The Encyclopedia of Religion in Italy (pp. 1240, 125 euro) is a large volume created by the Turin based sociologists Massimo Introvigne and Pierluigi Zoccatelli, director and vice director of CENSUR, respectively. They found and described 836 religions present in Italy. One of the big findings that came out of the research was the significant growth of orthodox Christian immigrants, which are close to the numbers of Muslim immigrants and will likely supersede Muslim immigrants in the next few years. Vatican Insider interviewed Massimo Introvigne.
In the collective imagination, immigrants are Muslim; instead the orthodox Christian immigrant community is on the rise and will likely supersede Muslim immigrant numbers. What explains this phenomenon?
The largest Orthodox Christian community in Italy is Romanian with 163 churches – and the number continues to grow. The allowance of Romania into the European Union in 2007 has resulted in an easier immigration into Italy especially because Romanian is neo-Latin language and the children and adolescence understand Italian much quicker than other immigrants. In spite of the Italian economic crisis, that has slowed sown immigration from other countries, the social and economic situation in Romania, immigration to Italy remains alluring. The same applies, to a lesser extent to Romania, to other Eastern European countries with a majority of Orthodox. The growth of Orthodox immigrants in Italy does not derive from any specific religious reason but rather the motives of migration. At the same time, it is true that the Orthodox church – including the Romanian church – has emerged in Italy to continue relations with its faithful immigrants, such that the secularization of immigrants – that leave their homes, also happens with religion – for orthodox Christians this is relative.
The members of minor religions include 2.5% of Italians, and 7.6% of persons in Italy. Why is there a sensation, in the public opinion, that there is an invasion of other religions and in particular Islam?
With the processes that aren’t new but were increased with September 11, 2001, Europe has begun to display a fear of the “invasion of Islam” and the conquest of Italy by Muslims is no longer military – like the invasion of Vienna in 1683 – but rather through the increase in immigration. Paradoxically, this fear is reinforced by members of Islamic fundamentalism which takes credit for a renewed “conquest of Europe” through immigration and large families. This is what sociology calls “moral panic,” a phenomenon that is based on data but is amplified in the collective imagination becoming difficult to distinguish between real statistics and statistical folklore. However, the moral panic is based on real data.
In Italy, which for many years has been a land of emigration with an increased immigration, the number of immigrants and non-Catholics (in particular Muslims) did not integrate in a phased manner like in France over the course of a century, in Italy the more rapid immigration is during the span of a few decades. In 1970, Muslims in Italy numbered a few thousand, and are now – according to our Encyclopedia, others believe more – 1,475,000, including 115,000 who are Italian citizens. Such rapid growth obviously poses problems. The existence of small minorities who are seduced by the ultra-fundamentalism and terrorism is a real fact, as seen by police reports. The data tells us that Muslims are numerous but that there is no “invasion.” And, also, religious pluralism is a phenomenon which is culturally important and growing, but statistically it is still a relatively small minority, it is true that 97.5% of Italian citizens are not part of religious minorities.”