A total of 4,500 people were polled in the survey conducted by Tong Shijun and Liu Zhongyu of the East China Normal University in Shanghai.
 
"After drastic changes in the past half a century, we now see bewildering moral decline, apathy between people, estrangement... All these have driven people to find new spiritual sustenance," Liu said.
He added that the re-discovering of faith was not a result of poverty, pointing out that a large segment of new believers come from the economically developed coastal areas.
 
Chinese leaders allow worship only in government-monitored churches, temples and mosques, and members of unofficial congregations are frequently jailed and harassed.
 
Younger believers
 
The report showed a drop in the average age of worshippers where about two-thirds of the survey group fell in the 16-39 age group, while only 9.6 per cent were 55 or older.
 
Islam is one of the five religions
recognised in China [EPA]
The findings, which were also published in the Oriental Outlook magazine, showed a significant increase in the number of people who describe themselves as Christians.
 
It said 12 per cent of all believers, or about 40 million people, are Christians, higher than the 16 million official figure in 2005.
 
Less than 15 per cent of respondents say they are atheists.
 
Last week, critics of China's religious restrictions told the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that there were widespread acts of religious discrimination.
 
China has five officially recognised religious groups - Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Roman Catholics and Protestant Christians.