Buddhism and religious plurality in Spain

Francisco Díez de Velasco

Research project "Buddhism in Spain" sponsored by the Public Foundation "Pluralismo y Convivencia" (Pluralism and Coexistence) (Madrid)

Buddhist flag in the roof of Arya Marga Sangha, LPGC (Canary Islands)

RELIGIOUS PLURALITY as a recent option

As Spaniards... we need to remember a particular religious history based on the secular renunciation of difference...
But also the remarkable process (under construction) of transformation from a system based on the establishment of a national-official religion to a multireligious one with a growing tendence to religious plurality.

What are the main religions in Spain?

Religion Approximate 
of population
Non believers and Atheists
Evangelical Christians
Orthodox Christians
Jehovah Witnesses
New religions and others
33-36 millions
10-12 millions
1.2 millions
1.2 millions


What is the place of Buddhism in the Spanish religious field?

-In seventh place with more than 50.000 followers...

But... in the legal arena?

In Spain the legal-religious field may be analysed detecting five categories, revealing a context branded by differences and privileges.

LEVEL 1) is held by Catholicism, explicitly recognized in the Constitution in article 16.3.


Art. 16.3:“There will be no state religion. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall maintain consequent links of co-operation with the Catholic Church and other faiths”.

These relations are based on international agreements signed between the Spanish State and the Holy See in 1979. With notable privileges in the educational sphere and in the financing.

LEVEL 2) are included three religions (or confessions) that signed co-operation agreements with the Spanish State in 1992, Evangelical Christians, Jews and Muslims.
The confessions with agreements enjoy privileges, for example, a certain degree of state financing and the presence of confessional religious education in public centres.

LEVEL 3)  including four religious groups that have been recognized by the State (the Ministry of Justice) as "de notorio arraigo" (well known faith or clearly taken root), but with no agreements.
 -Mormons since 2003
 -Jehovah’s Witnesses, since 2006
 -Buddhism, since 2007
- Orthodox Church, since 2010

Buddhism is the first religion not related to the Abrahamic heritage in Spain to be recognized as "de notorio arraigo".

Why Buddhism?

-It's a recent religion in Spain. The first stable groups began in 1977...despite previous individual adherences to Buddhism.


As we have seen... Buddhists in Spain are 50.000-80.000 practitioners (around 200.000 if we use less strict criteria of religious belonging). More than Jews, Hindus or Mormons..

There are arond 300 stable groups of practice in almost all the Spanish provinces.

and also we detect an outstanding new Spanish Buddhist heritage...

With remarkable examples even if they differs from the average religious monuments in Spain...

The stupa of Benalmádena
33 meters high 
(the biggest outside Asia)


Sakya Foundation in Denia (Alicante) (Sakyapa)

Karma Gön Monastery (Velez Málaga). Thaye Dorje Gompa with capacity for more than 2000 worshipers

Monastery of
Dag Shang Kagyu, Panillo (Huesca)

O Sel Ling (Granada)
Retreat centre

Sakya Tashi Ling, located at the Palau Novella (El Garraf, Barcelona)

Kadampa Hotel (Alhaurín, Málaga)


LEVEL 4) Includes the religious groups that are entered in the "Registro de Confesiones Minoritarias" of the Ministry of Justice but with no subsequent agreements or recognitions. Registration entails greater protection of the places of worship registered and also a way of simplifying many of the varying types of administrative procedures.

LEVEL 5)  Includes groups that, despite defining themselves as religious entities or churches, are not registered or the registration procedure has not been fully completed for a number of reasons (of an administrative nature) by the Ministry of Justice. Therefore, from a legal perspective, they are not correctly visibilized as such, but are generally regarded as cultural associations.

THE PLACE OF BUDDHISM in the future: from third to second level (from "notorio arraigo" to the cooperation agreement)

The challenge: Buddhism is a different proposal than the commonly present in the Spanish religious field...
and must open the way to better adapt this field to the current, highly diverse global religious (and social, cultural, etc.) framework in which the significance of Asian sensibilities cannot be forgotten.

In the construction of religious plurality in Spain if we are able to find an inclusive formula for reflecting in an agreement between Buddhism and the Government the diversity and peculiarities of Buddhism it will be an excellent example of proactivity and openness to construct a system leaving behind centuries of anti-pluralistic focus in religious questions.

Buddhist flags in front of the Benalmádena's stupa