The Roman Catholic Church’s fortnight-long Extraordinary Synod on the Family ends in Rome today. It has attracted surprisingly little attention in the general (non-Catholic) British media, although its outcomes are now being reported as a victory for conservative forces in the Church, particularly on gay issues. So far as is known, the Synod has not been informed by any scientific test to determine how far British Catholics, professing or practising, are in tune with the Church’s official teaching on family matters. The Church’s own consultation questionnaire, in the autumn of 2013, was something of a public relations disaster, being poorly designed and imperfectly administered; in any case, the findings of this survey in England and Wales and in Scotland have been kept secret. No non-Catholic agency has stepped in to take the pulse of Catholic opinion in the run-up to the Synod, so the latest data which we have of a representative nature are those collected by YouGov for Westminster Faith Debates in June 2013, which revealed a big gap between the hierarchy and people in the pews. The tables from this poll are still available online at:
That said, we probably should mention (just about) a global enquiry which has been run by the Catholic weekly The Tablet between 3 and 14 October 2014, via an 18-item open access online questionnaire. This was answered by an entirely self-selecting (and therefore probably quite unrepresentative) sample of more than 4,300 individuals, 57% of them from the United States (where the poll was highlighted on conservative blogs). According to The Tablet, one-quarter of respondents lived in the United Kingdom or Ireland, but their answers are not in the public domain, albeit there is a published tabulation of the views of 84 divorced and remarried British or Irish Catholics, which can be found at:
Polling interest in the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria appears to be waning. This is the first weekend in more than two months that The Sunday Times has not included a module of questions about IS in its weekly poll conducted on its behalf by YouGov. Although IS remained the second most noted news story of last week, it attracted just 11% of the vote, compared with 50% for the Ebola outbreak, according to a Populus survey on 15 and 16 October 2014 among an online sample of 2,039 adults. The only other recent poll to note was undertaken online by ComRes for the Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday, also on 15 and 16 October 2014, with 2,000 respondents. Asked whether the US and UK governments were right to refuse to pay ransoms to terrorist groups such as IS, 60% agreed, 13% disagreed, and 27% did not know what to think. Data tables are available at:
The Times of 2 October 2014 (p. 13) contained a report on recent research by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), at King’s College London. It was based on a study of 471 male and 54 female jihadists who had travelled to Syria and Iraq, overwhelmingly to join Islamic State (IS) or the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front. Biographical details were gleaned from interviews and social media. Comparative data on 378 German jihadists were obtained from that country’s intelligence service. Key findings from the newspaper coverage of the British research are quoted below, but no further information is currently available on the ICSR website.
‘The UK jihadists tend to be better educated, more affluent and have more social mobility compared to their counterparts in Europe. The typical British fighter was aged 18-24 and had received a sixth-form education, though some had degrees. Before going to the Middle East a majority had an involvement in activist groups focused on global Muslim issues, such as the Palestinian conflict, and many were involved in street-preaching groups. British jihadists tend to have South Asian backgrounds, reflecting the dominant ethnicities within British Islam, while men of North African extraction are the most numerous among mainland European fighters. Some British jihadists had criminal convictions, mostly for drugs or petty crime.’
Religious and ethnic hatred
Asked to select the greatest threat to the world from a list of five current dangers, 39% of Britons put religious and ethnic hatred in first place, with a further 22% placing it second, and still larger numbers of those on the political right. This is according to the results of a question asked in the most recent Pew Global Attitudes survey and released on 16 October 2014. Fieldwork was conducted in 44 countries between March and June 2014, including in Britain where 1,000 adults aged 18 and over were interviewed by telephone from 17 March to 9 April. The report and topline results from the question on world dangers can be read at:
The proportion of Britons citing religious and ethnic hatred as the world’s biggest danger in Spring 2014 was actually higher than in all other countries studied apart from Lebanon (58%) and the Palestinian Territories (40%), and it was considerably larger than the European average of 15% and the United States figure of 24%. However, it was somewhat diminished from the levels in Britain in Summer 2002 (43%) and Spring 2007 (45%), which were presumably influenced by the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in, respectively, New York in 2001 (9/11) and London in 2005 (7/7). The growing gap between the rich and the poor was perceived as the greatest global risk for 25% in Britain in 2014, pollution and other environmental problems for 16%, the spread of nuclear weapons for 14%, and AIDS and other infectious diseases for 4%.
Hate crimes: England and Wales
Hate Crimes, England and Wales, 2013/14, by Byron Creese and Deborah Lader, was published as Home Office Statistical Bulletin 02/14 on 16 October 2014. The police recorded 44,480 hate crimes in the year, of which 2,273 (5%) were categorized as religiously motivated, somewhat more than disability hate crimes (1,985) and transgender hate crimes (555) but less than sexual orientation hate crimes (4,622) and race hate crimes (37,484). All five strands demonstrated an increase between 2012/13 and 2013/14, which was partly a function of better reporting and partly of a genuine rise, especially, in the case of race and religion hate crimes (the latter up by 45%, from 1,573), growth following the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013. Public order offences and criminal damage or arson were the commonest forms of religion hate crimes. The bulletin is at:
Religion and equality: Scotland
The Scottish Government published on 14 October 2014 an Analysis of Equality Results from the 2011 Census of Scotland. Chapter 3 (pp. 66-98) is devoted to religion and contains 31 charts, 2 figures, and 2 tables, together with brief commentaries thereon. Breaks are given for religion by age, gender, marital status, cohabitation, ethnicity, national identity, country of birth, age of arrival in UK, length of residence in UK, urban/rural classification, English/Scottish language skills, language used at home, dependent children, and health. The report is available at:
Matt Sheard applies prosopographical techniques to autobiographical and oral history sources to produce a partially quantitative profile of non-elite British atheists between 1890 and 1980. He demonstrates that the process of atheization was principally a phenomenon of childhood and adolescence and often associated with weak religious backgrounds. Sheard’s ‘Ninety-Eight Atheists: Atheism among the Non-Elite in Twentieth Century Britain’ was published on 13 October 2014 in the open access journal Secularism and Nonreligion as Vol. 3, Article 6, and is available online at:
Ruth Gledhill has covered on Christian Today the recent analysis by Ben Clements on BRIN of religious affiliation data from the first wave of the British Election Study (BES) 2015 panel. She concentrates particularly on the ‘massive decline’ in affiliation over the fifty-year history of BES. She also interviews BRIN co-director David Voas about the prospects for the Churches. He sees immigration as the principal engine of any church growth which is occurring and the failure to recruit the children of churchgoers as the main reason for church declension. Nevertheless, he does not predict the virtual extinction of the Church of England, thinking that the seemingly relentless decline will bottom out at some point. Gledhill’s article is at:
YouGov polled 1,966 Britons online on 16-17 October 2014 about their attitudes to the restitution of the Elgin Marbles to Greece, prefacing the survey with a series of true or false statements to test the public’s knowledge of London. Whereas 78% correctly identified Sir Christopher Wren as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, fewer (53%) denied that Westminster Abbey is the main Roman Catholic Church in London, 19% thinking that it is. In fact, the Abbey, although of Catholic origin before the Reformation, is now a Royal Peculiar in the Church of England, and Westminster Cathedral is the principal Catholic place of worship in the capital. Data tables are at: