Researchers find surprisingly 'low use of the Bible' among Protestants, Catholics in Germany

Martin Luther statue in Dresden, Germany.
Martin Luther statue in Dresden, Germany. | iStock/robertmandel

A new study from the theologians at the University of Leipzig finds that only 1.6% of the German population reads the Bible at least once a day, and only 3.2% read it every week, despite half of its population identifying as Protestant or Catholic.

Considering the country's religious demographics and the fact it is home to Martin Luther and Protestantism, researchers said they found the "low use of the Bible" among both Protestants and Catholics "surprising."

Led by sociologist of religion professor Gert Pickel and professor Alexander Deeg from the Institute for Practical Theology at the University of Leipzig, the study was the product of a 2022 survey of 1,209 Germans "with and without church ties" in what researchers say is the "first representative all-German study on this topic." 

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The study, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), surveyed German residents aged 16 and older who were randomly selected and questioned about the topic by telephone or digitally. A third of the respondents identified as nondenominational, another third as Protestant and the final third as Catholic. Less than a third (30%) say they open the Scriptures approximately once a year. 

"We see that the number of non-readers is high," Pickel said. 

Researchers said while similar studies on Bible use in the United States are common, relatively little is known about the topic in Germany, with the last such study on Bible "piety" dating back nearly 40 years to the 1980s.

In 2014, roughly twice as many Germans (3.1%) read the Bible daily, according to researchers.

More men than women said they "pick up" the Bible, researchers added.

Among those surveyed who said they did not read the Bible, an overwhelming majority (80%) said they did not view the themes of the Bible as "relevant for their personal life," even as 63% of those who identified as non-readers said they still believe the Scriptures are a source of "core norms and values for society."

The research team also clarified that while the study's results might seem contradictory, it is not the proportion of Bible readers that has fallen, but the frequency of use," Deeg said.

With most Bible socialization occurring between the ages of 4 and 14, the chances of someone having a first encounter with the Bible beyond that age is "rather rare," according to the study.

While most of those surveyed came across the Bible in church services, other places of socialization with the Bible included religious lessons in schools, church confirmation services and personal teachings by parents and grandparents, Pickel stated.

Deeg said the surprisingly high number of people with an interest in biblical content might point to more innovation when it comes to introducing the Scriptures to people beyond the walls of the Church.

He pointed to the 929 Project in Israel, in which a large community of believers daily reads one of the 929 chapters of the Hebrew Bible — known as the Tanakh — and then discusses the reading via a mobile app.

"That would also be something for Germany. I'm already in talks with the church about this," said Deeg.

The study's findings aren't entirely surprising: an international study published in May found Germany's European neighbors in the United Kingdom had some of the lowest levels of religiosity and belief in God in the world.

The study by King's College London's Policy Institute found that many Britons do not believe in God, while the number of those who say God is not important to their life is the highest since the 1980s.

Researchers found that belief in Heaven and those praying and identifying as religious have also steadily fallen over the last four decades.

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