Britishness and Other News

The lead item in today’s round-up of religious statistical news sheds some light on the phenomenon of cultural Christianity which arises in connection with the 2011 religious census. In keeping with BRIN’s objectives, we also find space for some historical data which exemplify that the symptoms of what we now describe as secularization have chronologically deep roots.


The number of professing Christians in England and Wales revealed by the 2011 census (59%) may have dropped significantly since 2001, but many commentators still feel the proportion to be inflated through an association in the popular mind between Christianity on the one hand and nationality or ethnicity on the other. To declare oneself to be Christian, it is argued, still seems for many, within the British cultural and historical context, to be a function of being British/English and/or of being white.

Notwithstanding, a new poll finds that just 7% of Britons agree that being Christian is an important attribute for being British. This compares with 50% who say that Britishness equates with respect for people’s right to free speech, 46% with respect for the law, 41% with speaking English, 38% with treating men and women equally, 29% with respect for all ethnic backgrounds, 26% with respect for all faiths, 26% with being born here, and 21% with voting in elections. Only being white (6%) scores lower than being Christian. Demographically, the number citing being Christian peaks among the over-45s (11%), those with no formal educational qualifications (11%), and readers of mid-market newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express (12%).

In answer to another question, tensions between different religions are (at 26%) the sixth most cited (of ten) causes of division in British society, after tensions between immigrants and people born in Britain (57%), between tax payers and welfare claimants (47%), between rich and poor (35%), between different ethnicities (33%), and between tax payers and tax avoiders (32%). However, tensions between different religions are ranked lower (seventh, at 16%) as a cause of division in the respondent’s local area. All percentages are the sums of those ranking each cause in first, second or third position.

Source: Online interviews with 2,515 Britons aged 16-75 between 23 and 27 November 2012, undertaken by Ipsos MORI on behalf of British Future, a think tank which seeks to encourage debates on identity, integration, migration, and opportunity. Topline data are available in State of the Nation: Where is Bittersweet Britain Heading?, edited by Rachael Jolley and published by British Future on 14 January 2013 at:

Detailed computer tabulations, with breaks by demographics, can be found at:

Church social action

Notwithstanding the economic recession, and the mounting difficulties of attracting external grants, the UK’s churches have actually increased their investment in local social action initiatives during the past two years, according to research released on 20 December 2012. Funds given by UK church members and which were spent on such initiatives climbed by 19% during this period, to reach £342 million. The amount of time spent by church volunteers on social action initiatives rose by 36% over the same timescale, to stand at 98 million hours. In addition, paid church staff members commit 55 million hours to these initiatives. The overall value of such voluntary and salaried endeavour in 2012 is estimated to have been worth £1.925 billion per annum, at the level of the average wage, rising to £2.5 billion if other direct and indirect church contributions are factored in. The mean number of social action projects undertaken by a church grew from 5.7 in 2010 to 8.2 in 2012, and 58% of churches plan to scale up their social activities in the next 12 months. All the statistics exclude voluntary work undertaken by Christians in the community outside a church context.

Source: Survey of several thousand churches of all denominations in the UK during the autumn of 2012, of whom 359 replied. This is a low response rate, and, accordingly, the sample may not necessarily be representative of all UK churches, which has implications for the scaling-up of data to national level. Specifically, it is acknowledged that the sample is skewed towards medium-sized places of worship. Results (sometimes broken down by church size and location, and including comparisons with a similar survey in autumn 2010) are summarized in Geoff Knott, Church and Community Involvement: National Church Social Action Survey Results, 2012, published by Jubilee+ and the ACT Network and available at:

Thefts of metal from churches

Thefts of metal from Anglican churches in 2012 dropped to their lowest level since 2006. Last year, there were some 930 claims to Ecclesiastical Insurance from such churches in respect of the theft of lead and other metals from church exteriors, compared with over 2,600 in 2011 (the worst year on record). The cost of these claims fell from nearly £4.5 million in 2011 to £1.8 million in 2012. The improved situation follows concerted action to deter criminals by the Government and a range of other industries affected by metal thefts. Ecclesiastical has also been running its own campaign to fit sophisticated electronic alarm systems on the roofs of churches.  

Source: Press release by Ecclesiastical (which insures 96% of Anglican churches in the UK) on 17 January 2013, and available at:

Eighteenth-century diocesan statistics

Few national statistics were collected by the Church of England prior to its major administrative overhaul between 1832 and 1841, and even thereafter the pace of quantification was relatively slow. In terms of religious belonging, the number of confirmands (1872) and Easter Day communicants (1891) were among the first data to be collated and reported nationally, with usual Sunday attendance not being counted until as late as 1968.

Before these national Anglican figures become available, diocesan records often provide clues as to what was happening in the Established Church. Particularly important sources are the returns made by parochial clergy to queries issued in advance of an episcopal visitation of a diocese (which, in theory, took place every three years). Although the process of visitation antedated the Norman Conquest, the practice of sending out questionnaires to be answered by the clergy only took hold in the early eighteenth century.

The principal innovator of such parochial returns was William Wake when Bishop of Lincoln. A splendid scholarly edition of the abstract (speculum) compiled from the returns Wake obtained from his clergy in 1706, 1709, 1712, and 1715 has just been published: Bishop Wake’s Summary of Visitation Returns from the Diocese of Lincoln, 1706-1715, edited by John Broad (Records of Social and Economic History, New Series 49-50, Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2012, 2 vols, xlii + 1,075pp., ISBN 978-0-19-726518-5, 978-0-19-725519-2, £190).

The edition is a mine of information about the state of parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln, which, at that time, covered no fewer than six counties: Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire (part), Huntingdonshire, and Leicestershire, in addition to Lincolnshire. Quite a lot of the detail is statistical, including numbers of communicants and estimates of the presence of nonconformists. Broad’s introduction contains (p. xxvii) a useful table summarizing changes in Dissenters (up by 61%) and Roman Catholics (down by 12%) across the Diocese between the Compton Census of 1676 and Wake’s surveys.

A rather later set of clergy visitation returns exist for the Diocese of Salisbury in 1783, instigated by Bishop Shute Barrington. These have recently been subjected to secondary analysis, alongside other contemporary evidence, in order to build up a semi-quantitative picture of religious life in the Diocese (which then comprised Berkshire and Wiltshire). The research is reported in Clive Field, ‘Status animarum: A Religious Profile of the Diocese of Salisbury in the 1780s’, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, Vol. 106, 2013, pp. 218-29.

In terms of religious profession, the Diocese of Salisbury in the 1780s was found to have had a higher proportion of nominal Anglicans, and fewer Dissenters and Roman Catholics, than England and Wales c irca 1800. Non-churchgoing was a genuine problem for the clergy, particularly in towns, although, relative to population, aggregate congregations seem to have been similar to the religious census of 1851, which revealed Wiltshire and western Berkshire to be areas of comparatively high observance.


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