Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?

Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century by Eric Kaufmann was published by Profile Books on 25 March (xxii + 330pp., ISBN 978 1 84668 144 8, £15.00, but currently available from Amazon for £7.49).

Kaufmann is Reader in Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London, whose previous books have included The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (2004) and The Orange Order (2007).

His newest work is substantially the output of a research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Understanding Population Trends and Processes programme. The project website includes a substantial amount of additional background material (including reviews of this book). It can be found at:

Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? is, in many senses, a contribution to the long-running debate on secularisation. Far from becoming more liberal and secular, Kaufmann’s thesis runs, the facts actually point in an opposite direction.

In particular, he paints a picture of moderate religion being ‘squeezed between the Scylla of secularism and the Charybdis of fundamentalism’, with secularism increasingly losing out to a ‘demographically turbo-charged piety’. This ‘endogenous power’ of fundamentalism is portrayed as set to ‘trump secularisation’.

The key argument of the work is that ‘religious fundamentalists are on course to take over the world through demography’, because, unlike the secularists and many moderate religious, their fertility alone surpasses the replacement level.

This trend, which is reinforced by the high retention rate of fundamentalists (often facilitated by their spatial and social segregation), is seen as a potential challenge to basic liberties and liberal values.

The evidence base is part historical and part contemporary. It spans three of the major religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It is drawn from most parts of the globe, although the four core chapters focus on conservative Protestants in the United States, Europe, the Muslim world and the Jewish world.

Users of British Religion in Numbers will naturally be very interested in Kaufmann’s references to Britain. These are fairly numerous, notably in the chapter on Europe, although many of them are of a fairly general politico-religious nature, rather than directly related to the main thesis, which perhaps seems least persuasive in the British context.

There is an interesting discussion of Muslim fertility (which is falling) in the UK, with a projection of the Muslim population to 2029. The above-average religious observance of non-white immigrants in London is noted. Past differential Protestant/ Catholic fertility in Northern Ireland is also mentioned.

But the most direct evidence connecting fundamentalism and fertility in Britain relates to Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Judaism, where (as several endnotes make clear) the facts remain in dispute.

In Europe as a whole Kaufmann anticipates that a process of desecularisation will occur some time after 2020, linked to the identity-driven religiosity of immigrant populations with a relatively large number of children. Politically, there will be a convergence of moral conservatives among the three Abrahamic faiths.

Kaufmann has a part-summary of his European chapter, with special reference to the Eurabia question, in ‘Europe’s Return to the Faith’, Prospect, No. 169, April 2010, pp. 56-9.

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