What Is the Main Religion in Germany?

What Is the Main Religion in Germany?

Since the early medieval period and the formation of what became the Holy Roman Empire, Christianity has been strong in the lands we now know as Germany.

However, even with trade, politics, and other considerations shaping its history, religion in Germany is still an interesting subject.

Today, let’s look at common religions in Germany.

German Religion: A Historical Overview

From the formation of the Holy Roman Empire, Christianity has played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s cultural and spiritual landscape.

This long-standing tradition continues to influence modern Germany, a nation that respects the freedom of religion as a constitutional right.

Challenging the authority of the Roman Catholic Church

A major shift was brought by Martin Luther, who initiated the Protestant Reformation movements of the 16th century in resistance to the creed of the Roman Catholic Church.

Luther’s groundbreaking translation of the New Testament into a vernacular that would eventually evolve into modern German was pivotal in unifying the language.

October 31st is celebrated in several German states as Reformation Day, a holiday. This period was when a separate Lutheran Church emerged, followed by the rise of various new Protestant denominations across Europe.

The split between Catholic and Protestant religious communities significantly influenced the conflicts that swept through Europe during the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries.

In today’s Germany, the Roman Catholic Church is structured into 27 dioceses, overseen by the German Bishops’ Conference. On the other hand, Protestant churches are grouped into regional churches, all of which come under the supervision of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

Religion in the Constitution

Freedom of religion in Germany is guaranteed by Article 4 of the German constitution, which states that “the freedom of religion, conscience and the freedom of confessing one’s religious or philosophical beliefs are inviolable”.

The Basic Law solidifies the right to freedom of religion and it takes two aspects: both the negative freedom of religion (the right to not have to confess your faith, or any lack thereof, unless legally required to do so; also, the freedom not to be exposed to religion while in a state of subordination, for example) and positive freedom of religion.

There is also no state church in Germany, though there is a thing called a church tax. More on this in the next section.

Check out our other article if you’d like to find out more about the church and the state in Germany.

Understanding Religious Affiliation in Germany

Due to historical and cultural reasons, the largest religious organizations in modern Germany are the Protestant Evangelical Church in Germany and the Roman Catholic Church (both Christian movements).

The churches of the dominant faith are organized into legal corporations under public law, and enjoy certain benefits such as being able to provide religious education in state schools – for example, one denomination gives a lesson for members registered under their own denomination (Catholics would go to the Catholic-organized class, and so on).

Those who do not wish to participate in religious education at all must attend an alternative class called “ethics”. So the practice is a bit different from other countries, in this regard.

Small percentages of Germans belong to what are known as the free churches, such as Evangelical Methodists, Calvinists, Old Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses , and the East Orthodox.

The majority of the population in East Germany, which was predominantly Protestant when the country was formed in 1949, tends to be non-religious, largely due to the region’s history under communist rule as the German Democratic Republic (DDR) from 1945 to 1990.

In Western Germany, religiosity has also diminished, and currently, agnostics and atheists constitute about one-third of the German population.

Also, fewer people who identify as part of the Christian denomination tend to attend church services. In a study by the Pew Research Center, only 21% of Germans reported that religion was very important to their lives.

Attitudes to Religion in Eastern Germany

Attitudes toward religion in the East Germany reflect a complex interplay of historical factors, notably the region’s history under communist rule as the German Democratic Republic (DDR) from 1945 to 1990.

During this period, the state implemented an atheist ideology, discouraging religious practices and fostering a secular society.

Churches faced restrictions, and religious communities and institutions were often marginalized. As a result, the majority of the population in East Germany tends to be non-religious, a trend rooted in the historical suppression of religious expression during the communist era.

Today, the legacy of this history persists, contributing to a region where agnosticism and atheism are more prevalent compared to Western Germany.

While reunification in 1990 brought political unity, the divide in religiosity between East and West Germany remains a notable aspect of the cultural landscape.

Attitudes and Community Engagement in Western Germany

In Western Germany, attitudes toward religion and community engagement reflect a dynamic interplay between historical influences and contemporary societal trends.

While the region, like the rest of the country, has Christian roots, there has been a noticeable shift toward secularism in recent decades. Religiosity and church attendance have diminished, and a significant portion of the population identifies as agnostic or atheist.

Despite this trend, Western Germany remains home to diverse religious communities, including both Catholic and Protestant church communities. Community engagement often takes on a pluralistic character, with citizens participating in a range of secular and religious activities.

Interfaith dialogue initiatives have gained traction, fostering understanding and tolerance among different religious groups. The role of religion in social and community life is evolving, with an emphasis on inclusivity and respect for diverse beliefs.

As Western Germany continues to navigate the complexities of contemporary religious landscapes, community engagement becomes a key factor in shaping the region’s cultural identity and fostering a sense of unity among its diverse population.

The Church Tax…

The church tax ( “Kirchensteuer” ) comes from a longstanding practice of a ruler maintaining churches, graveyards, and so on throughout history.

Because of this, while the German government has imposed no formal state religion, it devolved the church tax onto religious organizations – the tax goes towards upkeep of religious buildings, gravesites/cemeteries, salaries for clergy, and so on.

Only people registered under the denominations (which are registered as legal corporations under public law) have to pay church tax, with the idea that Catholics would then help to pay for the maintenance of their own (Catholic) churches, and so on.

The Jewish faith is also considered a taxable faith, depending on the German state, due to the large population of Jewish people there (third-largest Jewish population in Europe).

However, this also means that smaller denominations or those without a strong organizational system (such as Muslims) may not be included in this system of taxation and maintenance, as the system favors large well-structured religious organizations.

The most common Religions in Germany - religion in Germany

© Pixabay

…and how to avoid it

If someone does not wish to pay church tax, they can make an official declaration that they are “leaving the church” – in this case, leaving the religious organization.

It may be that the number of people in Germany who do not self-identify as religious may be partly due to this church tax, as more people over time have filed to not be considered members. (You can see what it would cost, and how to file, at this website (German language only).

However,  Catholic and Protestant clergy may refuse to bury someone who has formally left the faith, even if the person in question is still a believer.

Currently, the issues revolving around church tax – who can administer it, who can distribute it, who has to pay it and why – are hot issues when it comes to matters of religion and the state in Germany.

But as more people within Germany no longer identify with religious organizations, the religious organizations and churches in question are facing dilemmas about how to maintain themselves and how to change.

Islam and Juadism

While Christianity is the dominant religion in Germany, Islam is notably the largest non-Christian religion in the country.

Historically this was because of trade relations with the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century; nowadays, because of the postwar period and the inviting of foreign workers into Germany (notably from Turkey), German Muslims are not too uncommon, but find themselves in the midst of a tide of political debates in Germany, in Europe, and worldwide.

Many Jewish people also returned to Germany, notably after German unity, due to seeing German cities such as Berlin as more welcoming post-war to Jewish communities than cities in ex-Soviet bloc countries. The Jewish community is represented by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which was established in 1950.

There’s also a significant presence of Orthodox Christians originating from Greece, Serbia, Romania, Russia, and other countries from Eastern Europe and the Near East.

Impact of Immigration on Religion in Germany

Recent immigration trends have transformed German citizens into an increasingly multi-religious nation. Historically, the influx of immigrants, particularly in the postwar period and later waves of migration, has contributed to the increased religious diversity within the country.

As we already mentioned, people arriving from Muslim-majority countries, such as Turkey, have made Islam the largest non-Christian religion in Germany.

This demographic shift has prompted a reevaluation of the country’s religious landscape, challenging traditional notions of a predominantly Christian society.

While fostering cultural richness and global perspectives, the increased religious diversity has also sparked debates and discussions about integration, cultural coexistence, and the role of religion in public life.

Germany’s approach to accommodating various religious minorities and practices and fostering interfaith dialogue remains central to addressing the complexities arising from immigration and ensuring a harmonious coexistence of different religious communities within its borders.

Religious Festivals and Traditions in Germany

Religious festivals and traditions in Germany form a vibrant tapestry, reflecting the rich cultural and historical diversity of the country.

While Germany is predominantly Christian, with both Roman Catholic and Protestant communities celebrating traditional Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter, the country also embraces a variety of secular and regional celebrations.

One of the most iconic is Oktoberfest, a Bavarian tradition with roots in the Catholic celebration of Saint Martin’s Day. It has evolved into a globally renowned festival, featuring German beer, food, and lively festivities.

