75 % of Spaniards recognize Christian values

The majority of Spaniards recognize that their values have Christian roots, even half of those who declare themselves indifferent or atheists. Levels of trust in the Catholic Church are improving, although they are low, according to a report by analysts Víctor Pérez-Díaz and Juan Carlos Rodríguez presented by the European Foundation Society and Education.

Rafael Miner-July 14, 2021-Reading time: 6 minutes
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Photo: Tim Marshall / Unpslash

Among the 28 European countries whose adult population identifies with a religious denomination, Spain ranks 22nd, although 75 % of Spaniards recognize that their values have Christian roots, including half of those who declare themselves indifferent or atheist.

An 86 % recognizes the importance of the role of churches (including the Catholic Church) in social assistance, while current levels of trust in the Catholic Church, although continuing to improve, are relatively low, with an average of 3.8 out of 10, behind NGOs, but similar to those of large companies (3.7) and the media (3.9), and clearly above political parties (1.5).

On the other hand, the average importance that citizens attach to religion in their lives receives a score of 4 out of 10 ̶ the fourth lowest position among European countries with 2017 data ̶ , an average that rises to 9.3 among teachers of religis

These are some of the conclusions of the report Citizen and teacher perspectives towards religion, its public presence and its place in teaching, prepared by Víctor Pérez-Díaz, 2014 National Prize in Political Science and Sociology, and Juan Carlos Rodríguez, both from Analistas Socio-Políticos, and presented at the course summer school in El Escorial entitled Religion in Spain today, organized by the European Foundation Society and Education.

The analysts' study is based on two opinion surveys. One of them was applied to a representative sample of the Spanish population between 18 and 75 years of age, and the other was applied to a representative sample of Catholic Religion teachers in general education and in public schools. Both were carried out online.

Course directors, Silvia Meseguer (UCM) and Miguel Angel Sancho (EFSE), have framed this study in the framework of the project Civil society, religiosity and educationcommissioned to Society and Education by the international organization Porticus, interested in having information on the situation of religious formation in Spain. Andrés Arias Astray, Director General of the General Foundation of the Complutense University of Madrid, opened the course on behalf of the Rector.

Secularization, a complex process

Víctor Pérez-Díaz described the process of secularization in Spain as "complex, confusing, contradictory and open, with very different tones in Western societies and in the rest of the world".

Juan Carlos Rodríguez, co-author of the report, highlighted some of the conclusions that, in his opinion, shed new light on the public's judgments and perceptions about the public presence of religion. And he affirmed that, "for the first time, the opinions of the public are compared with those of one of the hypothetically central agents in the transmission of the religious perspective, the teachers of Religion".

In the opinion of Professor Rodriguez, the process of secularization in Spain has nuances: the general public recognizes a religious component in people's lives, recognizes the contribution of religious organizations in caring for the needy, tends to accept the current status of the subject of Religion, and even values another possible subject on the History of Religions. In short, "it only remains to conclude that there is, in Spain, a civilized coexistence between those who recognize the weight of religious experience in their lives and those who do not".  

Some conclusions

"The variable that best explains the differences of opinion found in the study is that which combines the religious identity and practice of the interviewees," says Juan Carlos Rodríguez. These are classified, according to the report, as follows: 58.7 % are Catholics (17.7 %, practicing and the rest little or not practicing); 3.2 % are believers of other confessions; 11.2 % declare themselves agnostic; 15.7 %, atheists and 10.5%, indifferent. [ points out that "the agnostic does not affirm the existence or non-existence of God, as long as these are not demonstrable. Atheist, on the other hand, is the one who "denies the existence of God"].

With respect to Religion teachers, 86.1 % attend religious services every week or almost every week, something that only applies to 18.7 % of the believing public.

On the other hand, as is well known, the involvement of Catholics in religious rites has been declining in recent decades. The sharpest example in the study is the evolution of the weight of Catholic marriages over the total number of marriages celebrated each year, which has fallen from about 90 % in the early 1980s to 21 % in 2019.

Religion in life

The average importance that citizens in general attach to religion in their lives receives a score of 4 out of 10 (fourth lowest position among European countries with data in 2017), an average that rises to 9.3 among religion teachers, as noted above.

Some 85.8 % have experienced no clear effects on their religious feelings in times of pandemic, and it is striking, according to the report, that only 12 % have felt in need of help, compared to 79.1 % who have not experienced such a need.

58.4 % agree with the idea of excluding religious manifestations from the public sphere (but 97.5 % of Religion teachers think the opposite, something in which they coincide with 63.2 % of practicing Catholics); 71 % prefer that churches abstain from expressing an opinion on political matters, but 73.7 % of Religion teachers think the opposite.

On the other hand, 78 % think that politicians should not openly express their religious convictions, but 70 % of religion teachers think the opposite. Despite this apparent tendency to relegate religion to the private sphere, 86 % recognize the importance of the role of churches in social welfare.

Education and religiosity

Contrary to what seems to be the dominant trend in the public discussion of these issues, only 47.6 % of respondents attach a great deal or a fair amount of importance to the political debate on the role of religion in education, compared to 52.5 % who attach little or no importance to it.

In any case, Juan Carlos Rodríguez points out that "this debate does not seem to have enlightened the opinions of those interviewed, since not only do most of them err in estimating the proportion of students who take Religion, but, beyond the opinion held on the subject of public financing of religious centers, very few (33.8 %) know that such financing also occurs in other European countries. This serves as a cautionary note in interpreting the public's views on policies regarding religion in education and perhaps other related issues.

Moreover, only 27 % recognize some important effect on their religiosity of having taken the subject of Religion at school. However, 44.2 % agree with favoring contact with religious experience at school or in the family. In any case, the population is very divided here, since 55.8 % do not agree.

Religion teachers: majority women

Religion teachers in Spain are mostly women, somewhat older than the average age of teachers in public schools, and have, on average, 1.5 university degrees. They have been teachers for an average of 20.8 years and remain longer in their schools than their colleagues in public education. They value their training positively and combine traditional and modern pedagogical techniques, as do, in general, the majority of Spanish teachers for a long time. However, Religion teachers express some insecurity and uncertainty about their future as teachers.

According to 45% of the teachers interviewed, interest in the subject at their center would have remained stable in recent years, but for 25 % it would have increased and for 24 % it would have decreased. In general, they tend to believe that both students and the rest of the teaching staff see the subject of Religion as less important than the others, a perception that is accentuated when giving their opinion on how their peers see it.

As for the coexistence with their colleagues in the center, 92.9 % affirm that they relate a lot with them and 82.6 % agree that their consideration is similar to that of any teacher. There is a majority (53.5 %) who observe in their colleagues a neutral attitude towards the teaching of Religion in the public school, and there are also more who believe that these colleagues maintain a positive attitude (30.2 %) than a negative one (16.3 %).

The teachers who are aware of the proposals of the Spanish Episcopal Conference regarding the future of the subject (76.7 %) have a good or very good opinion of them, as opposed to 9.5 % who have a bad or very bad opinion of them. 95.3 % think it is very good that the subject of Religion counts for the average grade of the Bachillerato and the EVAU (Evaluation for University Access), and 92.3 % think it is bad or very bad that it does not have an alternative.

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