Pierre Bréchon shows here that, despite the existence of some national religious characteristics, international surveys reveal certain trends common to all countries, mainly resulting from generational change and ageing.
The main findings of his study of 11 European countries and the United States are:
- confidence in the churches has declined more than trust in other institutions;
- strength of religious convictions is often seen as a sign of intolerance;
- belief in a single faith (religious exclusiveness) is clearly waning, whereas the idea that all faiths contain an element of truth is becoming more widespread.
The writer highlights the decline of feelings of identity based on religion, albeit with marked variations depending on the religious group and the country concerned. But he shows that, while complete absence of belief is extremely rare, the range of different beliefs is enormous: belief in God, in various kinds of reincarnation, in heaven and hell, in miracles, and so on.
In all countries, belief is less and less linked with belonging to an established religion, and is increasingly an individual matter. But the situation in France seems unusual, in that young French people sometimes appear more likely to believe than their elders.