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Pew’s world religions predictions boiled down to an easy six-pack in RD

April 24, 2015

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released a major global religion report, projecting growth and shifts among believers in the decades to come. I’ve yet to give it a thorough read, so I appreciated Tim King’s takeaway in Religion Dispatches. He explores the China factor and the often misunderstood term “unaffiliated.”

The big news — or at least the most eye-catching item — is that Muslims will likely overtake Christians in the next 50 years or so. That’s bound to freak some folks out. Of course, it may not play out this way. These projections come with a bunch of disclaimers. War, famine, the development of religion in China, etc., researchers acknowledge, might change things.

But this is a useful report in that it reminds us not to rely on our own narrow perceptions of the world. In past years, when I would assign my Journalism & Religion students to read Philip Jenkins’ terrific Atlantic article from 2002, the reaction was almost always the same. Most were shocked that Christianity was growing the fastest in the global south — particularly Africa. Most struggled with the notion that Christianity didn’t belong to the west.

The Pew report backs this up, noting that, by 2050, 4 out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s huge, though King points out:

However that number becomes a bit less impressive when you consider that sub-Saharan Africa’s general population is projected to grow at the rate of 131% and growth in the Muslim population of the region is projected at 170%.

So while the global Christian population is shifting south, the Christian share of the population of sub-Saharan Africa may actually decrease.

If Muslims eventually outnumber Christians, I wonder how this will change the Christian worldview/narrative for believers. I’m also curious how Hindu-Muslim relations will fare in the coming decades. The report predicts that India, though it will maintain a Hindu majority, is expected to become home to the world’s largest Muslim population (surpassing Indonesia). And then there’s the growth of Islam in the U.S. and Europe and the uncertain future of religion in China. People, there is just SO much, and it’s all fascinating.

If you don’t have time to read all 245 pages of the Pew report, read King’s piece. He picks six items and provides great analysis.

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