Today (1 November) is All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Day. Tomorrow (2 November) is All Souls’ Day. Yesterday (31 October) was All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween. At one time, these were all important Christian festivals, but now Halloween has been transformed into something of a secular retail experience. The value of sales of Halloween-related products in the UK exceeds £300 million annually, making it the third most lucrative seasonal celebration after Christmas and Easter. But does the ringing of the supermarket tills overstate just how popular the commercially-driven (and Americanized) Halloween has become? Our first item (of five) highlights new research in this area.
In fact, only one-fifth of Britons say they are very or quite interested in Halloween, with a similar proportion planning to celebrate it this year. This is according to two new YouGov polls released on 31 October 2013, and conducted among online samples of adults aged 18 and over. The first survey was undertaken on 28-29 October among 1,956 Britons, the second on 29-30 October among 1,862. The first was part of the regular Eurotrack omnibus, but, sadly, results for countries other than Britain have yet to be reported. The British findings from both studies can be found at:
In the first poll only 4% claimed to be very interested in Halloween, 16% were quite interested, 28% not very interested, and 50% not interested at all. Asked whether particular Halloween activities were a good or bad idea, majorities were against playing Halloween pranks (78%), children playing trick-or-treat (54%), and adults dressing up for Halloween (52%). There was more tolerance of making pumpkin lanterns and children dressing up for Halloween, which were judged good ideas by 68% and 66% respectively. Opinion was divided about the desirability of watching a horror movie on Halloween, but a plurality (43%) was opposed.
In the second poll, 22% expected to celebrate Halloween this year (9% definitely and 13% probably), far fewer than in the United States (59%). In terms of demographics, the figure varied most by age, standing at 40% of the 18-24s and 31% of the 25-39s, then falling to reach 8% of the over-60s (a massive 91% of whom renounced Halloween celebrations). Those anticipating wearing make-up, a costume or fancy dress for Halloween numbered 10% of adults (but 33% of 18-24s). There was less of an age disparity when it came to trick-or-treating by children, 70% of adults preferring them not to come knocking on their own door, the figure never dropping below 63% for any sub-group.
The latest issue of The Mail on Sunday (27 October 2013, p. 53) reports that, according to responses to a Freedom of Information request by the newspaper, just 59 (or 22%) of 271 (presumably English) local councils which replied now commence their meetings with a Bible reading or formal prayers. Of the remaining 212, 19 indicated that they had stopped holding formal prayers following last year’s ruling by the High Court that councils had no legal power to hold such prayers, albeit they could do so on an optional basis. The Government insists that formal prayers can continue under the Localism Act. The Mail on Sunday story is online at:
The last test of public opinion on this matter appears to have been by YouGov in April 2012, the poll finding that three-fifths of Britons wanted councils to be able to decide for themselves whether or not to have prayers at the start of their meetings. One-quarter thought that councils should not be allowed to commence their meetings with prayer, while 8% wished for all councils to say prayers when they began meetings.
Telling the truth
Scientists, artists, and clergy are considered the most trustworthy professions in the UK, and politicians and journalists the least, these last two groups distrusted by 62% and 30% respectively. This is according to a survey conducted by Westminster Abbey and released on 22 October 2013 in connection with the launch of the Westminster Abbey Institute (directed by Claire Foster-Gilbert). According to the Abbey’s press office, in an email to BRIN, the survey was mounted online during September and October and was open to UK residents aged 18 and over, of whom 425 completed it.
Clearly, therefore, this is a self-selecting and statistically unrepresentative sample, possibly completed by those disproportionately interested in the Abbey. This may account for the fact that fewer than 6% said that they did not trust the clergy to tell the truth, with 54% anticipating a sense of betrayal if lied to by a member of the clergy. More representative polling data, summarized in an as yet unpublished paper by the present author, have shown a loss in public standing (and thus in authority) of both Church and clergy in Britain since the 1960s. For example, in a long series by Ipsos MORI, the proportion of adults trusting clergy to tell the truth has declined from 85% in 1983 to 66% in 2013, whereas the perceived veracity of doctors, judges, scientists, and teachers has held up well.
