Religion in Germany
Photographic Book Germany

Religion in Germany plays a fairly small role in society. Church attendance in Germany is much lower than that in the United States. Under German law, all churches are supported by a modest church tax that is collected by the state. Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion in medieval Germany until the major crises and reformation efforts of the 14th and 15th centuries. After that time, Protestant churches came to power in the majority of principalities of the north, east, and center of the Holy Roman Empire. The actual Reformation began with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses of protest by Martin Luther in 1517. After considerable religious and political conflict, the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 decreed that each ruler of the approximately 300 German principalities could determine the religion of the subjects.

The Catholics eventually met the rapid spread of Protestantism with the Counter Reformation, which involved internal church reforms and a stricter interpretation of church doctrine. Religious strife finally culminated in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which devastated the country.

Roman Catholics and Protestants each account for slightly more than a third of the German population. Roman Catholics are mainly concentrated in the south. Protestants, the great majority of whom are Lutherans (see Lutheranism), live primarily in the north. Several German Protestant churches form a loosely organized federation called the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). Muslims (see Islam) make up a small percentage of the population. Only a very small percentage of Germans are Jewish.

Until the 19th century, the Jewish community was segregated and barred from many activities in most German states. In 19th-century Prussia and with the unification of Germany in 1871, German Jews were granted equal status under the law. At that point, German Jews became integrated into cultural and economic life. More than 500,000 Jews lived in Germany in the early 1930s. By the end of World War II in 1945, most of them had been killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust or had fled the country. By 1970 only about 33,000 Jews lived in Germany. With the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall, tens of thousands of East European and Russian Jews began to settle in the larger cities of Germany, particularly Berlin. Today, due to in part to an immigration policy that generally grants visas to Jews from formerly Communist states, Germany is home to one of the fastest-growing Jewish populations in Europe, now numbering more than 200,000, according to the German government. However, many of the Jews from Eastern Europe no longer practice their religion.

Saint Peter Cathedral
Saint Peter Cathedral. Encarta
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