Recent Journal Articles and Other News

As well as carrying the usual miscellany of news, this post reports on a selection of recent articles in academic journals which may be of interest to BRIN users. We give a URL for each, in line with our standard practice, but it should be noted that the articles themselves are behind paywalls, only available ‘free’ to those with a personal or institutional paid subscription to the journal concerned. If you do not have such access, you can use the online pay-per-view option or ask your local library to obtain a copy.

Religious polarization

Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme (Nuffield College, University of Oxford), ‘Toward Religious Polarization? Time Effects on Religious Commitment in US, UK, and Canadian Regions’, Sociology of Religion, Vol. 75, No. 2, Summer 2014, pp. 284-308.

The article tests the theory of polarization between religious and secular people by reference to cross-sectional datasets for 13 regions in three countries from 1985 to 2009-10. The four UK regions are England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The UK datasets are the British, Scottish, and Northern Ireland Social Attitudes Surveys and the Northern Ireland Life and Times Surveys, with a combined sample of 118,244 respondents. A religious commitment typology was devised from measures of self-reported religious affiliation and religious attendance to produce three categories of: no religion, affiliate but attend less than monthly (nominally affiliated), and affiliate and attend monthly or more (committed). Increasing polarization is shown to have occurred in England, Wales, and Scotland (also in Alberta and British Columbia) in that, while there has been undoubted growth in nones over time, the proportion of religiously committed has been fairly stable, thereby averting a decline of religion into nothing. In Northern Ireland, by contrast, religious commitment has decreased and nominal affiliation has risen.

Religious attendance

Marion Burkimsher (University of Lausanne), ‘Is Religious Attendance Bottoming Out? An Examination of Current Trends Across Europe’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 53, No. 2, June 2014, pp. 432-45.

The article examines self-reported religious attendance monthly or more in 24 European countries (including 10 ex-Communist states) on the basis of European Values Studies and European Social Surveys for the years 1990-2012. Four different methods of assessing trends in religious participation are deployed: inter-cohort differentials, attendance of young people (aged 18-29), attendance by post-war cohorts born in 1950-81, and life-course variations (child versus young adult). Overall, decline is being experienced in some previously high-attending Catholic countries, while attendance in traditionally secular countries (including Britain) is stabilizing at a relatively low level. Only on the child-adult attendance measure was a decline recorded in Britain. A few ex-Communist countries are seeing sustained growth.

UK religious census

A.J. Christopher (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University), ‘The Religious Question in the United Kingdom Census, 1801-2011’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 65, No. 3, July 2014, pp. 601-19.

The author offers an overview of the historical debates and controversies, inside and outside Parliament, surrounding the attempts to include a religion question in the population census of the various nations comprising the United Kingdom. Apart from Ireland (where a question on religious affiliation was included from 1861) and in Northern Ireland (from 1926), these efforts only succeeded in mainland Britain in 2001. The principal exception was the one-off census of religious accommodation and worship in 1851, which is barely discussed by Christopher, notwithstanding the vast primary and secondary literature to which it has given rise. The most detailed consideration in his article is reserved for the debates on the 1861 and 1911 censuses, while the survey of the campaign in the 1990s to add religion to the 2001 census schedule is somewhat brief and fails to cite several of the published first-hand accounts.


Clive Field (University of Birmingham and University of Manchester), ‘No Popery’s Ghost: Does Popular Anti-Catholicism Survive in Contemporary Britain?’ Journal of Religion in Europe, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2014, pp. 116-49.

In accordance with the self-archiving policy of the publisher (Brill), an open access version of this article is also available on the author’s personal website at:

Anti-Catholicism has been a feature of British history from the Reformation, but it has been little studied for the period since the Second World War, and rarely using quantitative methods. A thematically-arranged aggregate analysis of around 180 opinion polls among representative samples of adults since the 1950s offers insights into developing attitudes of the British public to Catholics and the Catholic Church. Anti-Catholicism against individual Catholics is found to have diminished. Negativity toward the Catholic Church and its leadership has increased, especially since the Millennium. Generic and specific explanations are offered for these trends, within the context of other manifestations of religious prejudice and other religious changes.


Beth Singler (Pembroke College, University of Cambridge), ‘“See Mom It is Real”: The UK Census, Jediism, and Social Media’, Journal of Religion in Europe, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2014, pp. 150-68.;jsessionid=23bvmdgci17ic.x-brill-live-02

The author considers Jediism (of Star Wars fame) as an ‘invented’ New Religious Movement (NRM) and, in particular, its ‘Internet Event’, in the shape of online campaigns to encourage self-identification as Jedi Knight in response to the religion question in the 2001 and 2011 UK censuses of population. These campaigns had significant impact in 2001, with 390,127 individuals (0.7% of UK residents) writing in Jedi as their religion from a wide variety of motivations, including as a joke, but were much less effective in 2011 (when there were 176,632 Jedis). In practice, the Office for National Statistics chose to categorize Jedis as no religion rather than other religion. The use of email (in 2001) and social media, notably Twitter (in 2011) in underpinning these campaigns is explored as a legitimation strategy for NRMs. In this way even ‘invented’ religions such as Jediism can acquire a source of tradition.

Trust in the Church

A majority (55%) of the British public distrusts the Church, according to the latest results from nfpSynergy’s Charity Awareness Monitor (CAM), which were published on 23 June 2014. For the twelfth time since 2003 a representative sample of 1,000 Britons aged 16 and over was asked about the degree of trust which they had in various public bodies and institutions, 24 being included in the most recent survey, conducted online in April 2014. The nfpSynergy press release, with links to some Powerpoint slides, will be found at:

Response options included ‘very little’ and ‘not much’, which have been combined to give a distrust score, and ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ which have been merged to produce a trust figure. The table below, ranked according to level of distrust, summarizes the findings for 2014.





Political parties








Insurance companies








Multinational companies








Local authorities




Trade unions




Civil service




Legal system












TV and radio stations












Royal Mail








Royal family




Fundraising Standards Board








Small businesses








Scouts and guides




Armed forces




The Church was the eleventh most distrusted of all the institutions, with 18% more adults distrusting it than trusting it, and only 10% trusting it a great deal (against 27% quite a lot, 29% not much, and 26% very little). A majority from 52% to 65% has distrusted the Church in every single CAM since September 2006, and a plurality of 45% in the first CAM in November 2003.

The relatively poor showing of the Church in terms of public esteem exemplifies how secularization can be understood (following a famous article by Mark Chaves in Social Forces in 1994) as declining religious authority.

Religious freedom

The recent allegations of a ‘Trojan horse’ plot in some Birmingham state schools have sparked off a debate about the importance of teaching so-called ‘British values’. Several opinion polls have tried to get the public to define precisely what those values might encompass. Little weight is apparently attached to religious freedom, according to one such survey, conducted by ComRes on behalf of the Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday between 11 and 13 June 2014, for which 2,034 adult Britons were interviewed online. Out of a list of 12 possible British values, religious freedom was ranked tenth in importance, with just 12% of the vote, albeit twice that (23%) among the over-65s. Freedom of speech came top (48%), followed by respect for the rule of law (34%), and fairness and tolerance (27% each). Full details on pp. 73-6 of the data tables at:

Scottish Episcopal Church statistics

The General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church met in Edinburgh between 12 and 14 June 2014 and, on its final day, debated a motion from the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, calling on the College of Bishops to devise an annual statistical return which would better reflect the full range of the Church’s activities, some of which were said to go unrecorded under the present system. In an attempt to provide a fuller picture, the Diocese had compiled a supplementary ‘Fresh Expressions Statistical Return’ for 2011-12, which is reproduced on pp. 157-8 of the General Synod agenda and papers at:

There is a summary of the debate in the Church Times for 20 June 2014 (p. 10). The main speaker was Professor David Atkinson, from the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, who claimed that ‘there is an imbalance between the numbers we collect and what we are experiencing’.

The Church’s latest figures are included in its annual report to 31 December 2013, disaggregated to individual ‘charge’. Three measures are given: persons of all ages belonging to the congregation (members) – 34,119 in 2013 (down 2.3% on 2012); names on the communicants’ roll – 24,852 in 2013 (up 0.8% on 2012); and attendance on a Sunday before Advent – 13,631 in 2013 (3.5% down on 2012). The annual report can be found at:

Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life

The independent Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, an initiative of the Woolf Institute at Cambridge, has recently launched a national consultation, which is, in effect, a call for written evidence in answer to both general and specific questions. The deadline for submissions is 31 October 2014. It does not appear that the Commission intends to conduct a representative national cross-section survey, to set alongside the views of what will inevitably be a self-selecting group of individual and organizational respondents to the consultation and of those invited to attend seven national and local public hearings. Further information can be found at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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