A new study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center projected the populations of the world's major religions over the next four decades. It reports, among many other findings, that Islam is the world's fastest growing religion and that the global population of Muslims will nearly match that of the world's Christians by 2050, as the chart below shows.
The project was a major undertaking for Pew and is one of the first such comprehensive demographic analyses of its kind. "We have spent years analyzing thousands of data sets, censuses and populations registers," says lead researcher Conrad Hackett. "It's been a tremendous amount of work."
"The projections are what will occur if the current data are accurate and the trends play out as expected," advises the report. Pew took into account a complex range of factors in making its model for projecting the world's religious populations. These include fertility rates, the size of youth populations, effects of migration and rates of "religious switching" — such as, for example, the tendency of some in various religious communities to eventually become, as the study puts it, "unaffiliated."
For the purposes of this study, Pew did not analyze differing depths of religiosity among certain populations, nor disparities between confessional sects within a particular religion. The broader picture it paints offers some interesting glimpses of a not-so-distant future.
According to the Pew report, growing "unaffiliated" populations in the West and parts of East Asia will be undercut by declining birthrates. "The ten countries with the largest 'unaffiliated' populations are shrinking," says Hackett.
As the chart above shows, Muslims are part of the only religious community that is projected to increase at a rate faster than the world population as a whole. After 2070, Pew predicts, there will likely be more self-identifying Muslims than Christians. India, while still a Muslim-minority country, will likely also be the world's largest Muslim nation by 2050.
Still, this hardly indicates some sort of global Muslim takeover, as many far-right Western nationalists fear. Even the most generous projection for 2050 in Europe, where a number of Islamophobic parties are in ascension, places the continent's Muslim population at just around 10 percent.
Pew's study also shows how the major cradle for world religions -- particularly its two biggest, Islam and Christianity -- will be in sub-Saharan Africa, where a population boom will make it the home of four out of every 10 Christians on the planet.
You can peruse the full report here.