Irreligion (adjective form: non-religious or irreligious) is the absence, indifference, rejection of, or hostility towards religion.[1]

Irreligion may include some forms of theism, depending on the religious context it is defined against; for example, in 18th-century Europe, the epitome of irreligion was deism,[2] while in contemporary East Asia the shared term meaning "irreligion" or "no religion" (無宗教, Chinese pron. wú zōngjiào, Japanese pron. mu shūkyō), with which the majority of East Asian populations identify themselves, implies non-membership in one of the institutional religions (such as Buddhism and Christianity), and not necessarily non-belief in traditional folk religions collectively represented by Chinese Shendao and Japanese Shinto (both meaning "ways of gods").[3]

According to the Pew Research Center's 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world's population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated.[4] By 2060, according to their projections, the number of unaffiliated will increase by over 35 million, but the percentage will decrease to 13% because the total population will grow faster.[5]

Kinds of irreligion

  • Secular humanism embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the bases of morality and decision making. Secular humanism posits that human beings are capable of being ethical and moral without religion or a god.
  • Freethought holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, revelation, or other dogma. In particular, freethought is strongly tied with rejection of traditional religious belief.
  • "Spiritual but not religious" rejects organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth. In contrast to religion, spirituality has often been associated with the interior life of the individual.
  • Theological noncognitivism is the argument that religious language – specifically, words such as "God" – are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered as synonymous with ignosticism.
  • Antireligion is opposition to religion of any kind. It can describe opposition to organized religion, religious practices, religious institutions, or specific forms of supernatural worship or practice, whether organized or not.

Human rights

In 1993, the UN's human rights committee declared that article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights "protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief."[6] The committee further stated that "the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views." Signatories to the convention are barred from "the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers" to recant their beliefs or convert.[7][8]

Most Western democracies protect the freedom of religion, and it is largely implied in respective legal systems that those who do not believe or observe any religion are allowed freedom of thought.

A noted exception to ambiguity, explicitly allowing non-religion, is Article 36 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (as adopted in 1982), which states that "No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion."[9] Article 46 of China’s 1978 Constitution was even more explicit, stating that "Citizens enjoy freedom to believe in religion and freedom not to believe in religion and to propagate atheism."[10]


A non-denominational person or organization is not restricted to any particular or specific religious denomination. The term has been used in the context of various faiths including Jainism,[11] Baha'i Faith,[12] Zoroastrianism,[13] Unitarian Universalism,[14] Paganism,[15] Christianity,[16] Islam,[17] Judaism,[18] Hinduism,[19] Buddhism[20] and Wicca.[21] It stands in contrast with a religious denomination.


Although 11 countries listed below have non-religious majorities, it does not mean that the majority of the populations of these countries don′t belong to any religious group. For example, 67.5% of the Swedish population belongs to the Lutheran Christian Church,[22] while 58.7% of Albanians declare themselves as Muslims.[citation needed] Also, though Scandinavian countries have among the highest measures of nonreligiosity and even atheism in Europe, 47% of atheists who live in those countries are still members of the national churches.[23]

A Pew 2015 global projection study for religion and nonreligion, projects that between 2010 and 2050, there will be some initial increases of the unaffiliated followed by a decline by 2050 due to lower global fertility rates among this demographic.[24] Sociologist Phil Zuckerman's global studies on atheism have indicated that global atheism may be in decline due to irreligious countries having the lowest birth rates in the world and religious countries having higher birth rates in general.[25]

According to Pew Research Center's 2012 global study of 230 countries and territories, 16% of the world's population is not affiliated with a religion, while 84% are affiliated.[4] A 2012 WIN/Gallup International report on a poll from 57 countries reported that 59% of the world's population identified as religious person, 23% as not religious person, 13% as "convinced atheists", and also a 9% decrease in identification as "religious" when compared to the 2005 average from 39 countries.[26] Their follow-up report, based on polls in late 2014, found that 63% of the globe identified as religious person, 22% as not religious person, and 11% as "convinced atheists".[27] Their 2017 report found that 62% of the globe identified as religious person, 25% as not religious person, and 9% as "convinced atheists".[28] However, researchers have advised caution with the WIN/Gallup International figures since other surveys which use the same wording, have conducted many waves for decades, and have a bigger sample size, such as World Values Survey; have consistently reached lower figures for the number of atheists worldwide.[29]

