Religion in Italy

Italy is a predominantly Christian country. More specifically, it is a Roman Catholic country (hardly surprisingly, with the Pope sitting right in the middle of it).

Roman Catholocism has shaped Italy’s history; and had led to some of the most beautiful religious architecture in the world.

However, it does have populations of other religions – and religious freedom is guaranteed under its constitution.

The statistics of religion in Italy

Nearly 90% of Italians identify as Christian (of which the vast majority are Roman Catholic) – but, of those, only around a third are ‘practising’. The rest are more likely to go to church only on high days and holidays.

The remaining 10% or so is made up of atheists & agnostics, and minority religions, including a growing population of Muslims – mainly immigrants.

According to a 2006 survey (Italian language), Italy has around 53million Christians, 4million Atheists and Agnostics, 1.2million Muslims, 160,000 Buddhists, 115,000 Hindus, 70,000 Sikhs, 45,000 Jews and 15,000 Pagans.

The history of religion in Italy

Christianity has been present in Italy for around 2,000 years. The country served as an important centre for the expansion of Christianity through the Roman empire.

Centuries of fairly brutal history (see here for an interesting and thorough explanation from studycountry) shaped the church into modern Catholicism.

The Papacy controlled huge areas of Italy until late in the 19th century.

In 1929, Mussolini entered treaties with the Church, establishing Vatican City as its own state (which remains) and established Catholicism as the only religion in Italy (which does not).

The 1947 Constitution of the Italian Republic separated Church and state, setting out that they were to remain two independent spheres. The Constitution also guaranteed freedom of religion, as long as it does not clash with the laws of Italy, and declared that people were equal despite their religion.

Catholicism remained Italy’s official religion until 1984. The country now has no official religion.

Vatican City

Although it sits smack bang in the middle of Italy, Vatican City has been its own state since 1929 and the signign of the Lateran Pacts. It has its own governance, security and administrations.

The influence of the Church in Italy

Although secularisation is on the rise in Italy, the continuing influence of the Vatican should not be underestimated. The media loves to put the spotlight on the pope, and you’d be hard-pressed to watch the news for very long without something Vatican-related popping up.

More concerningly, the Church is still intertwined with politics. While it stays silent on some major issues (notably, organised crime), the Vatican is usually happy to jump up and down with indignation when it disagrees with a political decision.

Quite often, the Church’s influence – and the cooperation of sympathetic politicians – leads to bills being blocked or passed. It was a struggle for Italy to pass progressive laws on divorce and abortion.

The Church’s historic tax-exempt status was finally stripped from it in 2013, meaning that loopholes (such as paying no tax on a hotel because it happened to have a chapel in it) were closed.

Religious tolerance in Italy

On the whole, you needn’t feel unsafe as part of a minority religion in Italy.

However, increased immigration has increased bad feelings towards Muslims in Italy in recent years.

Fears of Islamic extremism (especially after the attacks on Paris in late 2015) have led Italy to crack down on ‘illegal’ or unregulated mosques in the country. Critics point out that there are only four official mosques in the whole of Italy, as well as 800 or so registered cultural centres and prayer rooms (many open only sporadically).

Several colleges have banned the wearing of hijab.

According to the United States Department of State’s 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom – Italy:

Anti-Semitic societal prejudice persisted, including anti-Semitic graffiti. Individuals and small extremist fringe groups committed anti-Semitic acts, including verbal assaults and posting of hate speech online.

The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency’s survey of anti-Semitism, released in 2013, said that 33% of 649 respondents had experience anti-semetic attacks (verbal or physical).

Places of worship in Italy

Catholic churches in Italy

You won’t be able to turn a corner in Italy without tripping over a Catholic church or cathedral, but The Catholic Directory has a comprehensive list of them anyway.

Mosques in Italy

Mosques are considerably more difficult to find. Salatomatic has a list.

Synagogues in Italy

There are a good number of synagogues for the Jewish population of Italy. MavenSearch has them listed.

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