‘Religious citizens in the UK are more likely to be civically engaged and politically active than their non-religious counterparts. They are also more likely to hold progressive political values on a number of important political and economic questions at the heart of twenty-first century policy. Despite the trend of decreasing religiosity in the UK, religion remains important to a broad range of active and engaged citizens – and so it must to politicians.’
These are the main conclusions from a new report, published on Easter Day by Demos, the independent think-tank. Jonathan Birdwell and Mark Littler, Faithful Citizens (ISBN 978-1-909037-05-2) can either be purchased in hard copy for £10 or downloaded for free from:
The research which underpins the report derives from a series of bivariate analyses of two main sources: the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Citizenship Survey (CS) for England and Wales from 2007/08 to 2010/11; and the fourth (2008) wave of the European Values Study (EVS), with comparative data from eight Western European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, West Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain), besides the UK (where fieldwork was actually undertaken between August 2009 and March 2010).
The CS, which utilized a very large sample indeed and can be assumed to be quantitatively quite robust, is deployed by Demos to study the relationship of faith with civic engagement, social capital, cohesion and belonging. The EVS is used to illuminate civic engagement, political activism and political values. Its sample size is much smaller (1,561 in the case of Britain), and some sub-samples fall to fewer than 100 cases (for example, the number belonging to a religious organization in four of the Western European countries).
The CS data mainly appear in chapter 2 (findings, pp. 29-49, at pp. 29-38), often differentiating respondents into three groups: non-practising religious, practising religious, and non-religious. Some of the linkages in the CS between religion and social capital (volunteering, charitable giving, and so forth) are already fairly well-known through NatCen’s published reports on the CS, although Demos has enriched these by original analysis of the 2010/11 CS dataset, for which no detailed reports have been commissioned by DCLG from NatCen.
The EVS data, as well as featuring in chapter 2 (pp. 38-49), are subjected to more detailed study in the results tables in appendix B (pp. 60-97). Here they are disaggregated, within country, by a) belonging or not to a religious organization and b) a threefold typology of religiosity: exclusivists (who self-identified as religious and believed there is only one true religion), pluralists (who said they were religious but conceded that no religion has a monopoly of the truth), and seculars (those who did not identify with a religion). In the UK 10% were exclusivists, 42% pluralists, and 48% seculars (the Western European average being 14%, 50% and 36% respectively).
The EVS is particularly exploited to demonstrate links between religion and ‘progressive’ modes of social and civic activism, including involvement with women’s rights, international development, and trade unions. The authors see this in contrast to the traditional association of religion with ‘conservative’ politico-moral agendas, often of a negative kind. Much is made of the fact that, in the UK, a majority (56%) of both exclusivists and pluralists placed themselves on the left/centre left side of the political spectrum (without stressing that even more, 65%, of seculars did so).
It is inevitably impossible, within the parameters of a short post, to do justice to the statistics, commentary and interpretation, but BRIN readers keen to get an insight into the main discoveries of the research and their perceived political implications should start with the summary (pp. 15-20). The authors are at pains to emphasize that they have established correlations and not proven causation, and they do not claim that faith per se is directly responsible for active citizenship in a progressive political context.
The report is part of a larger project exploring the role of faith in UK society and politics. This is being led by Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham, and Demos with the help of what looks to be a disproportionately left-leaning advisory committee of faith leaders, academics and politicians. One of the members of the committee is BRIN’s very own (and scrupulously impartial) Dr Siobhan McAndrew.
Two further reports from the project are promised this year, one on the role of faith groups in delivering public services, and the other on faith in politics. Timms has contributed a lengthy foreword to Faithful Citizens which welcomes the opportunities for the Labour Party which its findings present. ‘Doing God’ in politics seems to be back in fashion, for some at least. But watch this space for the predictable critique of the report and its conclusions by secularists and right-wing politicians of faith!