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Losing faith: Catholicism in Catalonia and the secularization of traditions

Catalan society now a lot more diverse thanks to waves of immigration over the past decades

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03 April 2021 12:00 PM

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Cristina Tomàs White and Cillian Shields | Barcelona

Catalonia has undoubtedly changed significantly over the last few decades. Since emerging from the fascist dictatorship and transitioning to democracy in the 1970s and 80s, to welcoming different waves of immigration diversifying the population and culture, Catalan society has undergone various evolutions and reformations. 

One notable consequence of these developments is how Catalans have become, on the whole, more secular and less Catholic over the past 40 or so years. 

The Franco dictatorship, which lasted until his death in 1975, was very closely tied with the Catholic Church, and the religion held great power and influence across Spain. 

In a 2020 survey undertaken by Catalonia’s Centre for Opinion Studies (CEO), 54.6% of respondents answered ‘No’ when asked ‘Do you consider yourself as someone with religious beliefs?’

However, when asked 'Regardless of whether you practice it or not, what is your religion?' 53% answered Catholic. Additionally, 7% said they were Evangelical/Protestant, 4.3% answered Islam, while 18.6% responded Atheist, and 8.8% Agnostic.

  • "There is a general acceptance of religious diversity in Catalonia, but the growth of the far-right is especially worrying"

    Dr Mar Griera · Professor of the Department of Sociology at UAB

One-fifth of those surveyed said they used to have religious beliefs but they no longer do. 68% of people answered that they never attend religious ceremonies (excluding events such as weddings, Christenings, funerals, etc.) and a mere 15% of respondents said they attended at least once a month. 

The statistics for weddings celebrated in Catalonia since 1979 paint a very clear picture of the secularization of the Catalan society. Forty-two years ago, a total of 37,007 weddings took place in Catalonia, with 35,737 of those being Catholic, 1,222 civil ceremonies, and 48 were of other religions. 

In 2019, 26,939 weddings were held (10,068 fewer), and a mere 2,747 of those were Catholic while 24,074 were civil, and 148 were of other religions. 

To find out more about why Catalans have moved in the direction of secularization, Catalan News spoke with Dr Mar Griera, professor of the Department of Sociology at UAB (Autonomous University of Barcelona), and director of the ISOR research group, Research in Sociology of Religion, since 2016.

Catalan News: Once overwhelmingly Catholic, Catalonia has become less religious over time. Why is this the case?

Dr Griera: The secularization process that Catalan society is living is also in parallel to what has happened all over Europe in the last century due to the modernization process, urbanization, the popularization of public education. On the one hand, Catalonia is similar to the other European countries because it is also having this secularization process, but on the other hand, it is quite different because this process was very fast. During the dictatorship, [the church] was, in a way, supporting Franco’s regime. This worked against the church after the secularization because many people thought and in a way equate freedom and democracy with no religion.

Have some Catholic traditions become secular?

There are many sociologists that talk about the ‘culturalization’ of religion, where parts of religion become secularized and included as part of the general culture and are seen and perceived as non-religious elements. You don’t ask yourself why Sunday is not a workday even though this has a clear religious origin, but we have invisibilized it. We talk about Setmana Santa (Easter) and even the Muslims living here talk about it, but nobody thinks that because you say you are on your Setmana Santa break that you are going to pray.

How has Catalonia’s religious landscape changed? 

This has changed a lot in the last 20 years. The Catalan religious landscape has been diversified and this is mainly due to migration dynamics and especially migration coming from the Global South. We see this especially with the growth of Islam but also with the growth of evangelical churches. There is a general acceptance of religious diversity in Catalonia, but the growth of the far-right is especially worrying, which has a discourse that goes against minorities, especially Islam but anyone who goes beyond this stereotype of the white, male Christian gets some kind of criticism.

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  • Volunteers taking part in one of the processions during Holy Week in Blanes (image courtesy of Ajuntament de Blanes)

  • Volunteers taking part in one of the processions during Holy Week in Blanes (image courtesy of Ajuntament de Blanes)

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