Being non-religious is not necessarily equivalent to being an atheist or agnostic. Pew Research Center's global study from 2012 noted that many of the nonreligious actually have some religious beliefs. For example, they observed that "belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7% of Chinese unaffiliated adults, 30% of French unaffiliated adults and 68% of unaffiliated U.S. adults."[30] Out of the global nonreligious population, 76% reside in Asia and the Pacific, while the remainder reside in Europe (12%), North America (5%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), sub-Saharan Africa (2%) and the Middle East and North Africa (less than 1%).[30]

The term nones is sometimes used in the U.S. to refer to those who are unaffiliated with any organized religion. This use derives from surveys of religious affiliation, in which "None" (or "None of the above") is typically the last choice. Since this status refers to lack of organizational affiliation rather than lack of personal belief, it is a more specific concept than irreligion. A 2015 Gallup poll concluded that in the U.S. "nones" were the only "religious" group that was growing as a percentage of the population.[31]

Country Percentage of population
that is non-religious
Date and source
 Czech Republic 75.0 [32]
 Estonia 70.4 [33]
 Netherlands 68 [34]
 Vietnam 63 [33][35]
 Denmark 61 [33]
 Sweden 54 [33]
 Albania 52 [36][37][38]
 Japan 52 [33]
 Azerbaijan 51 [39]
 China 50.5 [33][35][40]
 Uruguay 47 [41]
 France 44 [33]
 Cuba 44 [42]
 Russia 43.8 [35]
 Belarus 43.5 [35]
 South Korea 43 [35][43]
 Finland 42.9 [33]
 Hungary 42.6 [35]
 Iceland 42 [44]
 New Zealand 41.9 [45]
 Latvia 40.6 [35]
 United Kingdom 37.9 [46][47]
 Belgium 35.4 [35]
 Australia 30.1 [48]
 Germany 21–34 [49][50][51][52][53]
 Luxembourg 29.9 [35]
 Slovenia 29.9 [35]
 Chile 25.0 [54]
  Switzerland 23.9 [55]
 Canada 23.9 [56]
 Spain 23.3 [57]
 Slovakia 23.1 [35]
 United States 22.8 [58]
 Botswana 20.6 [59]
 Lithuania 19.4 [35]
 El Salvador 18.6 [60]
 Singapore 17–18.5 [61]
 Italy 17.8 [35]
 Ukraine 16.3 [62]
 Argentina 16.0 [63]
 Nicaragua 15.7 [64]
 Belize 15.6 [65]
 South Africa 15.1 [66]
 Croatia 13.2 [35]
 Guatemala 12.5 [67]
 Austria 12.2 [35]
 Portugal 11.4 [35]
 Costa Rica 11.3 [68]
 Bulgaria 11.1 [35]
 Philippines 10.9 [35]
 Honduras 9.0 [54]
 Brazil 8.0 [69]
 Ecuador 7.9 [70]
 Ireland 7.0 [71]
 Mexico 7.0 [54]
 India 6.6 [35]
 Venezuela 6.0 [54]
 Serbia 5.8 [35]
 Peru 4.7 [35]
 Poland 4.6 [35]
 Greece 4.0 [35]
 Panama 3.0 [72]
 Turkey 2.5 [35]
 Romania 2.4 [35]
 Puerto Rico 1.9 [35]
 Tanzania 1.7 [35]
 Malta 1.3 [35]
 Iran 1.1 [35]
 Uganda 1.1 [35]
 Nigeria 0.7 [35]
 Thailand 0.27 [73]
 Bangladesh 0.1 [35]

See also



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  4. ^ a b Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. "The Global Religious Landscape". Retrieved December 18, 2012. 
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Further reading

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