Least Religious Countries in the World
For most of history, religion has been a main component of societies around the world. But the Industrial Revolution and the political and ideological revolutions of the 20th century caused large cultural shifts.
Today, many people around the world identify as non-religious. In some countries, as much as 78 percent of the population report not following any spiritual faith or practice.
So, which are the least religious countries in the world? The answer may surprise you.
Population: 3.4 million
Non-religious population rate: 41.5 percent
Latin America is still a devoutly Catholic region where religion permeates everyday life. But attitudes toward the church have been shifting since the 1960s, and fewer people now identify as practicing Catholics.
Still, it's interesting to see Uruguay on this list, given that none of its neighbors were included. This small South American nation is one of the region's most liberal countries, which may explain why 40 percent of its population isn't affiliated with any religion.
Note: Religious population rates come from Wisevoter's "Least Religious Countries" 2023 report.
Population: 17.5 million
Non-religious population rate: 44.3 percent
Another notoriously liberal country, the Netherlands has seen its percentage of religious citizens decline since the end of World War II. Over half of the people here still practice some form of religion, mainly Catholicism followed by Protestantism.
But many of the country's incredible churches now serve primarily as tourist attractions or have been left in disrepair as attendance numbers drop.
Population: 1.9 million
Non-religious population rate: 45.3 percent
It's no surprise to see Latvia ranked so highly as a least religious country. It was, after all, part of the former Soviet Union, where religion was not officially banned but was certainly highly discouraged. Like in many former communist countries, this created a permanent indifference toward religion.
Most religious people in Latvia are Lutheran, with Catholicism being the second-most common religion here.
7. South Korea
Population: 51.7 million
Non-religious population rate: 46.6 percent
For most of its history, South Korea mainly followed Confucianism. Though it is more of a traditional philosophy of morality and communal values, it is often considered a religion. And before the 20th century, Buddhism was the second main religion.
But the country's rapid thrust into modernization following the invasion of Japan, the Korean War and the dictatorships of the 1970s and '80s changed how Korean people thought about religion. Confucian ideas continue to have a stronghold on the country's values, and there are still many Buddhists, but most people don't consider themselves religious or follow a regular spiritual practice.
Believe it or not, because of Western influence, Protestantism is now the largest religion in South Korea.
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Population: 1.4 billion
Non-religious population rate: 51.8 percent
Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism were historically the most important religions in China. After the Chinese Revolution put the Communist Party in power, however, religion was heavily suppressed, and many temples and churches were destroyed. Some people were even punished physically and financially for being openly affiliated with a religion.
While there is religious freedom in China today, Mao's Cultural Revolution continues to have a strong impact on attitudes toward organized religion, superstition and spiritual beliefs.
5. Hong Kong
Population: 7.4 million
Non-religious population rate: 54.7 percent
Although technically part of China, Hong Kong is a special administrative region with its own customs. Like in the mainland, more than half of the population is non-religious. However, most people who consider themselves spiritual follow Chinese folk religions. This is an umbrella trend for a collection of beliefs and rituals that have been followed for centuries and often involve superstitions with spirits and various deities. Buddhism comes second after these religions.
During China's Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong was colonized by the British. As such, it wasn't as affected by religious purges. Instead, its push toward a secular lifestyle seems to come from its rapid modernization.
Population: 125.7 million
Non-religious population rate: 60 percent
Japan is known for its impressive temples and shrines, which grace both cities and the countryside. Ironically, not many people still come to these places of worship for religious reasons.
Only 40 percent of people identify as religious. And of those, most follow the Shinto religion and then Buddhism. It's important to note that, as with Catholic countries, people often participate in religious rites on special occasions because it is part of the culture and not necessarily because of their beliefs.
Population: 1.3 million
Non-religious population rate: 60.2 percent
As with neighboring Latvia, Estonia's Catholic population suffered during the siege of the Soviet Union. Once the country freed itself from Russia's rule, its attitudes toward faith had completely shifted.
The country's main religion is Orthodox Christianity, with Lutheranism following behind. Unsurprisingly, younger people are less likely to be religious than the older population.
2. North Korea
Population: 26 million
Non-religious population rate: 71.3 percent
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, "religious freedom conditions in North Korea are among the worst in the world." While having a religion is not technically illegal, the country forbids using religion to harm the country. And since people are required to venerate Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, any form of religious practice could result in punishment, jail or execution — if a government official deems it a threat to the state.
Cheondoism, a religion that arose from the peasant revolutions of the early 19th century, is accepted in North Korea. The country's small religious population usually practices either Cheondoism or Shamanism. While there are people who follow Western religions like Christianity, it is risky to do so openly.
Population: 10.5 million
Non-religious population rate: 78.4 percent
It's shocking to see that Czechia is less religious than North Korea. After all, the country enjoys complete freedom of religion and has a deeply Catholic history. At the beginning of the last century, around 90 percent of people were Catholic.
But since Czechia was also under Soviet rule for decades, people were afraid of being related to the church rather than the Communist party. It seems like the change was even deeper and more permanent than in countries with a similar history.