More on veils
Yet another poll on attitudes to the veiling of Muslim women has been undertaken, this time by ComRes on behalf of Channel 4 among a sample of 1,077 Britons aged 18 and over, who were interviewed online on 23 October 2013. Results (with breaks by gender, age, region, social grade, ethnicity, and religion) were released the following day and can be viewed at:
The survey’s findings were fairly predictable, confirming the strength of opposition to the full face veil or niqab, especially when worn in certain public contexts, which has already been revealed by other recent studies, but the different question-wording employed by ComRes does bring an element of originality. Topline findings, in descending order of degree of negativity about face veils, are as follows:
- 81% support a ban on wearing full face veils in certain public places such as schools, courts or hospitals (12% being opposed)
- 81% support a ban on teachers in state schools, including free schools, wearing a full face veil in school (12% being opposed)
- 80% disagree that the full face veil is the ultimate expression of feminism (6% agreeing)
- 76% feel unsure of how to relate to a woman wearing a full face veil (and 19% not)
- 74% do not feel the same with a woman wearing a full face veil as with someone not wearing it (while 16% do)
- 71% disagree that the full face veil is empowering to the women who wear it (10% agreeing)
- 71% do not feel comfortable with a woman wearing a full face veil (and 19% do)
- 66% disagree that people in Britain are generally accepting of women who wear a full face veil in public (24% agreeing)
- 64% feel uneasy with a woman wearing a full face veil (and 31% not)
- 63% support a ban on teachers in state schools, including free schools, wearing any kind of veil or head covering in school (27% being opposed)
- 58% support a ban on wearing any kind of veil or head covering in certain public places, such as schools, courts or hospitals (31% being opposed)
- 56% disagree that women should be allowed to wear full face veils in public (33% agreeing)
- 56% agree that the full face veil is demeaning to the women who wear it (25% disagreeing)
- 55% support a ban on wearing full face veils in public (34% being opposed)
- 48% disagree that the full face veil is a rejection of an increasingly sexualized society (23% agreeing)
- 44% disagree that people in Britain are generally accepting of women who wear a veil or head covering in public (46% agreeing)
- 41% feel nervous about a woman wearing the full face veil (and 52% not)
- 35% support a ban on wearing any kind of veil or head covering in public (53% being opposed)
- 30% feel threatened by a woman wearing the full face veil (and 60% not)
Media attitudes to Islam
A nuanced and reflective analysis of media attitudes to Islam and Muslims is to be found in Paul Baker, Costas Gabrielatos, and Tony McEnery, Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes: The Representation of Islam in the British Press, which was published by Cambridge University Press earlier this year (ISBN 978-1-107-00882-3, £65, hardback). Including 38 figures, 52 tables, and 11 concordances, the book is grounded in a systematic analysis of over 200,000 newspaper articles, extending to 143 million words, touching on Islam and Muslims appearing in the British press between 1998 and 2009. The articles were sourced from the Nexis UK archive which contains both broadsheets and tabloids, and right- and left-leaning newspapers. The research methodology combined corpus linguistics and discourse analysis.
Overall, the representation of Islam and Muslims was found to be negative, with some strong tropes emerging, such as ‘one of Islam as dangerous, frightening, uncompromising and extreme’. However, it was not monolithically so, and there was also more subtle and balanced reportage: ‘on the whole, we did not find a great deal of explicit evidence of extremely negative and generalising stereotypes about Islam’. Important shifts in media portrayals were detected over time, from a focus on Islam as faith to Muslims as people, and from international stories to UK ones. An added bonus in the work, in chapter 9, is a comparable analysis of representations of Islam and Muslims in a) English books from 1475 to 1720 and b) nineteenth-century British newspapers.