Germany is a very secular country and religion tends to be regarded as quite a private matter. Nevertheless, the majority of the population identifies as religious, with Christianity being the traditional and dominant faith. In Germany’s 2011 census, 33% of the population identified themselves as not religious, 31.2% identified as Roman Catholic Christians and 30.8% identified as Protestant Christians. The remaining 5% of the population identified with some other religion, including other variations of Christianity. Islam is the biggest non-Christian minority faith in Germany. This demographic has grown with migration from Muslim majority countries such as Turkey and Bosnia. Despite the majority of Germans indicating that they follow a religious affiliation, the number of those practising is much lower. In a study by the Pew Research Center, only 21% of Germans reported that religion was very important to their lives (Pew Research Center, 2011).
Religion in Germany
Germany was the birthplace of Martin Luther, who initiated the Protestant Reformation movements of the 16th century in resistance to the creed of the Catholic Church. His movement eventually led to a political divide between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This was mediated by a territorial distribution of religious practice. Starting in the mid-16th century, entire towns and municipalities followed the faith of their local ruler’s preference (either Catholic or Protestant). This geographical division of faith is still visible in the religious affiliations of Germans today. The south and west of the country is generally Catholic, whilst most Protestants live in the north and east. One can usually still infer the traditional faith of each German town and city by looking at the religious architecture.
On the other hand, the majority of the non-religious population live in East Germany. This is largely because the region was under communist occupation as the DDR (German Democratic Republic) from 1945 to 1990. During this era, belief or membership in a religious organisation was considered to be incompatible with loyalty to the Communist Party. As such, the regime actively suppressed and surveilled church activity. For many East Germans, their church remained a place of sanctuary and played a crucial role in providing an independent voice. However, between 1950 and 1989, the religious population was estimated to have shrunk from 98% to 31% (Granata, 1999).