Death of Dr Robert Currie
It is with great sadness that BRIN records the recent death, on 13 September 2012 (just twelve days after that of his wife and fellow scholar, Pamela), of Dr Robert Currie, Fellow and Tutor in Politics (1967-2000) and Emeritus Fellow (2000-12) of Wadham College, Oxford. Born in Bristol in 1940, the son of a postman, he was educated at Cotham Grammar School and The Queen’s College, Oxford, gaining firsts in history and then divinity, with a view to becoming a Methodist minister. However, he ultimately decided to enter academic life and studied for a doctorate at Nuffield College, Oxford, which he gained in 1966. His thesis, on ‘The Divisions and Reunion of British Methodism, 1791-1932, with Special Reference to Social and Organisational Factors’, was published by Faber in 1968 as Methodism Divided: A Study in the Sociology of Ecumenicalism.
Parts of Methodism Divided were underpinned by an analysis of historical British Methodist membership data, which stimulated Currie to become principal investigator for a major ‘Statistical Survey of Religion in Britain and Ireland since 1700’, funded by the then Social Science Research Council. His collaborators were Alan Gilbert, Currie’s doctoral student who completed his own thesis in 1973 on ‘The Growth and Decline of Nonconformity in England and Wales, with Special Reference to the Period Before 1850’ (subsequently repackaged as Religion and Society in Industrial England, Longman, 1976) and Lee Horsley. Their research culminated in Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700 (Clarendon Press, 1977).
Although long out of print, Churches and Churchgoers has been a hugely influential book during the past thirty-five years, partly because of the textual section on the dynamics of church growth (which has contributed to debates on secularization) and partly on account of the substantial appendix which collated time series of, in the main, church membership data for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (despite the book’s title, it actually included few statistics from the eighteenth century and little about church attendance). Currie was very helpful to BRIN in 2008-09 in consenting to the reproduction on the BRIN website of this appendix in Excel format, thereby smoothing the path for negotiations with Oxford University Press.
After Churches and Churchgoers Currie’s academic interests moved on, and thus the volume remains his principal monument to his career-stage in the quantification of religion. Gilbert continued to be involved in research into the social history of religion in Britain and Australia (his native land), but he became progressively more committed to higher education administration, culminating in his appointment as President of the University of Manchester. Gilbert died in 2010, at the tragically early age of 65 and just months after his retirement. Horsley is happily still with us, as Reader in Literature and Culture at Lancaster University.
Obituaries of Dr Currie can be read at:
More than one-fifth of the population (22%) claim to be planning to attend a carol service in church during the forthcoming Christmas period, and a further 17% recall they have been to such a service at least once during the past five years. Apart from the ‘don’t knows’ (6%), the remaining 55% are neither planning to go to a church carol service this year nor have been in the previous quinquennium. Groups most likely to go to a carol service in 2012 include the over-65s (27%), public sector employees (28%), the top (AB) social grade (29%), residents of Eastern England (30%), Christians (34%), and regular churchgoers (83%). As with all predictive polling, it seems inevitable that some of these good intentions may not be acted upon at all or will translate into attendance at a carol concert in a non-church venue (such as a school).
The question used to measure ordinary levels of churchgoing, other than for the rites of passage, was somewhat different to the one commonly deployed. About one-quarter (26%) of respondents affirmed that they currently attend church, sub-dividing into 9% worshipping regularly (not defined), 7% occasionally, and 10% rarely. Of the 73% who do not attend, 30% say that they have done so formerly and 43% have never been churchgoers. Regular attenders peak among the over-65s and Londoners (both 13%), and ABs and residents of Eastern England (both 14%), while the never-attenders are concentrated in the 18-24s (57%) and those professing no faith (72%). The 9% figure for regular attendance seems a good deal less inflated than in many polls, although it is still higher than the weekly rate of 6% revealed by the last (2005) English Church Census. Of course, many worshippers now consider themselves to be ‘regular’ even if they do not attend week-by-week.
Source: Online survey of 2,097 adult Britons aged 18 and over interviewed by ComRes on 12-14 October 2012, on behalf of Premier Christian Media. Full data tables published on 31 October at: