A new report by the Pew Research Center suggests that of all the world’s major religions, Buddhism is the only one destined to lose ground between now and 2050.
The total number of adherents to Buddhism will remain virtually unchanged, with a slight decline from approximately 187 to 186 thousand people. But since the global population will have risen, the percentage of the world population that practices Buddhism will have declined sharply from 7.1% to 5.2%.
In the meantime, the percentage of the world practicing Christianity will be roughly static, while Islam will go from being embraced by 23.2% to 29.7% of the world.
This strikes me as ironic, since at the moment Buddhist practices are being tested in laboratories around the world, and being shown to have beneficial effects ranging from slowing the aging of the brain to reducing pain. I would have hoped that this evidence would have encouraged more people to explore Buddhist practice, but I’d guess that this spread of Buddhist practice is taking place mostly in the west, and that most people who take up meditation are doing so in a secular way, through Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction classes, etc. And while the secular, unaffiliated, population is set to increase by 100 million, they’ll be shrinking from 16% to 13% of the global population. It looks like Buddhism’s going to have a hard time sneaking in through the back door!
Will this all happen as foretold? I’ve no idea. I’m imagine that the Pew researchers know what they’re talking about, but projections don’t always translate into reality, and can even bring about changes. Who knows, seeing these projections some Buddhists may increase their outreach efforts and bring new converts into the religion.