Karneval (Carnival) is also widely celebrated, particularly in the Rhineland, where colorful parades, costumes, and merriment mark the pre-Lenten season. The influence of Protestant Reformation is evident in Reformation Day, observed on October 31st, commemorating Martin Luther’s historic act.

Furthermore, German Christmas markets, known as Weihnachtsmärkte, are celebrated across the country, offering a festive atmosphere with stalls selling crafts, food, and seasonal delights.

These festivals and traditions not only showcase the religious heritage of Germany but also emphasize the importance of community, folklore, and cultural identity in the nation’s collective consciousness.

Religiosity and Secularization in the EU

Religiosity and secularization trends in the European Union (EU) depict a significant shift in the continent’s spiritual landscape.

A decline in church attendance and a diminishing number of individuals professing religious beliefs are observable across most EU countries.

The 2010 Eurobarometer survey highlighted that, on average, 51% of EU citizens acknowledge a belief in God, while 26% believe in some form of spirit or life force, and 20% reject the existence of any spiritual entity.

Atheism and agnosticism have notably increased, with countries like France, the Czech Republic, Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia, Germany, Belgium, and Slovenia reporting higher percentages of people with no religious belief. Germany, with 27% of its population expressing non-belief, exemplifies this trend.

Conversely, Romania and Malta stand out as the most religious societies, with minimal non-believers. Factors influencing belief include age, upbringing, education levels, political leanings, and priorities in ethical considerations.

The data underscores a broader pattern of shifting attitudes toward religiosity and secularization, marking a transformative phase in the religious landscape of the EU.

Environmentalism and Spirituality

Against the backdrop of climate change and escalating environmental concerns, Germany stands as a significant example of the intersection between environmentalism and spirituality.

The global phenomenon of the “greening” of religions is observable in Germany through the emergence of eco-theologies and spiritualities that emphasize environmental consciousness.

Local religious communities actively engage in environmental protection activities, aligning their beliefs with a commitment to safeguarding the planet.

Public statements from German Christians and leaders, echoing the sentiment of global figures like Pope Francis, draw attention to ecological problems and advocate for pro-environmental policies.

The impact of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ reverberated not only within the Catholic Church but also resonated with climate scientists, media, and environmentalists.

The encyclical catalyzed discussions about climate change and its moral dimensions, exemplifying the potential influence of religious leaders in shaping public concern for environmental issues.

This confluence of spirituality and environmentalism in Germany underscores a broader trend within global faith traditions, emphasizing the shared responsibility to address environmental challenges and fostering a deeper connection between religious beliefs and ecological stewardship.

FAQs: Religious affiliation and religious communities in Germany

In this section, I answer common questions relating to the topic of religion in Germany.

What percentage of German Christians are Catholic?

Approximately half of the Christian population in Germany is Catholic. This reflects a near-even split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany’s population.

Does Germany teach religion?

Yes, Germany does teach religion in schools. Religious education is part of the curriculum in many schools, with lessons typically offered by both the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church.

Students who do not wish to participate in religious education with a Christian church can opt for an alternative subject, like ethics. In Berlin, a few public schools also offer instruction for Buddhists and many schools in the country offer Islamic religious instruction.

Is there religious freedom in Germany?

Yes, there is freedom of religious or philosophical creed in Germany. The country’s Basic Law guarantees freedom of religion, allowing individuals to practice their faith without interference. This includes the freedom to either practice or not practice a religion, ensuring a diverse and tolerant religious landscape.

What is the fastest growing religion in Germany?

As elsewhere in Western Europe, Islam is considered to be the fastest-growing religion in Germany. This growth is primarily attributed to immigration, with a significant number of people belonging to Muslim religious communities coming from countries like Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Summing Up: What Is the Main Religion in Germany?

In conclusion, Germany’s religious landscape is a complex and evolving tapestry, deeply influenced by its history and modern societal changes.

As a country where Christianity, particularly Protestantism and Catholicism, have played a central role since the Holy Roman Empire, Germany today stands as a multi-religious nation with no official state church.

The impact of Martin Luther’s Reformation, the unique church tax system, and the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious practice reflect the intertwining of religion and state over centuries.

Today, Germany remains a fascinating example of a modern, multi-religious country adapting to changing times and diverse religious groups.

If you’d like to learn more about the German language and culture, join me on SmarterGerman today.