserve the current racial balance. “Muslims and Hindus in Singapore usually are Malays and Indians, and if their racial composition is supposed to stay the same as currently, it will be unlikely that Islam and Hinduism in Singapore will grow substantially considering the current population plans,” he said.

The Pew report acknowledged that estimating future migration is challenging because the movement of people across borders is dependent on government policies and international events that can change quickly. “And because many migrants follow economic opportunities, migration patterns are also dependent on changing economic conditions,” it added.

Nonetheless, Pew said it has developed a technique to estimate recent migration patterns and their religious breakdown, in collaboration with researchers at Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

In Singapore’s case, IPS senior research fellow Leong Chan-Hoong and Chua Chu Kang GRC Member of Parliament Zaqy Mohamad said it cannot be assumed that people migrating from Malaysia are probably Muslims. Stressing the challenges of migration projections, Dr Leong said migrants could come from different countries or involve different races or religions within a particular country.

Mr Zaqy said any increase in the Muslim and Hindu populations could also be because of a higher number of interracial marriages.

Should the projections come to pass, Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said Singapore may also have to look into building more places of worship for Muslims and Hindus. Likewise, there would also be an impact on the relative influence each religious group has on changes, where bigger groups could feel their views should carry more weight, for instance, he added.

Countering prejudice will be crucial as Islam grows
By Christopher Flavelle, Published TODAY, 6 Apr 2015

By 2050, the number of Muslims worldwide will grow by 70 per cent, outpacing every other religion and matching Christianity as the world’s most numerous faith. That rate of growth means that by mid-century, one in 10 people in France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom will be Muslim.

That is based on a study by Pew Research Center released last Thursday, which looked at the age distribution, fertility and mortality rates, and patterns of migration and conversion of the world’s religious groups. The study projects that by 2050, 30 per cent of the global population will be Muslim — all but equal to the 31 per cent that Pew projects will be Christian. An additional 15 per cent will be Hindu, 5 per cent Buddhist and 0.2 per cent Jewish.

That shift will be especially pronounced in Western countries, many of which will see the share of their population that is Muslim double, and in some cases triple, over the course of only two generations.

In a perfect world, that trend would be welcomed as an addition to the rich diversity of cultures and beliefs that make up any pluralistic liberal society. In practice, it will probably increase the strain on countries whose self-image of tolerance has clashed with the reality of lingering prejudice and unease towards people who are different.

Take Italy, where two in three respondents told Pew last year that they have unfavourable views of Muslims, and the government of the Lombardy region passed regulations in January that restrict the building of mosques. Managing those tensions will only get more important: The share of Italy’s population that is Muslim is projected to roughly triple, to 9.5 per cent, by 2050.

Or Germany, where a court last month lifted a ban on teachers wearing headscarves, yet marches by the anti-Muslim group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West draw thousands of supporters. The share of Germany’s population that is Muslim is projected to double, to 10 per cent, by 2050.

Or France, where a Muslim woman told a BBC reporter after the Charlie Hebdo shootings that being rejected by her country because of her faith is “like being rejected by your mother”, and others said the French “would rather we have blond hair and blue eyes”. The share of France’s population that is Muslim is projected to increase 45 per cent by 2050.

Or Canada, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Parliament last month that the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-woman”. His government is fighting to prevent immigrants from wearing the niqab while taking their oaths of citizenship. The share of Canada’s population that is Muslim is projected to almost triple by 2050.

Those divisions and prejudices may have been inflamed by the rise of the Islamic State, the attacks in Paris, the flood of refugees from Syria, a weak economy and any number of other challenges. But prejudice — whether its targets are Muslims, Jews or any other religious group — does not need much of an excuse. If Pew’s projections are right, countering that prejudice is going to get more important.


Christopher Flavelle writes editorials on health care, economics and taxation. He was previously a senior policy analyst for Bloomberg Government.

By 2050, Singapore's Muslim population is expected to overtake Christians to become the second-largest faith group in the country, according to a report by Pew Research Centre. (via TODAY)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, April 5, 2015

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