Counting Religion in Britain, September 2016

Counting Religion in Britain, No. 12, September 2016 features 26 new sources. It can be read in full below. Alternatively, you can download the PDF version: no-12-september-2016


Religious affiliation

Lord Ashcroft’s latest large-scale political poll, conducted online among 8,011 voters between 11 and 22 August 2016, included his customary question about professed ‘membership’ of religious groups. As the following table indicates, the proportion identifying with no religion has increased steadily in similarly-sized Ashcroft surveys for the second half of each year since 2011, by almost five points over this quinquennium. There has been a corresponding reduction in self-identifying Christians, who seem destined to lose their overall majority share within a matter of years. Indeed, religious nones are already in the ascendant among under-35s and supporters of green and nationalist political parties. Full breaks by demographics are contained in table 65 at:

% down


2012 2013 2014 2015




54.2 52.6 53.2 51.2




7.3 7.4 6.5 6.5




36.3 37.7 37.9 40.1


Prefer not to say


2.2 2.3 2.3 2.1


Importance of religion

Asked in a YouGov Daily app-based survey on 14 August 2016 about the importance they attached to their religion, 47% of Britons replied that they had no religious beliefs. Of the remainder, 13% said religion was very important to them, 16% somewhat important, and 21% not very important. Topline results are published at:


Just 4% of Britons admitted to being obsessed about religion, according to another YouGov Daily app-based survey on 28 September 2016. Given a list of ten things to be obsessed about, 44% said they were obsessed about none of them. Money (29%), food (26%), and politics (18%) topped the list of obsessions, with religion coming in joint last position with the arts. Topline results are published at:

Human extinction

Almost half of Britons (49%) anticipate that the human race will die out at some stage, according to YouGov, which interviewed a sample of 1,581 adults online on 11-12 September 2016. The remainder did not believe it would expire or were unsure what to think. Asked to pick up to three from a list of 12 possible causes of human extinction, the top-rated choices were a nuclear bomb (38%), climate change (31%), a pandemic (27%), and a meteor or asteroid (26%). But 8% considered that a religious apocalypse could bring human life to an end, rising to 18% of UKIP voters and 12% of 18-24s. Still more, 27%, agreed that the government should be developing contingency plans against a religious apocalypse, varying by demographic sub-groups between 22% and 36%. Full data tables can be accessed via the link in the blog post at:

Burkas and burkinis

Debate about Islamic women’s dress, notably the wearing of burkas and/or burkinis in public, reignited in several European countries during the summer. In Britain, according to an online poll by YouGov on 24-25 August 2016, a majority (57%) of the sample of 1,668 adults was in favour of a law banning the wearing of the burka, three points less than in 2012, with 25% opposed to a prohibition and 18% undecided. Endorsement of a ban was highest among Conservatives (66%), persons aged 50-64 (68%), over-65s (78%), people who had voted for the UK to leave the European Union (78%), and UKIP supporters (84%). Only among 18-24s and those who had voted to remain in the European Union did opponents outnumber proponents, albeit they never constituted a majority. The distribution of female opinion was broadly the same as the national average. However, when it came to the burkini, just a plurality of 46% agreed with a legal ban, with 30% against (including almost half of 18-24s and ‘remainers’) and 24% unsure. The lower level of support for prohibition of the burkini may be related to the fact that, unlike the burka (as popularly defined), it does not cover the face. Detailed results can be accessed via YouGov’s blog post on the survey at:

Attitudes to the burkini were further explored in another YouGov poll, for which 4,052 Britons were interviewed online on 31 August 2016. The question this time was not whether the burkini should be legal in the UK but, following controversy in France, whether it is acceptable to wear one at the beach. A small majority (51%) thought it was acceptable, but 35% disagreed (including 61% of UKIP voters and 46% of over-60s), with 14% uncertain. Data are posted at:


In 2013 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution about violation of the physical integrity of children which, inter alia, expressed concern about the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons. The matter was aired in one of YouGov Daily’s app-based surveys on 5 August 2016, respondents being asked whether infant male circumcision should be banned or not. Four options were given, multiple answers being permitted. In reply, two-fifths of Britons said that it should be banned with a further one-quarter wanting it discouraged. Support for circumcision on religious grounds stood at 14%, the same proportion as thinking the practice should be encouraged for health reasons. Topline results are published at:

Anti-Semitism (1)

Concerns that anti-Semitism has not been rooted out of the Labour Party will not go away. The latest revelation is that 87% of a sample of 1,864 British Jewish adults felt that the Labour Party is too tolerant of anti-Semitism among its MPs, members, and supporters. Significant numbers of Jews also said the same about the Green Party (49%), the United Kingdom Independence Party (43%), the Scottish National Party (40%), and the Liberal Democrat Party (37%). Only the Conservative Party (13%) is perceived as having a good track record at combating anti-Semitism in its midst. The survey was commissioned by the Campaign against Antisemitism, and full results will be released in October 2016 as part of the Campaign’s Antisemitism Barometer. Meanwhile, its press release can be found at:

Anti-Semitism (2)

One-third of 3,660 Britons interviewed online by YouGov on 27 September 2016 agreed (either strongly or somewhat) that anti-Semitism has become so deeply entrenched in our thought and culture that it is often ignored and dismissed. The proportion thinking so was highest among the over-60s (42%) and lowest for UKIP voters (26%). Dissentients numbered 37% while 30% of respondents did not know what to think. Demographic breakdowns of results are at:

Lucky charms

Avid television viewers of the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games may have noticed many athletes carrying lucky charms or performing little routines to bring them luck. Respondents to one of YouGov Daily’s app-based surveys of Britons on 17 August 2016 were asked whether they thought these charms and routines actually helped athletes to do well. Only 9% said they had no effect whatsoever, as many as 86% perceiving a psychological benefit in helping the athletes’ state of mind. A further 4% agreed with this suggestion but also believed that lucky charms and routines can genuinely bring about good luck. Topline results are published at:


Funeral music

Even funerals are no longer immune from secularization. Not only is the proportion of them conducted by religious celebrants fast diminishing, but religion is disappearing from their content. Co-operative Funeralcare’s latest biennial survey of funeral music confirms the trend, 54% of its funeral directors stating that hymns are the funeral music genre declining fastest in popularity. In a survey of over 30,000 funerals conducted by the group, seven of the top ten pieces of funeral music in 2016 were secular, the chart being headed by Frank Sinatra’s My Wat. Although the other three were hymns, they had all slipped since the 2014 rating: The Lord is My Shepherd from second to fifth position, Abide with Me from third to ninth, and All Things Bright and Beautiful from sixth to seventh. Outside the top ten, the next most requested hymns were How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, and The Old Rugged Cross. Co-operative Funeralcare’s press release is at:

Christians and the supernatural

Two-thirds of practising Christians in the UK claim to have personally experienced the supernatural, more than half of them during the past year and one-quarter in the previous week. This is according to a study conducted by Christian Research in July 2016 among 1,409 self-selecting members of its online Resonate panel, disproportionately Protestant, male, and over 55 years of age. Most of the claimed experiences involved answered prayer and healing. Two-thirds of the sample thought that paranormal or evil forces could be behind the supernatural as well as the divine, and a similar proportion agreed that an over-emphasis on ‘miracles’ gave Christianity a bad name. The survey was commissioned to coincide with the launch of a new book written by the co-pastors of Soul Survivor Watford: Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft, Everyday Supernatural: Living a Spirit-Led Life without Being Weird (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2016, 239pp., ISBN 978-0-7814-1499-9, $16.99, paperback). However, it should be noted that no results appear in the book itself. The foregoing account is largely based on the coverage by Premier Christian Radio and the Church Times at, respectively:


Contemporary evangelicals

The Evangelical Alliance is celebrating its 170th anniversary. As part of the commemoration, it has conducted another wave in its 21st Century Evangelicals project. Almost 1,500 members of its self-selecting research panel were interviewed online. Some headline findings from the study are published in an article in the September-October 2016 issue of the Alliance’s IDEA Magazine (pp. 14-15). Overwhelmingly, evangelicals said they were committed to sharing the gospel with their personal networks and to passing on the Christian faith to the next generation. However, 62% also believed British evangelicalism would increasingly depend upon the contribution of black and minority ethnic Christians, with 71% looking to growing immigration and the arrival of asylum seekers as a further opportunity to evangelize. Asked about future priorities for the Alliance, the protection of religious liberty topped the list. The article is freely available online at:

Church Growth in East London

In Church Growth in East London: A Grassroots View, recently published by the Centre for Theology & Community, Beth Green, Angus Ritchie, and Tim Thorlby summarize insights into church growth derived from interviews with 13 church leaders in East London between March and May 2014. Eight of the places of worship visited were Anglican, and the rest from other traditions (one Baptist, one Pentecostal, one Roman Catholic, and two non-denominational). Nine of the 13 had black majority congregations. Seven reported numerical growth during the previous five years. Church-planting and immigration were identified as the two distinctive factors which have helped growth. The 52-page report, including reflections by the Bishop of Chelmsford (Stephen Cottrell) and recommendations for future action, can be found at:

Church bell-ringing

The centuries-old tradition of church bell-ringing may be under threat because of a shortage of new recruits. This is according to a survey, by BBC local radio, of 180 delegates to the 2016 annual conference of the Central Conference of Church Bell Ringers. Three-quarters of the delegates said that it had become harder during the past ten years to attract new members of any age, and an even higher proportion claimed that it was difficult to recruit young people under 21. More than half (54%) agreed that declining church attendance had exacerbated the problem. At the same time, three-fifths of delegates thought the actual demand for bell-ringing had increased in the previous decade. The BBC’s press release about the survey is at:

Church of England parochial finance

A 28-page report on the Church of England’s parish finance statistics for 2014 has revealed a £41 million or 4% surplus of income (£989 million) over expenditure (£948 million). Viewed as absolute figures, total income has increased by 30% since 2004 and income from planned giving (as opposed to the collection plate and other means) by as much as 53%, even though the number of planned givers has fallen steadily since 2007, in line with declining church attendance. In real terms, however, adjusting for inflation, overall income has dropped by 5% since 2004 and planned giving by 8% since 2009, while expenditure has remained fairly steady. Data are reported nationally for each year from 2004 to 2014 and by diocese for 2014 alone. Parish Finance Statistics, 2014 can be found at:

Church of England ministry

Two new reports from the Church of England exemplify the challenges which it faces with regard to the future availability of stipendiary and other clergy. The 18-page Ministry Statistics in Focus: Stipendiary Clergy Projections, 2015-2035 has been prepared by Research and Statistics and derives from the Church Commissioners’ payroll system. It shows that, if the number of ordinands and average retirement age remain unchanged (the status quo model), then the pool of stipendiary clergy will decline steadily, from 7,400 in 2016 to 6,300 in 2035. Of the three other projection models explored, only achievement of the ambitious Renewal and Reform target of a 50% increase in ordinations by 2023, and its maintenance thereafter, would ensure stability in stipendiary clergy numbers at around 7,600 full-time equivalents. The second report, Ordained Vocations Statistics, 1949-2014, runs to 22 pages and has been compiled by the Ministry Division. It charts the annual number of recommended candidates for the various forms of Anglican ministry (not just stipendiary) and, since 1988, their demographic characteristics (gender, age, and ethnicity). There is a particular focus on the years 2010-14 and there are also brief case studies of three dioceses. Both reports can be accessed via:

Church of England cathedrals

Cathedral Statistics, 2015 have recently been released by Church of England Research and Statistics. The 18-page annual publication contains the usual range of information about numbers of worshippers, communicants, occasional offices, attenders at other activities, volunteers, visitors, names on the community roll, and musical life in the 42 English cathedrals, often with trend data back to 2005. Unsurprisingly, the largest metric was for visitors, 9,490,000 (albeit 7% down from the recent high in 2013) plus a further 1,040,000 at Westminster Abbey. The report can be found at:

Church in Wales statistics

The annual report on Church in Wales membership and finance for 2015 generally depicted ongoing decline. Of 12 indicators of participation in parish life, only two showed an absolute increase between 2014 and 2015: confirmations (+7%) and funerals (+1%). By contrast, there was a 6% decrease in the number of weddings and a 5% reduction in Sunday attendance by both adults and young people and in Pentecost communicants. Average Sunday congregations have now fallen below 1% of the Welsh population. The Church’s Governing Body, at its recent meeting in Lampeter, had originally been asked merely to ‘take note of’ the report but it was in no mood simply to do that and passed a resolution that it did so ‘with a heavy heart’ and with a request for an urgent investigation into the factors underlying church growth in the minority of parishes which were experiencing it. The membership and finance report is available at:

The Governing Body’s debate on the report received full-page coverage in the Church Times (23 September 2016, p. 13) at:

Jewish students

The Union of Jewish Students, which represents 8,500 Jewish students in the United Kingdom and Ireland, has provided The Jewish Chronicle with the 2016 distribution of Jewish university students, summarized by the newspaper in its issue of 23 September 2016 (p. 88). Three universities (Birmingham, Leeds, and Nottingham) have more than 1,000 Jewish students. Five have more than 500: Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford, and University College London. Nine have more than 100, 10 more than 50, and 29 fewer than 50.


Scottish Household Survey, 2015

The proportion of Scots claiming to belong to no religion has increased from two-fifths to one-half within the space of just six years, according to the latest data from the Scottish Household Survey, for which a random sample of almost 10,000 adults is interviewed annually by a consortium led by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Scottish Government. The growth in religious nones has largely been at the expense of allegiance to the Church of Scotland, whose market share has declined from one-third to one-quarter since 2009. Adherents of the Roman Catholic and other Christian Churches and of non-Christian faiths have shown reasonable stability (see table, below). Non-Christians, however, are far more likely than affiliates of other religious to record that they have been subject to discrimination or harassment within the past three years, although this is not necessarily on religious grounds. Scotland’s People Annual Report: Results from the 2015 Scottish Household Survey is available, alongside associated data tables, at:

% down


2011 2013




42 46


Church of Scotland


32 28


Roman Catholic


16 15


Other Christian


8 8




3 3


Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 2015

The Scottish Government has also published the 103-page report Scottish Social Attitudes, 2015: Attitudes to Discrimination and Positive Action. It is based on the fourth in a series of special discrimination modules of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey which the Scottish Government has sponsored since 2002, for which 1,288 Scottish residents aged 18 and over were interviewed by ScotCen Social Research between July 2015 and January 2016. They were questioned about discrimination and positive action in relation to age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, race, and religion. Religion-related issues are discussed throughout the report but there is also a separate chapter (pp. 53-9) on religious dress and symbols. In general, discriminatory attitudes were found to have declined since the last module in 2010, including on the part of those with a religious affiliation. Nevertheless, varying degrees of negativity continued to be exhibited towards Muslims:

  • 65% thought a bank should definitely or probably be able to insist a Muslim woman employee remove the veil while at work (69% in 2010)
  • 41% agreed that Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more Muslims came to live in Scotland (50% in 2010)
  • 41% did not know anybody who was a Muslim (46% in 2010)
  • 20% would be unhappy if a close relative married or formed a long-term relationship with a Muslim (23% in 2010)
  • 18% thought a bank should definitely or probably be able to insist a Muslim woman employee remove the headscarf while at work (23% in 2010)
  • 13% considered a Muslim would be unsuitable as a primary school teacher (15% in 2010)

The report can be downloaded from:


Secularization in Britain and America (1)

Half a century has passed since Bryan Wilson (1926-2004) published his Religion in Secular Society: A Sociological Comment as part of ‘The New Thinker’s Library’, a series from C. A. Watts, which was a small London firm associated with the rationalist movement. The sociology of religion was still in its infancy in Britain at that time, but Wilson offered a pithy assessment of the secularization pattern in England, including an opening chapter summarizing the quantitative evidence, as well as a comparative treatment of religion in America. Reprinted by Penguin in 1969, his book quickly established itself as the key international text for the modern theory or paradigm of secularization.

Now Steve Bruce, who has assumed Wilson’s mantle as the leading exponent of secularization, has edited Religion in Secular Society: Fifty Years On (Oxford University Press, 2016, xix + 258pp., ISBN 978-0-19-878837-9, £27.50, hardback). It reproduces the full text of the 1969 edition of Wilson’s work, together with an introduction and two appendices by Bruce. The introduction (pp. vii-xix) provides a short biography of Wilson and a commentary on the style and argument of Religion in Secular Society. The first appendix (pp. 231-40) summarizes and evaluates the most common or important criticisms of Wilson’s thesis, while the second (pp. 241-58) outlines the major changes in the nature and status of religion in the United Kingdom (with a goodly use of statistics) and United States during the past 50 years. Bruce concludes that: ‘By and large, the record of changes in “religion in secular society” since 1966 fits Wilson’s secularization model better than it fits the alternatives.’ The book’s webpage is at:

Secularization in Britain and America (2)

Most scholarship has asserted that the United States is an exception to the secularization model in Western societies, on account of its much higher levels of religiosity. But, focusing on trends rather than levels, David Voas and Mark Chaves argue in a recent article in American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 121, No. 5, March 2016, pp. 1517-56) that the United States should no longer be regarded as a counter-example to secularization. This is for two reasons: (a) American religiosity is now known to have been declining for decades and (b) this decline has been produced by the same generational patterns as characterize religious declension elsewhere in the West, with each successive cohort less religious than the preceding one. This intergenerational effect is documented by the authors through analysis of population census data for Australia (1971-2011) and New Zealand (1986-2013) and cross-sectional survey data for the United States (1972-2014), Canada (1985-2012), and Britain (1983-2013). The British findings (discussed on pp. 1530-4) derive from the British Social Attitudes Surveys, three-survey moving averages demonstrating that religious affiliation has reduced from one cohort to the next for years of birth going back to the beginning of the twentieth century, especially in the early post-war decades. Access options for ‘Is the United States a Counterexample to the Secularization Thesis?’ are outlined at:

Theistic belief

Research in the empirical psychology of religion is increasingly characterized by the deployment of attitude scales. In 2012 Jeff Astley, Leslie Francis, and Mandy Robbins proposed the use of the seven-item Astley-Francis Scale of Attitude toward Theistic Belief as a means of operationalizing measurement of attitudes across the major theistic faith traditions. The psychometric properties of this scale have now been further examined among three sub-samples (cumulative N = 10,678) drawn from the 2011-12 Young People’s Attitudes to Religious Diversity project, for which year 9 and 10 pupils (aged 13-15) attending state-maintained secondary schools throughout the United Kingdom completed questionnaires. The data supported the internal consistency reliability and construct validity of the instrument with all three groups and thus confirmed its suitability for application in subsequent research. The full report can be found in Leslie Francis and Christopher Alan Lewis, ‘Internal Consistency Reliability and Construct Validity of the Astley-Francis Scale of Attitude toward Theistic Faith among Religiously Unaffiliated, Christian, and Muslim Youth in the UK’, Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, Vol. 19, No. 5, 2016, pp. 484-92. Access options to the article are outlined at:

Science and religion

Berry Billingsley explored the attitudes toward science and religion of 670 pupils aged 14-17 from eight English secondary schools for a paper read at the recent annual conference of the British Educational Research Association. The results showed that for many respondents science was an insufficient explanation of what it means to be a person, with 54% believing humans have souls, 52% that life has an ultimate purpose, and 45% in God. The paper was briefly reported by TES at:


SN 8012: Scottish Election Study, 2011

The Scottish Parliament Election Study, 2011 was conducted online by YouGov on behalf of the Universities of Strathclyde, Edinburgh, and Essex and with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council. A panel of 2,046 Scottish electors was interviewed both pre- and post-election, between 25 April 2011 and 24 April 2012. The questionnaire covered a range of political and related topics, the answers to which can be analysed by two religious variables: religious affiliation (using a belonging form of question) and frequency of attendance at religious services. A catalogue description for the dataset can be found at:


Please note: Counting Religion in Britain is © Clive D. Field, 2016

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Coronation Service and Other News


Coronation service

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has just become the longest-reigning monarch in British history, so it has been a considerable time (1953) since there has been a coronation in Britain. But already thoughts are beginning to turn to what shape the coronation service for the next monarch should take and, specifically, whether it should retain an exclusively Christian character, given the extent of religious pluralism and secularization in the country. The latest report from the Theos think tank, Who Wants a Christian Coronation? by Nick Spencer and Nicholas Dixon, throws considerable light on this matter and contains, in chapter 2 (pp. 20-30), a summary of the findings of an exclusive ComRes poll for Theos, undertaken online on 10-12 June 2015 among 2,159 adult Britons, including a booster sample of religious minorities. The report can be read at:

The full data tables from the poll, giving breaks by gender, age, social grade, employment sector, region, working status, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and attendance at religious services, can be found at: 

A summary break by religious affiliation for eight statements about the coronation of the next monarch and one question about the retention of the monarchy is tabulated below. It will be seen that (a) majorities in all principal religious groups favour keeping the monarchy; and (b) notwithstanding a minority preference for a multifaith or secular ceremony (or abolishing the coronation altogether), even many non-Christians and religious nones seem comfortable with the next coronation continuing to be a Christian ceremony, with no more than approximately one-quarter of each group saying they would feel alienated by it. Theos interprets the data as a vindication of keeping the core framework of the coronation while changing some elements to reflect the religiously pluralistic nature of British society. 

% down

All Britons




Having a Christian coronation would alienate non-Christians from ceremony















Having a Christian coronation would alienate people of no religion from ceremony















Having a Christian coronation would alienate me from ceremony















Coronation of next monarch should be multi-faith ceremony















Coronation of next monarch should be Christian ceremony















Coronation of next monarch should be secular ceremony















Coronation pointless pageantry and should be abolished















Coronation symbolic centre of British law and should not be modified















Should Britain remain monarchy or become republic?















Sunday trading

Notwithstanding Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s enthusiasm to see shopping opportunities on Sunday extended, the British public seems to remain broadly content with the current legislation on Sunday trading in England and Wales, which allows large shops to open for up to six hours. This is according to a ComRes poll for the Association of Convenience Stores (which opposes further liberalization of the law), which was eventually published in full on 10 September 2015, and for which 1,004 adults were interviewed by telephone on 13-15 February 2015. Three-quarters (76%) said that they supported the status quo, including 86% of 35-44s and of residents in Scotland (to which the Sunday Trading Act 1994 does not apply). One-fifth (21%) did not endorse the existing arrangements, of whom 60% favoured no or reduced Sunday opening of shops and only 39% (ie just 8% of the whole sample) total or greater deregulation. These findings are somewhat at variance with those of a YouGov survey reported by BRIN on 11 July 2015, which revealed greater pressure for liberalization, reflecting how question-wording can ‘influence’ the outcome of polling on contentious matters. The ComRes data tables are at:


The once religious monopoly over funerals continues to be eroded, according to Funeral Trends, 2015: The Ways We Say Goodbye Media Report which was published by Co-Operative Funeralcare on 8 September 2015. The ‘destination funeral’ is apparently beginning to take off, with 49% of Co-Operative funeral directors contacted in July-August 2015 returning that they had arranged at least one funeral outside a religious setting (church or crematorium chapel) during the previous year. Although 51% of 2,000 UK adults interviewed online by ICM Unlimited for the Co-Operative in July 2015 did not realize that it is possible to hold a funeral outside a religious setting, 37% liked the idea of their own loved ones being able to pay tribute to them in a place which was personal to them, a lake, river, or countryside being most popular. There is also a trend for funerals to become less sombre affairs, with the emphasis switching to a celebration of life (47% of adults wanting this approach for their own funerals), and the traditional wake often taking on more of a party atmosphere. The report is available at: 

British traditions

Churchgoing is one of the British traditions in danger of dying out, according to a new survey commissioned by British Corner Shop, which was published on 11 September 2015. Some 44% of the 2,000 adults interviewed said that going to church on Sunday was old-fashioned, the victim of people’s ‘busyness’ (46%) and the effects of multiculturalism (40%). Wearing Sunday best and attending a harvest festival were perceived as other traditions on their way out. There is no press release, as yet, on British Corner Shop’s website, but reports of the study have appeared in some newspapers, including on the Mirror website at:

This is by no means the first survey of the persistence of British traditions. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Gallup Poll undertook a series of enquiries into things which were deemed to be in or out of fashion. In three of the four studies about churchgoing between 1988 and 1991 two-thirds of adults said that it was already out of fashion, with only one-fifth thinking it still fashionable at that time. 

Organ donation

Almost half (48%) of regular churchgoers in the UK claim to have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register compared with 31% of the general population. This is according to a survey released by the fleshandblood campaign on 7 September 2015 to mark this year’s National Transplant Week. For the study over 2,000 regular churchgoers and church leaders were interviewed by Christian Research as part of its online Resonate panel. An even larger proportion of churchgoers (73%) agreed that organ donation is or could be considered a part of their Christian giving. However, organ donation is still not a subject which is heavily promoted by churches, with just 11% of the sample reporting that they had heard the topic raised from the pulpit. As is usual with Resonate polling, no details of methodology and results have yet appeared on Christian Research’s own website, a generic matter which BRIN has taken up with Christian Research, while the fleshandblood press release is very thin at:

Welsh religion data

The UK Data Service released on 1 September 2015, as SN 7780 and SN 7779 respectively, the datasets for the Welsh Referendum Study, February-March 2011 (on greater devolution for Wales) and the Welsh Election Study, April-May 2011 (on elections for the National Assembly for Wales). Both were two-wave (pre- and post-vote) panel studies conducted online by YouGov among quota samples of Welsh electors. The main focus of the questionnaires was inevitably political, but a very small amount of religion-related information was collected, which, given the relative paucity of Welsh religious data, is worth noting. The pre-vote questionnaire for the Welsh Referendum Study (n = 3,029) asked about religious affiliation while the post-vote version (n = 2,569) invited respondents to choose from a list of attributes to describe themselves, including Catholic or Protestant and religious or not religious. The pre-vote questionnaire for the Welsh Election Study (n = 2,359) enquired about favourability toward Muslims and other groups on a scale of 0-10. 

Syria drone strike

Two-thirds of the British public endorse Prime Minister David Cameron’s authorization of a drone strike in Syria which recently killed two British citizens who were fighting for Islamic State and apparently plotting terror attacks in the UK. Approval was highest among Conservative and UKIP voters, 85% and 82% respectively, but even three-fifths of Labourites and Liberal Democrats were in favour. Overall, only 11% of voters opposed Cameron’s action. The survey was conducted by YouGov among an online sample of 9,696 UK adults on 7-8 September 2015, and the results reported in a YouGov blog post at:

Jewish community statistics

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews announced on 1 September 2015 that they have reached agreement for JPR to take over from the Board responsibility for the collection of Jewish community statistics, including those of births, marriages, deaths, synagogue membership, and enrolment at Jewish schools. JPR has expanded its research team to take on the additional work. In effect, this development brings under one roof the principal research by and into the Jewish community in the UK. For a press release, see:


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Anglican Themes – and Funeral Hymns

The cluster of news stories which have come to hand within the last four days mainly concern the Church of England, but a couple are also of wider interest:

Church of England Growth?

The Church of England launched a new website on 2 October 2012 as a showcase for its 18-month Church Growth Support Programme, which is exploring the factors relating to the spiritual and, particularly, numerical growth of the Church. A team from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, led by Professor David Voas (co-director of BRIN), has been appointed to undertake the data analysis and church-profiling strands of the research. In addition to being able to track the progress of these and the other two strands, the website incorporates several other valuable features, albeit still under development, including: key Anglican statistics; guide to church growth literature; case studies of growing churches; and an interactive discussion board on church growth issues. The site can be accessed at:

Or Church of England Decline?

A hitherto little-reported aspect of the Church of England’s General Synod in July 2012 was part of a speech by Andreas Whittam Smith, First Church Estates’ Commissioner, touching on the adverse demography of the Church of England. On the assumption that the ageing of Anglican congregations continues, he forecast that the number of worshippers could fall to as little as 125,000 in 2057, unless corrective action could be taken. The story has been picked up by Peter Brierley, in articles in FutureFirst, No. 23, October 2012, p. 5 and in The Church of England Newspaper, 14 October 2012, p. E1. Projecting Anglican attendance figures forward on the basis of what is known of the age profiles of Sunday worshippers from the various English church censuses, Brierley’s charts also point to what some might term a ‘doomsday scenario’, with attenders under 30 years of age likely to decline by 80% between 2000 and 2030, compared with just one-quarter for the over-65s. On present trends, Brierley’s best estimates are that 300,000 will attend Anglican Sunday services by 2030 and 500,000 in an average week (Sunday and weekday combined). Under such circumstances, he suggests, some cathedrals might need to be ‘decommissioned’ and 9,000 of the current 16,000 churches could close.

Church of England Cathedrals

Brierley’s gloomy long-term prognostications for English cathedrals are somewhat at variance with the upbeat tone of Spiritual Capital: the Present and Future of English Cathedrals, which was prepared and published (on 12 October 2012) by Theos and the Grubb Institute, and commissioned by the Foundation for Church Leadership and the Association of English Cathedrals. The report is empirically underpinned by an online survey carried out by ComRes on 10-12 August 2012 among 1,749 English adults aged 18 and over, supplemented by local case studies of Canterbury, Durham, Lichfield, Leicester, Manchester, and Wells Cathedrals (comprising 1,933 quantitative and 257 qualitative interviews).

The national poll revealed that 27% of resident adults (i.e. excluding overseas visitors) claimed to have visited a Church of England cathedral at least once during the previous 12 months. This equates to 11,300,000 people, 20% more than the Church of England’s own estimate for visitors to its cathedrals in 2010, with the trend clearly downward since 2000 (this discrepancy is not commented on in the report). The profile of these self-identifying visitors is shown to be fairly broad in terms of standard demographics and religious background. Specifically, they include significant numbers of non-churchgoers, non-Christians, and those of no religion, thereby confirming that ‘cathedrals have a particular capacity to connect spiritually with those who are on or beyond the Christian “periphery”’ – hence the ‘spiritual capital’ of the title.

Of course, a contrary interpretation is that visitors often relate to the heritage and cultural functions of cathedrals as much as, if not more so, to their role as places of worship, and some of the ComRes poll evidence points in this direction. For example, only 13% disagreed with the statement that cathedrals are more of historical than spiritual importance, and 15% that they would go to one for its history and architecture rather than for any religious or spiritual experience. Likewise, just 17% would go to a cathedral to learn more about Christianity, and 22% for spiritual support. These reservations notwithstanding, Spiritual Capital can be recommended as an excellent source of data, not simply about visitor numbers, but about visitor motivations, experiences, and attitudes, together with wider reflections on the role of cathedrals in the Church and society. The report is at:

and the full national polling data at:

Heritage Tourism

Despite the optimism of the Theos and Grubb Institute report, English cathedrals may actually have had a poor summer in terms of tourism, sharing in the general malaise of all leading visitor attractions caused by the prolonged wet weather and the disruptive effects of the Olympic Games. Figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) on 8 October 2012 indicated that the heritage and cathedrals group of attractions in London (among them, St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey) reported a fall of visitor numbers of 20% comparing May-August 2012 with May-August 2011, while the decline in the rest of England was 6%. Retail spend at these attractions also decreased, by 20% in London and 9% elsewhere in the country. ALVA’s press release is at:

Additional information will doubtless become available when Visit England publishes, next year, Visitor Attractions Trends in England, 2012. The 2011 survey, released in July 2012, included returns from 102 places of worship, recording aggregate details of admissions, revenue, marketing, services, and employment. This 2011 report is at:

English Religious Beliefs

The Theos and Grubb Institute research into English cathedrals, discussed above, also collected a range of religious data about the respondents in the ComRes national survey, seemingly in an attempt to link cathedrals with what the report describes as ‘emergent spiritualities’. These data naturally have independent value. The number of adults claiming to ‘belong’ to a religion was 64%, 39% being Anglicans (two-thirds of them over 45), 16% other Christians, and 9% non-Christians; this left 34% professing no religion (rising to 46% of the 18-24s). Claimed attendance at religious services once a month or more was 15%, almost certainly an exaggeration. Firm belief in God (‘I know God exists and I have no doubts about it’) stood at just 19%, with 42% classified as atheists or agnostics; the remaining 39% fell into three categories in the ‘middle ground’ (including those believing in a higher power but not God). Belief in God as a universal life force was 40%, compared with belief in a human soul (60%), life after death (41%), angels (35%), the Resurrection of Jesus (31%), and reincarnation (26%). The number holding all six beliefs was just 12%, peaking at 20% in London. These figures have reduced somewhat over time. For instance, in Gallup’s Television and Religion survey in England in December 1963-January 1964 atheists and agnostics numbered 14% and 50% then believed in life after death. Even the number believing in a soul has dropped from the high of around 70% which was reached in several polls in the 2000s. BRIN has some time series on religious beliefs at:

Funeral Music

Hymns are gradually being squeezed out of the musicological repertoire at funerals, according to research published by Co-Operative Funeralcare on 15 October 2012, and based on a study of 30,000 funerals conducted by the company (the UK’s largest funeral director) during the past year. In 2005 hymns accounted for 41% of all funeral music requests, but the proportion in 2012 has been reduced to 30%, less than half that of pop music requests. The imbalance might have been even worse, were it not for the fact that one-quarter of funeral homes have had to refuse to play a piece of music on the grounds of taste, usually because clergy conducting the ceremony felt the choice inappropriate. The most popular hymns, in order of frequency of requests, are currently Abide with Me, The Lord is My Shepherd, and All Things Bright and Beautiful. Co-Operative’s press release is at:


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The Ways We Say Goodbye

Even for those not overtly religious in their everyday lives, the three rites of passage (birth/baptism, marriage and death – or, colloquially put, hatching, matching and dispatching) have traditionally been a point of contact with institutional religion.

Church of England and other religious statistics have long charted a decline in infant baptisms, while Government data (separately recorded for England and Wales and Scotland) have shown a decrease in weddings solemnized according to religious rites.

Now there are signs that the most long-standing ecclesiastical near-monopoly, over death, may also be eroding, partly in the face of a shift of focus in funerals away from an act of mourning mediated by a religious professional to a more participatory time of celebration and commemoration.

The established Church of England has experienced a fall of 19% in eight years in the number of funerals its clergy conduct, from 232,550 in 2000 to 188,100 in 2008. Expressed in terms of total deaths, the 2008 figure translated into a 39% market share.

The latest evidence about funeral customs and practices comes in a report today from Co-operative Funeralcare, the UK’s largest provider (100,000 funerals a year).

Entitled The Ways We Say Goodbye: a Study of 21st Century Funeral Customs in the UK, the document is mostly based on data gathered from funeral directors at 559 of Co-operative Funeralcare’s network of 850 funeral homes.

67% of Co-operative’s funerals still take a traditional form, in accordance with the rites of a particular religion, and generally including a service led by a recognized minister, followed by burial or cremation.

However, 21% are characterized as contemporary, where the emphasis is on celebration of an individual’s life and personalization of the funeral service, albeit an element of religion (such as a hymn or prayer) may still be retained.

12% of funerals arranged by Co-operative Funeralcare are classified by them as ‘humanist’, entirely without a religious component. They may be led by a humanist official, or by family and friends of the deceased.

In the words of one funeral director: ‘People don’t just want religion spoken about – they want the person spoken about. They’re making more of a day of it … more of an occasion.’

But the report highlighted that, such is the pace of personalization of ceremonies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain these somewhat arbitrary distinctions between funeral types.

Following this trend, only 36% of funerals now have purely religious music, the remaining 64% using contemporary music, classical music or a mixture of styles. So, in this and other respects, even religious ceremonies are being modernized and ‘secularized’.  

The top three funeral songs in 2009, according to a separate Co-operative study, were My Way (Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey), Wind Beneath My Wings (Bette Midler, Celine Dion) and Time to Say Goodbye (Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli).

Additional information came from an online poll conducted by ICM Research on behalf of Co-operative Funeralcare among a representative sample of 2,002 Britons aged 18 and over interviewed on 22-24 September 2010.

This revealed that 54% of respondents would prefer their funeral to be a personalized celebration of their life, with just 27% opting for a traditional funeral such as a church service with hymns. The latter figure ranged from 20% in the case of the 18-24s to 40% of the over-65s.

In a separate question, 49% wanted their funeral to be individualized in a specific way, most commonly in terms of their favourite music but, for some, even to reflect their favourite hobby, colour or football team.

The Ways We Say Goodbye can be downloaded from:

There is also a Co-operative press release, containing topline findings from the ICM poll, at:

This is by no means the first piece of research by Co-operative Funeralcare in this area. For instance, in October 2001 its forerunner produced a report Taking Fear out of Funerals, informed by a survey from BMRB the preceding March.

This showed that, even at that point, Britons sought funerals which were more cheerful, colourful and personal, with seven-tenths saying that non-religious ceremonies were perfectly acceptable.

One of the last major studies of attitudes to death more generally was by ComRes for Theos in April 2009 in the wake of the early death from cancer of Jade Goody, the ex-Big Brother contestant. The tables from this study are still available at:

37% then expressed a wish for a Christian funeral, 4% for another form of religious funeral, 17% for a non-religious funeral, with the remaining 43% having no clear preference.

30% of the ComRes sample agreed that their religious faith helped them to deal with the death of a loved-one or to prepare for their own death, but 38% disagreed, with 32% undecided or refusing to answer.

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