Ben Clements on religion
Ben Clements has been a regular contributor to BRIN’s news pages and his expertise in British religious statistics needs no introduction. His new book is a veritable cornucopia of quantitative data, containing no fewer than 90 tables and 45 figures: Religion and Public Opinion in Britain: Continuity and Change (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, xix + 280p., ISBN 9780230293892, £68.00, hardback, also available in PDF and EPUB editions). The data, spanning the years 1947-2013 (but mainly from the 1970s onwards), derive both from serial sources (notably British Election Study, European Values Study, and British Social Attitudes Survey) and some non-recurrent polling. They illuminate six facets of the socio-political dimensions of religion, with breaks by standard demographics and by indicators of religious belonging, behaving, and believing (including by four principal religious groups – Anglican, Catholic, other Christian, no affiliation), as follows:
- Religious authority (extent of religious change; confidence in religious institutions; attitudes to the role of religious leaders in politics)
- Religion and party choice (voting)
- Religion and ideology (left-right, welfare, and libertarian-authoritarian scales; attitudes to the death penalty and to censorship)
- Religion and abortion (including detailed analysis of Catholic attitudes)
- Religion, homosexuality, and gay rights (including attitudes to same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage)
- Religion and foreign policy (European integration; military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan)
Each of the above chapters finishes with a summary, and there is also an overarching (if tantalizingly brief) conclusion, which separately charts areas where there has been over-time attitudinal continuity (party choice, ideology, and Euroscepticism) and change (diminishing religious authority and liberalization of socio-moral attitudes), as well as suggesting where there is scope for further research. Appended material includes useful checklists of religious measures in the recurrent surveys and of datasets which have been used. In short, this is a scholarly and empirically-grounded monograph which does exactly what it says it does in providing ‘an important “bottom-up” perspective on the historical and contemporary linkages between religion and politics in Britain’. It will equally appeal to political scientists, sociologists of religion, and religious historians.
British Social Attitudes, 2014
The main report on the 2014 British Social Attitudes Survey was published by NatCen on 26 March 2015: British Social Attitudes, 32: 2015 Edition, editors: John Curtice and Rachel Ormston. A sample of 2,878 Britons aged 18 and over was interviewed by NatCen through a combination of face-to-face interview and self-completion questionnaire between August and November 2014, with a response rate of 47% on the interview component. The full dataset will not be available through the interactive BritSocAt website until the autumn, hopefully a little earlier via the UK Data Service. Meanwhile, the report and questionnaire can be viewed at, respectively:
The full sample was asked, in the face-to-face interview, the standard background variables about current religious affiliation, religion of upbringing, and attendance at religious services. The replies for these questions will be useful for analysing by religion the wide range of social and political topics covered by the survey. Page 159 of the report suggests that 49% professed no religion in 2014, with 18% Church of England and 8% Roman Catholic. Two other religion-rated questions were only put to sub-samples A and C (representing about two-thirds of the whole) through the self-completion questionnaire: membership of and participation in church or other religious organizations, and attitudes to religious extremists being allowed to hold public meetings. According to the report (page 126), 12% claimed active membership of a church or religious organization in 2014 (down from 16% in 2004), while a further 12% were non-participating members (against 18% ten years before).
During the course of the past four years, BRIN has reported on results from the baseline and eleven thematic surveys of the Evangelical Alliance’s online research panel, comprising a self-selecting opportunity sample of UK evangelical churchgoers and church leaders. An aggregate analysis of much of this research appears in a new book edited by Greg Smith (the Alliance’s research manager) and entitled 21st Century Evangelicals: Reflections on Research by the Evangelical Alliance (Watford: Instant Apostle, 2015, 192p., ISBN 9781909728257, £12.99 paperback, also available in a Kindle edition).
Following an introduction to the Alliance’s research programme and a demographic profile of evangelicals in the panel, there are eight chapters (each accompanied by a very brief response) on evangelicals and their theology/identity, church life, social involvement, politics, gender, families/youth, charismatic movement, and global connections. The chapters are mostly written by established academics in the sociology of religion and theology who provide analysis (sometimes reanalysis of the original data), commentary, and contextualization, each drawing upon anything up to five of the thematic surveys. They cumulate to a useful and accessible digest of the views and experiences of the Alliance’s research panel, which presents an overall celebratory picture of the health, vitality, and values of evangelicalism while not completely concealing the more negative dimensions. However, the underlying methodological limitations of the data source should be constantly borne in mind. As Smith reminds us (page 19), respondents have not comprised a random sample, they are potentially unrepresentative, and ‘we need to be very cautious in extrapolating from it to UK evangelicals as a whole’.
Churchgoers and homosexuality
Churchgoers’ attitudes to homosexuality have undergone an ‘ethical earthquake’ during the past decade, according to Oasis UK, which recently released headline findings from a survey of the views of 1,300 churchgoers and church leaders on the subject. Half of practising Christians now believe that monogamous same-sex relationships should be fully embraced and encouraged within the Churches, with just 1% totally opposed to people in such relationships being allowed to attend public worship (albeit a further 8% wish to see them ‘regularly challenged’ about their situation). However, 37% of churchgoers confessed to being reluctant to communicating their views to other Christians for fear of being looked down upon, and this concern was shared by church leaders, who were 10% less likely than churchgoers to support same-sex relationships in any case. Unfortunately, at this stage, only secondhand accounts of the research are available online, the fullest in the public domain being in Christian Today at:
If you have a subscription to the Church Times, there is also an article there at:
Ramifications of ‘gay cake’ row
As regular users of the BRIN website will know, we do not ordinarily seek to cover Northern Irish religious statistics. However, since we have already featured surveys of British opinion on the ongoing ‘gay cake’ row (whereby Ashers, a Christian-run bakery in Northern Ireland, is facing civil action for refusing to bake a cake iced with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’), it seems appropriate to draw attention to a ComRes poll for the Christian Institute which was published on 23 March 2015. One thousand adults in Northern Ireland were interviewed by telephone between 10 and 15 March on the rights of business people to their own freedom of speech and religious liberty when it comes to the provision of goods and services to the public. Respondents were asked for their views on a range of potential real-life situations affecting these rights, one of the scenarios being modelled on the Ashers case. Three-quarters of the sample thought the bakery’s actions should not constitute grounds for court action, and two-thirds agreed that the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland had been wrong to initiate such action against Ashers. Full data tables, giving breaks by standard demographics and religious group, are at:
Muslim immigrants, and especially religious Muslims, are more supportive of religious rights than native Christians, and religious natives are more approving of the rights of out-groups than the non-religious. This is according to an article published in the advanced access edition of Social Forces on 15 March 2015: Sarah Carol, Marc Helbling, and Ines Michalowski, ‘A Struggle over Religious Rights? How Muslim Immigrants and Christian Natives View the Accommodation of Religion in Six European Countries’. Data derive from the EURISLAM project which, in April-September 2011, surveyed by telephone 7,256 majority group members without immigrant backgrounds and Muslim migrants from the former Yugoslavia, Morocco, Turkey, and Pakistan living in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Switzerland. In Britain interviews were conducted with 387 people from the majority population and 798 migrants. The two rights investigated were religious education (Christian and Muslim) and wearing of religious garments (Christian symbols or headscarves) by teachers, both within the context of public schools. British natives were found to be especially critical of Islamic religious rights, not least surrounding the headscarf. Access options to the article are explained at:
For more information about EURISLAM in general, including a list of other publications, go to:
Anglican church growth row
According to reports on the Christian Today website (20 March 2015) and in The Tablet (28 March 2015), the Church of England’s General Synod has come under fire from Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University for authorizing the Church Commissioners to sell substantial historic assets in order to fund an £100 million investment in additional clergy and initiatives to break the cycle of the Church’s ongoing decline. The investment was said to be in accordance with ‘proven growth formulae’. Arguing that such a strategy was ‘nonsense’, ‘unevidenced’, and ‘reckless’, Woodhead wrote to William Fittall, the Synod’s outgoing Secretary General, who, in his reply, was forced to concede that ‘proven growth formulae’ was perhaps an inaccurate phrase and that ‘established evidence about growth’ would have been more appropriate. Woodhead then commented that ‘there is a danger … that the Church is moving from complacency to blind panic’, noting that, in his response to her, Fittall had still been ‘unable to supply any evidence for thinking that the plan will reverse church decline’.
Jewish families and households
The Institute for Jewish Policy Research published on 19 March 2015 another title in its invaluable series of research reports on English and Welsh Jewry as depicted in the 2011 population census: David Graham with Maria Luisa Caputo, Jewish Families and Jewish Households: Census Insights about How We Live. It reveals that the number of Jewish households declined by 5% between 2001 and 2011, to 110,700, whereas there was an increase of 8% in the country as a whole. Jewish households were slightly smaller than in the general population, 2.31 against 2.36 persons, but the gap is closing. However, Jewish households were significantly larger than average in areas with predominantly haredi (strictly orthodox) Jews and Jewish student communities. One-third of Jewish households comprised Jews living alone, while 59% consisted of couples or families; in the latter case, Jews were more likely than the norm to live as married couples and less likely to cohabit or to be lone parents. The overwhelming majority (88%) of Jewish children under 16 lived in married couple families, far more than all children in England and Wales (58%). Overall, Jewish household structure most closely resembled that of Christian households, most especially in their older than average age profiles and large proportions comprising only people aged 65 and over. Jews were more likely to own their own home than the nation at large (73% versus 64%), albeit there was a 9% fall in Jewish home ownership between 2001 and 2011. The 48-page report can be found at: