The results relating to religion of the European Values Survey in 1981 and 1990 highlighted the special case of Europe, where religious belief has been declining steadily. New surveys were carried out in 1999, supplemented by studies by the ISSP (International Social Survey Programme) in 1998, which make it possible to analyse and assess the pattern of religious belief in Europe. Yves Lambert shares some results here.
He starts by presenting a map of religious views in 11 European countries - Catholic, Protestant and mixed, with a description of the status of each group. Depending on the context and the period, modernity has led to decline, change and revival of belief.
In the following section, he outlines the different types of believers and non-believers: Christians who go to church regularly, occasionally or not at all, agnostics and convinced atheists. The relationship with Christianity is varied, highly individual and "pick and mix"; religion tends to be perceived in terms of relativism and probability.
Yves Lambert then analyses the relationship between religious views and moral values. It seems that the average regular church-goer considers faithfulness, order and authority to be more important, whereas the average convinced atheist is more permissive and politically aware but less nationalistic; yet, the differences tend to decrease.
In the final section, Lambert identifies three main trends based on an analysis of 25 variables: a continuing move away from religion; a revival of Christian commitment with an increase in almost all types of religious observance; the growth of "alternative" beliefs among agnostics, in the form of individualized, unfocussed ideas not related to Christianity.
The author concludes that, since the 1990s, religion - no longer in competition with its fiercest rivals, Marxism and rationalism - can now acquire a new credibility. In the context of today's general disenchantment, in which everything is reassessed, religion may develop in ever more varied and unpredictable ways. What is novel is that the situation is completely open.