Religious Plurality in North Rhine-Westphalia

North Rhine-Westphalia is the westernmost and — in terms of population and economic output — the largest federal state of Germany. North Rhine-Westphalia has almost 18 million inhabitants, contributes about 22 per cent of Germany's gross domestic product and comprises a land area of about 13.000 square miles. The state is centred on the sprawling Rhine-Ruhr urbanised region, which contains the cities of Düsseldorf, Bonn and Cologne as well as the urban Ruhr district industrial complex. The Ruhr district consists of, among others, the cities of Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, Bochum, Gelsenkirchen and Oberhausen.


The State of North Rhine-Westphalia, founded in 1949, carries on the religious heritage of its predecessor states. About 42 percent of the population belong to the Roman Catholic Church, while 28 percent adhere to one of the Protestant Churches. The Protestant population dates from the time of the 16th century Protestant Reformation and migratory influx during the 19th century. There are also smaller Christian groups. Beginning in the last third of the 20th century, a new plurality has been emerging through Islam, other non-European traditions, new religious communities and an increasing individual spiritualization process.

The Center for Religious Studies (CERES) at Ruhr University Bochum is situated right in the middle of the Ruhr District, one of Europe's biggest urban agglomeration. Since its foundation in 2005, CERES has conducted several studies on religious plurality of the Ruhr District and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, both quantitative as well as qualitative. As part of the Plureligion Network the project Religiöse Vielfalt lokal – regional – global has been analysing the religious pluralisation processes and religious diversity of North Rhine-Westphalia.


In total, we have found about 8.500 local religious organizations. Slightly more than 76 percent of the population of North Rhine-Westphalia are either members of or—in absence of formal membership—affiliated with a religious community. The range of religious groups reaches from the two major Christian churches, the Islamic organisations and ‘mosque associations’ (Moscheevereine), smaller Christian communities, the Orthodox Church and Jewish communities to Eastern religions, new religions and esoteric practices.

The relational, comparative approach of North Rhine Westphalias different administration districts enables us to ask for the conditions and consequences of religious pluralisation: