Churchgoing may be a distinctly minority activity in contemporary Britain, but as many as 45% of the population claim to have visited a church or chapel during the past year for either religious or non-religious purposes, rising to 60% of over-65s and Christians, and even including 27% of those who profess no religion. This is according to a ComRes poll for the National Churches Trust which was published on 29 January 2015, and for which 2,061 adults aged 18 and over were interviewed online between 12 and 14 December 2014. Data tables have been posted at:
The heritage and community value of church buildings was also widely appreciated by respondents to the survey. In particular:
- 79% agreed that churches and chapels are an important part of the UK’s heritage and history (including 51% of religious nones)
- 75% agreed that it is important for churches and chapels to have good access and modern facilities to make it easier for people to use them (66% of nones)
- 74% agreed that church buildings play an important role for society as a venue for community activities (64% of nones)
- 59% disagreed that repairing and restoring historic church buildings only benefits churchgoers (55% of nones)
- 55% agreed they would be concerned if their local church or chapel building was no longer there (34% of nones)
- 39% disagreed that their local church or chapel does not play a large role in supporting people in the community (28% of nones)
Church growth advocates, especially in the Church of England and the Methodist Church, are often keen to talk up the potential of Fresh Expressions (FEs) of church as a counterpoise to the more familiar narrative of church decline. However, a somewhat more sobering account of FEs, from theoretical and empirical standpoints, is offered by John Walker, Testing Fresh Expressions: Identity and Transformation (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014, xv + 254p., ISBN 9781472411846, hardback). The book is divided into two substantive halves, the first being a contextual review of the existing British evidence and literature about the fall in churchgoing and secularization. The second half outlines the author’s mixed methods research in the Diocese of Canterbury from 2009, examining five parish churches and five FEs by means of semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and attendance data.
Walker concludes by rejecting, on both sociological and theological grounds, any suggestion that FEs alone constitute the future of the Church. In particular, ‘fresh expressions … do not and cannot compete with the depth and breadth of life and experience of parish churches, they are no better at attracting the non-churched than parish churches, and both fresh expressions and parish churches grow through exactly the same process.’ The author presents some interesting ideas and evidence, but his research is ultimately small-scale, and it is debatable whether it benefits from being reported at such excessive length.
Religious authority: Pope vs Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is more admired in Britain than Pope Francis, according to a YouGov poll released on 30 January 2015. In January publics in some 23 countries were asked online two questions about their most admired figures from a global list of 25 men and 25 women, the answers then being combined into a single score. In Britain, the list of male personalities was headed by Stephen Hawking (on a score of 14.8), with the Dalai Lama in sixth position (6.3) and Pope Francis in ninth (5.0). Both the Pope and Dalai Lama scored more highly in Britain than the global mean (4.1 and 4.0, respectively). However, the rating of the Pope was much lower in Britain than in Brazil (17.5) and the United States (9.1), albeit it exceeded that in France and Scandinavia, where the Dalai Lama was much more likely to be admired (his French score being 14.6, with 10.5 in Sweden and 10.3 in Denmark). In the United States, Pope Francis was placed second among the most admired men, followed by Billy Graham in third spot (7.2), and the Dalai Lama in seventh (4.8). A blog about the survey is at:
Religious authority: declining status of the Bible
Those who have been unable to access my article on the decline in Bible-centricism in Britain in the October 2014 issue of Journal of Contemporary Religion, because it is hidden behind a paywall, may wish to read a summary of it in the second half of a presentation which I recently gave to Bible Society staff. The first half deals with the context of the statistical measurement of religion. The presentation can be read by clicking on the following link:
Christians and pornography
The film version of Fifty Shades of Grey hits the cinema screens next week, and in parallel Premier’s Christianity magazine has decided to publish an article in its February 2015 issue exploring the theme of Christians and pornography. To illustrate the piece, its author, Martin Saunders, ran an online survey of UK practising Christians in December 2014, to which he received over 500 anonymous replies. His sample was clearly self-selecting, and Saunders makes no claim to its statistical representativeness. Certainly, some of the results seem a little improbable (or, if true, would be seen by some as rather disturbing). For example, 55% of Christian men reported that they view internet pornography at least once a month with a further 20% accessing it less often (compared with, respectively, 15% and 20% for Christian women), 42% of Christian men acknowledging an addiction to pornography. Even 30% of church leaders admitted to viewing internet pornography at least monthly. The article can be read online at:
Muslims and the general election
The Muslim News is currently running an apparently open poll on its website to identify the top issues which may determine how UK Muslims vote in the general election on 7 May 2015, with the intention of using the findings to influence political parties to listen to the views of the Muslim community. This follows the newspaper’s recent research which suggested that the Muslim vote could shape the electoral result in as many as 40 parliamentary constituencies in England, 39 of them held by Labour or priority Labour targets. Of the 40, 25 were classed as marginal seats and 15 as safe seats, but all deemed to be capable of influence by Muslim voters, based upon a correlation of the proportion of the population which was Muslim at the 2011 census with the size of the majority for the successful candidate at the 2010 general election. It is unclear how far the analysis takes account of the disproportionately younger profile of Muslims, which is likely to mean that their share of voters will be rather less than that of the population as a whole. In all, there are said to be 80 constituencies where Muslims exceed 10% of the residents. For more information about the research, including the sensitivity tests which were applied, see:
By far the best source of information about mosques in the UK is the database maintained by Mehmood Naqshbandi as part of the (unofficial) Muslims in Britain website. According to the latest report generated from the database, on 19 October 2014 and extending to 64 pages, there are 1,743 active mosques (including prayer rooms) in the UK, of which 1,625 are in England (an estimated 37% being registered as charities). They belong to a variety of Islamic traditions, but with Deobandi (43%) and Bareilvi (24%) being the most dominant. There are 59 mosques which accommodate more than 2,000 people, the largest being a Bareilvi mosque in Bradford, with space for 8,000. The data are also analysed by parliamentary constituencies and local authorities. The report can be downloaded from:
An earlier (April 2013) snapshot of the database was recently summarized on pp. 6-7 of Innes Bowen, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam (London: Hurst & Company, 2014, x + 230p., ISBN 9781849043014, paperback). At that time, there were 1,664 mosques in the UK with an estimated capacity of 837,000. Bowen’s book is a useful introduction to the diversity of British Islam and its constituent ideologies and cultures.
Slaughter of animals
UK animal welfare legislation permits slaughter without pre-stunning to be carried out in accordance with religious rites. The practice is particularly important in the Jewish and Muslim communities but is increasingly controversial with veterinarians and sections of the public, and seemingly now contrary to UKIP policy. The prevalence of slaughter without pre-stunning was revealed on 29 January 2015 when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) published the results of its September 2013 survey of animal welfare in Great Britain, during the course of which assessments were made at 301 slaughterhouses. It found that 1% of cattle, sheep and goats, and poultry were slaughtered by the Shechita (Jewish) method, none of which were pre-stunned. The incidence of slaughter by the Halal (Muslim) method was 3% for cattle (25% not being pre-stunned), 41% for sheep and goats (37% not pre-stunned), and 21% for poultry (16% not pre-stunned). Overall, 2% of cattle, 3% of poultry, and 15% of sheep and goats were not stunned prior to slaughter, the last figure having risen from 10% in a 2011 survey. For all three classes of animals the proportion slaughtered by the Halal method without pre-stunning increased significantly between 2011 and 2013, supposedly because of stronger campaigning by some Muslims who believe that stunning kills animals. The FSA report is at:
The Community Security Trust (CST), which has been monitoring anti-Semitic incidents in the UK since 1984, reported on 5 February 2015 that there was a record number in 2014, 1,168, which was more than double the total in 2013 (535) and 25% above the previous highest figure of 931 in 2009. The single biggest contributing factor to this record number was the conflict in Israel and Gaza between 8 July and 26 August 2014, during which time no fewer than 501 incidents occurred. However, even controlling for the distorting effect of this ‘trigger event’, the CST still calculated that there was an underlying increase of 29% in anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 over 2013. More than three-quarters of all incidents in 2014 took place in Greater London and Greater Manchester, where the two largest Jewish communities in the UK are concentrated, with incidents in Greater London 137% above the 2013 level. Overall, abusive behaviour accounted for 76% of incidents, those involving extreme violence or assault being far less common (7%). For a full analysis and commentary, see the 41-page Antisemitic Incidents Report, 2014, which can be found at:
New Religious Movements
New religious movements (NRMs) seem to get relatively less exposure in mainstream academic research and literature than they once did, so we should welcome the recent book by James Lewis, Sects & Stats: Overturning the Conventional Wisdom about Cult Members (Sheffield: Equinox Publishing, 2014, ix + 209p., ISBN 9781781791080, paperback). The volume provides a contemporary quantitative overview of NRMs from a global perspective, principally derived from questionnaire surveys (some undertaken by the author) of the membership of selective NRMs and analysis of national census data from Anglophone countries (but excluding the United States, which has no religion census, although some sample surveys are available). The book contains relatively little UK data, the principal exception (pp. 184-6) being toplines of the write-in responses to the 2001 and 2011 censuses.
Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 2013
The complete dataset for the June-October 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey was made available for secondary analysis by the UK Data Service as SN 7519 on 20 January 2015. Fieldwork was conducted by ScotCen Social Research by means of face-to-face interview and self-completion questionnaire administered to 1,497 adult Scots. Although no religion module was included, the standard background questions about religious affiliation (current and by upbringing) and attendance at religious services (by those professing a religion) were asked. These can obviously be used as variables for analysing the replies to the other questions, which, on this occasion, disproportionately related to constitutional change, alcohol, mental health, and policing.
In 2015 we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, one of the most iconic of all historical documents, the four surviving copies of which have been briefly reunited at The British Library and the House of Lords this week. Yet, beyond knowing that it is significant, many Britons remain unaware of or hazy about its actual content, which was determined by a specific set of circumstances operating in 1215. Although it could be said to have influenced the development of some human rights, in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights sense, Magna Carta cannot be regarded as the progenitor of them all. An example is ‘freedom of religion’, which is only covered in Magna Carta to the more limited extent that chapter 1 established the freedom of the English Church (then Roman Catholic, of course) from state (royal) interference. Nevertheless, 16% of 1,630 Britons interviewed online on 1-2 February 2015 for Index on Censorship thought that Magna Carta had mentioned freedom of religion, including 25% of Liberal Democrats and 22% of over-60s. This was a somewhat lower proportion than the 25% of the public who had given a similar reply to Ipsos MORI in October 2012. The YouGov data tables are at: