Muslim Voices and Other News


Muslim voices

There is no shortage of national opinion polls asking what Britons think about Islam and Muslims, but there have been relatively few surveys conducted among British Muslims in recent years. Only in the aftermath of the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks in 2001 and 2005 respectively were attempts made to capture Muslim voices in a systematic fashion. This omission partly reflects the difficulties in recruiting a nationally representative sample from what is still a religious minority, albeit a large one, and the associated higher costs of interviewing them. Given this background, we must welcome the poll conducted by ComRes on behalf of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, for which 1,000 Muslims in England were interviewed by telephone between 26 January and 20 February 2015. Full details of sample recruitment methods have yet to be published, but data tables of results (with breaks by gender, age, and region) were released on 25 February 2015 and can be found at:

From the perspective of community cohesion, we may note that 95% of Muslims profess loyalty to Britain, 93% agree that they should always obey British laws, 94% would inform the police about a Muslim planning an act of violence, 85% have no time for those fighting against the West, and 85% dispute that they would rather socialize with Muslims than non-Muslims. However, 20% deny that Western liberal society can be compatible with Islam, 35% think most Britons do not trust Muslims, and 46% report that Britain is becoming less tolerant of Muslims and that prejudice against Islam makes it difficult being a Muslim in Britain. About one in seven (14%) claim not to feel safe in Britain (particularly Muslim women) and to prefer to live in a Muslim country, if they could.  

With regard to the Islamist outrage against Charlie Hebdo in Paris at the start of the year, 32% understand and 27% sympathize with the motives of the perpetrators, and, more generally, 11% assert that organizations publishing images of the Prophet Mohammed deserve to be attacked, 24% rejecting the suggestion that such acts of violence can never be justified. As many as 78% say that they are personally offended by publication of images of the Prophet. Scaled up for a British Muslim population which must now be approaching three million, several of these percentages have been thought by some commentators on the poll to translate into a worrying level of alienation from British society and ‘British values’. For nearly all questions, there was remarkably little variation in replies between the various demographic sub-groups.  

Islamic State

More than three times as many adults, 66% versus 20%, deem Islamic State to be a greater threat to Britain’s security than Russia, notwithstanding the escalating crisis between the West and Russia over developments in Ukraine. This is according to a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times, for which 1,959 Britons were interviewed online on 26-27 February 2015. Islamic State is a particular concern to UKIP voters (75%), the over-60s (73%), and Conservatives (71%). Moreover, in future decisions regarding military expenditure, 52% wish to see resources prioritized to combat Islamist terrorism, with only 18% opting for investment to counter the danger from states like Russia. Data tables are at:

Non-stun slaughter of animals

The practice of slaughtering animals without pre-stunning, which is particularly important in the Jewish and Muslim traditions, was in the news again last week, thanks to a new YouGov poll released by the RSPCA, for which 2,177 adults were interviewed online on 18-19 February 2015. The RSPCA has kindly made the full results available to BRIN (they are not online), but some headline findings were also included in the organization’s press release of 23 February 2015, which is at:

Current animal welfare legislation generally requires pre-stunning of animals killed for human consumption but allows an exemption for Jews and Muslims on religious grounds, which the RSPCA wishes to see ended. Overwhelmingly (77%), Britons agree with the RSPCA that ‘all non-stun slaughter should be banned, with no exceptions’, with only 8% opposed and 16% undecided. However, the vox populi is seemingly being driven by a mistaken association of non-stunning with halal meat and thus with Muslims alone. Two-thirds of respondents rightly identify the exemption with Muslims, but the same proportion wrongly suggests that the majority of halal meat is not pre-stunned, whereas the reality is that the large majority is pre-stunned, as research by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has confirmed. On the other hand, awareness that the exemption applies to Jews also is much lower (39%), and just 40% realize that, as the FSA revealed, no kosher meat produced for Jews using the shechita method is pre-stunned. About one-third could not hazard a guess about the amount of either halal or kosher meat which is not pre-stunned. Nearly one in seven (15%) incorrectly believes the statutory exemption from pre-stunning applies to Hindus and a few even to Christians. 

Jewish health

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research published the latest in its series of census-derived profiles of British Jewry on 23 February 2015: David Graham, Health and Disability in Britain’s Jewish Population: Details from the 2011 Census. Its 27 pages are divided into three parts: general health; disability and limiting health conditions; and other census data on health (relating to unpaid care provision, Jewish residents of medical and care facilities, and medical conditions in Scotland). Subjectively defined, and controlling for the older average age of the Jewish population, Jews were found to be among the healthiest of all religious and ethnic groups and to exhibit a very low prevalence of long-term disability. Unfortunately, in respect of general health, different question-wording was used in 2011 than in 2001, so reliable over-time comparisons cannot be made. The report can be downloaded from:

Sectarianism in Scotland

The 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey is only the second since the annual series was launched by ScotCen in 1999 to include a specific module on religion. Whereas on the previous occasion, in 2001, the questions covered general religious beliefs and attitudes and paranormal experiences, in 2014 the focus was on sectarianism, at the behest of the Scottish Government, which funded the module. Fieldwork took place between May and August 2014 among a sample of 1,501 adults aged 18 and over in Scotland. A 98-page report on the sectarianism module was published by Scottish Government Social Research on 20 February 2015: Stephen Hinchliffe, Anna Marcinkiewicz, John Curtice, and Rachel Ormston, Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 2014: Public Attitudes to Sectarianism in Scotland. It is available to download from:

The report presents a somewhat mixed picture of the extent of Protestant-Catholic sectarianism in Scotland, with some distance evident between perceptions and reality. Although the vast majority (88%) believed that sectarianism is a problem in Scotland, and 66% that it would always exist there, just 19% viewed it as an issue throughout Scotland as a whole, 69% regarding it as a localized phenomenon (notably in Glasgow and the West of the country) and 55% thinking football was its principal cause. No more than 3% felt that Protestant-Catholic relationships in Scotland had worsened over the past decade, 47% detecting an improvement and 40% no change. Only one person in seven (14%), disproportionately Catholic, claimed to have experienced some form of religious discrimination or exclusion during their lives. Overwhelmingly, people’s social networks straddled the denominational divide and the use of sectarian language was condemned. Opinion remained divided about the continuing existence of denominational (Catholic) schools in the state system, 43% opposing and 25% supporting them (rising to 62% among Catholics). 

Of the answers to a handful of questions about respondents’ religious background, perhaps the most interesting (and puzzling) was the 10% drop in the number claiming to profess no religion, from 54% in 2013 to 44% in 2014, despite identical question-wording. The authors explain this (p. 7) ‘as most likely to be an artefact of questionnaire content and ordering effects rather than a reflection of any true upsurge in religious adherence in Scotland … It is evidently possible that when, as in 2001 and 2014, a question about religious belonging is preceded by other questions about religion some people are stimulated into reporting a largely latent religious affiliation that they would not otherwise have acknowledged.’ The proportion disclaiming a religious identity was lower still, at 33%, comparable with the 37% who said they belonged to no religion in the 2011 Scottish population census (which covered children as well as adults). The self-reported incidence of regular churchgoing (monthly or more) was 22%, and 51% of those who identified with a religion described themselves as not very or not at all religious.     

Adolescents and religion (1)

An interesting case study of the saliency of religious affiliation is reported in Leslie Francis and Mandy Robbins, ‘The Religious and Social Significance of Self-Assigned Religious Affiliation in England and Wales: Comparing Christian, Muslim, and Religiously-Unaffiliated Adolescent Males’, Research in Education, No. 92, November 2014, pp. 32-48. Respondents comprised 547 male students aged 16-18 attending selected secondary schools in England and Wales at an unspecified date and who self-identified with one of the three religious groups under examination. They completed a questionnaire which explored, through statements measured by a five-point Likert scale, eight themes relating to religious beliefs (Bible, Koran, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed, Jesus and justice, Mohammed and justice, experiencing God, and theology of religions); and six themes relating to religion and public concerns (personal life, public life, the state, social rights, rights of women and children, and sex and morality). Results are presented in the form of 14 tables with commentary. The data highlighted some areas of commonality and others of strong divergence between the three groups. The findings are drawn together in eight main conclusions which cumulatively ‘demonstrate that self-assigned religious affiliation serves as a powerful and important predictor of matters of religious and social concern’. For access options to the article, go to:

Adolescents and religion (2)

Religion is correlated with character-building according to findings presented in a report published by the University of Birmingham’s Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues on 27 February 2015: James Arthur, Kristján Kristjánsson, David Walker, Wouter Sanderse, and Chantel Jones, Character Education in UK Schools: Research Report. The research, conducted between February 2013 and June 2014, involved 10,200 students and 250 teachers from 68 UK schools, and the techniques comprised surveys, moral dilemma tests, and semi-structured interviews. On the moral dilemma tests, students who professed to be religious scored more highly than those who claimed to be atheist or otherwise to have no religion. Within the religious group, those who practised their religion scored more highly than those who did not. Students attending faith schools also achieved better scores than those going to non-faith schools. Although all these differences were statistically significant, in their conclusion the authors are cautious about interpreting the apparent link between religion and character-building (p. 24). This contrasts with their more emphatic rejection of the widespread conviction that participation in sport builds character. The 38-page report, which is not an easy read, can be found at:


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Demography of Churchgoing and Other News


Demography of churchgoing

Fresh insights into the demographic composition of British churchgoers, with particular reference to the number and position of single people, are provided in a series of three reports which have been published since the beginning of the year, and are available to download via the links at:

The reports, prepared under the direction of David Pullinger, are: 

  • The Eyes of the Perceiver: The Numbers and Issues of Single People in Churches. Published on 17 January 2015, this is based on online fieldwork by Christian Research among a self-selecting (and disproportionately male and Protestant) panel of 1,401 adult churchgoers and church leaders in July 2014, funded by Network Christians, and analysed by Single Christians. It revealed that church leaders have a better grasp than churchgoers of the entire spectrum of situations in which people find themselves single, embracing the never married, the previously married, the separated, and others experiencing singleness on a day-to-day basis. There was more consensus about the major issues facing single people, with loneliness at the top. 
  • Men Practising Christian Worship. Published on 28 January 2015, this is based on online fieldwork by YouGov among 7,212 Britons aged 16 and over on 23-26 September 2014, funded by Christian Vision for Men and Single Christians, and analysed by Single Christians. Respondents were asked whether they considered themselves to be practising Christians, how often they attended places of worship, and the age at which they had first got married. With our usual caveat about aspirational answers, the research revealed that 31% claimed to be practising Christians, with 19% saying they worshipped at least once a year and 10% at least once a month. Self-identifying churchgoers were disproportionately female, elderly, married, and middle class, unpartnered men (regardless of social grade) being especially underrepresented in congregations. 
  • The Numbers of Single Adults Practising Christian Worship. Published on 5 February 2015, this is based on the same YouGov survey as the preceding report and includes several of the same slides. As one might expect, the marital status of church attenders is the principal focus. Partnered people were found to be more likely than the unpartnered to say they were practising Christians and to report they went to a place of worship. The unpartnered comprised 40% of the population but 32% of regular (more than once a month) churchgoers. Whereas 12% of married persons claimed to be regular attenders, the same was true of only 7% of the never married. No strong evidence was found that regularly practising Christians married at a younger age than the non-practising. An accompanying press release highlighted the plight of a surplus of middle class unpartnered women in churches who would have to face life without the prospect of being able to marry somebody who shared their Christian beliefs. 

In terms of systematically analysed sample surveys, the YouGov research is perhaps the largest-scale study of the demographics of church attendance since Tearfund’s Churchgoing in the UK (2007). However, because of the well-proven tendency of respondents to over-claim their religious practice, sample surveys are probably a less reliable source of data in this area than censuses of church attendance, the last England-wide one being taken in 2005.  

The depth of analysis of the YouGov data by marital status is particularly interesting, but the picture which is revealed is doubtless not a recent phenomenon. In the case of Methodism, for instance, my own historical research has suggested that it was ‘a relative haven for the married and once-married’. For further details, see Clive Field, ‘Demography and the Decline of British Methodism: I. Nuptiality’, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, Vol. 58, No. 4, February 2012, pp. 175-89.  

Religious sensibilities

Many Britons disagree with the protection of religious sensibilities, according to the results of a couple of questions included in a module about liberalism which YouGov put, on behalf of Prospect magazine, to an online sample of 1,630 Britons on 1-2 February 2015. Data tables were released on 19 February and are at:

One question, obviously framed in the light of last month’s Islamist attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in retaliation for that newspaper’s publication of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, asked whether the law which limits racist speech should be extended to protect religions from deliberately offensive speeches, articles, and cartoons. The majority (53%) of the British public thought not, including 62% of men and 65% of UKIP voters. Around one-third (32%) wished to see religions protected in this way, while 15% were undecided. 

The other question was a throw-back to the legal case, which ended up in the Supreme Court, involving a Christian couple who owned a B&B who had refused (on religious grounds) the use of a double room by a homosexual couple. YouGov panellists were asked in general terms whether people with strong religious views who provided B&B accommodation should have the right to turn away same-sex couples. Exactly 50% believed they should not have such a right, among them just under two-thirds of Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters and of those aged 25-39. About two-fifths (39%) backed the B&B owners’ position, including 51% of Conservative and 61% of UKIP voters and 58% of over-60s. The remaining 11% expressed no opinion.    


Anti-Semitism has never been out of the news since the Islamist outrages in Paris at the beginning of the year, and YouGov has taken the pulse of public opinion on the subject again in two recent online polls. In the first, of 1,548 adults on 16-17 February 2015, respondents were asked whether they agreed with the recent plea by the Israeli Prime Minister for European Jews to move to Israel, given the apparently rising tide of European anti-Semitism. Only 11% felt these Jews would be safer in Israel, 26% suggesting they would be safer in Europe, 42% equally safe in either place, and 21% expressing no view. Specifically in relation to the UK situation, 34% wanted the Government to initiate a major campaign to reassure British Jews they are safe and welcome in the country, while 41% considered there to be no need for this, the remaining 25% favouring neither option. The survey also probed attitudes to the recent emergence of Islamic State (IS) in Libya and to potential British involvement in air strikes against IS there, 59% being in favour. Data tables are at:

The second survey was undertaken for the Sunday Times among a sample of 1,568 Britons on 19-20 February 2015. Just 4% admitted to holding some personal views which were anti-Semitic, the range within demographic sub-groups being from 2% to 9%, while 89% denied doing so and 7% were unsure. However, 20% considered that anti-Semitism was very or fairly widespread in British society (64% regarding it as uncommon), and 19% that anti-Semitism had worsened in Britain during the past 20 years (as against 21% who detected an improvement in the situation and 40% no change). One person in 14 (7%) reported that they had often witnessed anti-Semitic behaviour on the part of others. Data tables are at:

Faith and politics

With the general election less than three months away, and with the recent briefings by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the Church of England designed to inform the electorate about the issues at stake, any data about the political thinking and intentions of Christians is naturally of great interest. So, many BRIN readers will probably want to read the research reported by the Evangelical Alliance on 19 February 2015 in its Faith in Politics? This is the twelfth in a series of studies of 21st Century Evangelicals. An accompanying press release, incorporating a link to the report, can be found at:

A couple of caveats should be borne in mind. First, the research was undertaken as far back as August-September 2014, so it is unlikely to be a completely accurate guide to current attitudes. Second, the representative nature of the sample is even more in doubt than usual. The core sample derived from 1,356 members of the Evangelical Alliance’s self-selecting research panel, but their number was boosted by 1,006 participants recruited via social media, the latter disproportionately interested in and engaged in politics. This gave a total of 2,362 respondents, 12% of whom did not define themselves as evangelicals. The report itself is based on the 2,020 individuals who did regard themselves as evangelical. The findings, therefore, should be regarded as having more of an illustrative than statistical value. The report itself contains an appropriate note of caution about the limitations of the data. 

Among the statistics featured in the report are:

  • 86% of evangelicals are very or fairly interested in politics (compared with 42% of the population)
  • 76% say their political views and voting are influenced by their reading of the Bible (yet 57% have no idea what the Bible teaches about politics)
  • 92% think more Christians need to get involved in politics
  • 59% believe none of the main political parties supports Christian values
  • Just 32% deem it important for politicians to be Christian – integrity and conviction are seen as far more significant attributes
  • 94% are certain or likely to vote in the general election
  • 39% will not be voting for the same party as in the 2010 general election
  • 24% were still undecided, at the time of interview, how they will vote (23% supporting Labour, 21% Conservative, 8% LibDem, and 9% UKIP)
  • 71% regard policies ensuring religious liberty and freedom of expression as a very important determinant of their own vote
  • 39% will prioritize voting for a party best helping others in need
  • 32% consider poverty/inequality to be the single most important issue facing the UK (4% in the population at large)
  • 6% consider race/immigration to be the single most important issue (21% in the population)

Religious group membership

One-fifth (21%) of UK adults report being members of religious groups or church organizations, according to Veronique Siegler, Measuring National Well-Being: An Analysis of Social Capital in the UK, which was published by the Office for National Statistics on 29 January 2015. This is the same proportion as are members of trade unions and professional organizations but less than the 33% in membership of sports clubs. Overall, 52% of adults are in membership of some form of organization. Data derive from the 2011/12 wave of Understanding Society, the UK longitudinal household panel. Siegler’s report is at:

Travelling man

John Wesley (1703-91) is widely regarded as the principal founder of Methodism and an itinerant preacher on a grand scale. But just how far did he travel? In a recent issue of the Methodist Recorder (13 February 2015, p. 8) John Taylor has endeavoured to answer the question, based on an analysis he did some time ago of Wesley’s published journals from 1735 onwards. From this date until his death he calculates that Wesley travelled just over 250,000 miles, typically on horseback, broken down as follows: 
















Islands in British seas



On board ship
















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Atheism and Other News



Two-fifths (42%) of Britons now declare that they have no religion, and the plurality (45%) of these regard themselves as atheists, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by and published in The Times on 12 February 2015, for which 1,552 adults were interviewed online on 8-9 February. The proportion of self-reported atheists in the entire population is thus 19%, rising to 31% of 18-24s, although the number of Britons who definitely do not believe in any sort of God or greater spiritual power is higher still (33% overall, 46% among 18-24s), including 9% of professed Christians. People no longer seem fazed by atheism. Not only do 88% of atheists feel comfortable about talking about their lack of religious identity, while 24% of Christians who believe in God are uncomfortable discussing their convictions, but very few adults react negatively to public figures who have openly acknowledged their atheism. Thus, only 6% of all Britons and 16% of Christians who believe in God feel more negatively about Labour leader Ed Miliband and LibDem leader Nick Clegg simply because they are atheists, and no more than 13% say the same about actor and presenter Stephen Fry following his recent outburst against ‘a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain’. The Times story (with quotes by BRIN’s David Voas) is only available online to subscribers, but YouGov has a blog on the survey, with a link to the full data tables, at:

Future of religion

The team blog of the Theos think tank is carrying a series of guest posts on the future of religion in Britain, timed to coincide with, and to mark, the forthcoming appearance of the second edition of Grace Davie’s seminal 1994 book on Religion in Britain (on which we will report in due course). Davie is one of the Theos bloggers, with other contributions (thus far) from David Goodhew, Nick Spencer, David Voas, and Adam Dinham.   

In the first post, published on 9 February 2015 and focusing on Christianity, Goodhew suggested that ‘the future … will be a persistent paradox of secularisation from above and resacralisation from below’. His conclusion stemmed from a somewhat caricatured critique of the alleged ‘dodginess’ of many national data on religion (including the Church of England’s) and examples of more localized church growth, from London and elsewhere. As I have said before on the BRIN website, Goodhew’s thesis is undermined by its lack of long-term historical perspective. His blog is at:

The fourth blog, by Voas, was published on 12 February 2015 but previewed in The Times of 9 February. Voas predicts that the prospects for faith among white Britons are bleak and that ‘the future of religion in Britain is black and brown’, largely revolving around black-majority Churches and Islam. In terms of mainstream Christianity, he thinks that ‘the secularization of religious behaviour has reached the point of no return’; ‘the default position now is that we do not gather together to sing and pray and listen to an indifferent speaker deliver a thought for the week’, most ordained ministers having ‘the leadership ability of bank managers’. Orthodox belief has also declined, especially in God, which ‘has taken a battering’. The post is at:

Christians and politics

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has recently launched a 2015 general election website to keep Christians briefed about issues and practicalities during the campaign, and to promote debate around its ‘Vision 2020 of the Good Society’. It has also collaborated with Church Action on Poverty (CAP) to commission ComRes to conduct an online survey of 2,135 practising UK Christians between 20 and 26 January 2015. The headline results were published by CAP on 13 February 2015 under the banner ‘Christians Tired of Short-Termism in Politics’. The press release, which includes a link to a summary report prepared by ComRes, can be found at:

The poll revealed that 91% of practising Christians claimed they would be more likely to vote for a Parliamentary candidate who communicated a positive long-term vision for society, and yet 88% felt that UK politicians were more interested in short-term political concerns and that the leaders of the main political parties failed to articulate such a long-term vision. Almost without exception (97%), practising Christians agreed that Churches had a key role to play in encouraging debate about what makes a good society, with 80% considering that hitherto they had been ineffective in challenging politicians to communicate their vision for society, and 68% that Churches did not talk enough in public about matters like food poverty, homelessness, and tax avoidance.    

Church of England: social action

The social action of the Church of England is examined in Bethany Eckley and Tom Sefton, Church in Action: A National Survey of Church-Based Social Action, which was published on 9 February 2015. The research, which was conducted by the Church Urban Fund (CUF) and the Church’s Mission and Public Affairs Team, was based upon an online survey of Anglican incumbents in September 2014, 1,812 of 5.097 responding (36%), with a slight skew towards larger churches and churches in London, and – possibly – an underrepresentation of those less involved in social action. Some of the questions replicated those in a previous survey by CUF in December 2011. The latest report can be read at:

Overwhelmingly (95%), Anglican clergy agreed that ‘engaging with the poor and marginalised in the local area is a vital activity for a healthy church’, although fewer (53%) reported that ‘we are tackling poverty as a fundamental part of the mission for our church’. The social issues which presented a major or significant problem in their communities were deemed to be: isolation/loneliness (65%), family breakdown (50%), debt (47%), lack of self-esteem/hope (46%), low income (46%), unhealthy lifestyles (45%), and mental health problems (44%). Just 7% of churches admitted not to be addressing any local issues, with 27% tackling up to four, 31% between five and eight, and 35% (disproportionately in London) nine or more. The most prevalent forms of church-based social action were schools work (76%), food banks (66%, double the 2011 figure), parent and toddler groups (60%), and lunch/drop-in clubs (53%). Activities in support of credit unions were to be found in only a minority of parishes. The main barriers to increased social action by churches were identified as resource constraints, both human (leaders and volunteers) and financial.  

Church of England: rural Anglicanism

A profile of the Church of England in the countryside was published by the Archbishops’ Council on 30 January 2015: Released for Mission: Growing the Rural Church (GS Misc 1092). It is based on a mixture of qualitative (47 interviews with clergy and lay people) and quantitative research, the statistics deriving from an analysis of the 2011 parochial returns, a summary of which is tabulated below. It will be seen that, in terms of churches and parishes, two-thirds of the Church of England is to be found in the countryside, but only about two-fifths of its clergy (who are disproportionately female) and attenders (except at Christmas). The pattern of church growth and decline in rural and urban parishes is similar. The report is available at: 






















All clergy



All incumbents



Male incumbents



Female incumbents



All assistant curates



Male assistant curates



Female assistant curates



All self-supporting clergy



Male self-supporting clergy



Female self-supporting clergy



Membership and attendance



Electoral roll



Minimum attendance



Maximum attendance



Average attendance



Sum of attendance



Christmas attendance



Church growth over 10 years












British Muslims in Numbers

On 11 February 2015 the Muslim Council of Britain launched an 80-page report (including 33 tables and 4 figures) on British Muslims in Numbers: A Demographic, Socio-Economic, and Health Profile of Muslims in Britain Drawing on the 2011 Census. Prepared by the Council’s Research and Documentation Committee, with Sundas Ali as lead analyst, it examines the Muslim-related data from the 2011 census for England and Wales (Scotland, which had only 77,000 Muslims, is not really covered, despite the work’s title) under four broad headings: demographics, civic life, inequalities, labour market and education. The census findings are supplemented by other empirical evidence and accompanied by a series of ‘observations’ directed at a variety of audiences and a list of priorities for future research. The report can be downloaded from:

Probably the most striking demographic is the relative youth of the Muslim community, with a median age of 25 compared with 40 in the overall population, and 33% of Muslims under 16. Taken alongside factors such as immigration, this young profile seems likely to ensure the community’s ongoing rapid growth, both absolute and relative (the absolute increase from 2001 to 2011 was 75%). In terms of national identity, as many as 73% of Muslims in 2011 stated their only identity as British (or other UK national), even though 53% were born overseas. On some indicators, the incidence of deprivation among Muslims remained high, with, for example, 46% living in the 10% most deprived local authority districts, up from 33% in 2001. However, there were also signs of greater levels of educational attainment and social mobility among Muslims. 

Islamic State

New polling from YouGov for The Sunday Times, in which 1,668 Britons were interviewed online on 5-6 February 2015, has revealed that just 32% support Britain and the USA sending ground troops back to Iraq to help fight the so-called Islamic State (IS), the plurality (45%) being opposed, much the same as in October 2014 (when the question was last asked). This is despite the fact that only 20% are convinced that the current combination of Western air strikes and Iraqi and Kurdish forces will be sufficient to defeat IS, 49% alternatively indicating a need for ground troops ‘from elsewhere’. At 63%, approval of the existing RAF involvement in air strikes against IS has gone up by four points since last October, with 56% supporting an escalation of this involvement in terms of more planes and an increased number of strikes. Data tables are at:

YouGov has also updated its Iraq, Syria, and IS tracker report to take account of the new findings. This can be viewed at:

Conspiracy theories

YouGov online polling for YouGov@Cambridge on 3-4 February 2015 explored public attitudes to nine ‘conspiracy theories’, among a sample of 1,749 adults. One of them was a suggestion that some courts in the UK legal system are choosing to adopt Sharia law, which 18% thought was definitely or probably true, including 31% of UKIP voters and 26% of over-60s; a further 31% said it might or might not be true, while 51% were certain that it was false. Another potential conspiracy posited that humans had made contact with aliens but that the news had been deliberately hidden from the people, which 14% agreed was definitely or probably true against 61% who were clear it was not and 25% who were unsure. Nevertheless, belief in both these ‘conspiracies’ paled into relative insignificance compared with the 55% convinced that the Government is hiding the real number of immigrants in the country and the 52% that European Union officials are gradually seeking to take over all the UK’s law-making powers. Data tables are at:


The All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism published the Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism on 9 February 2015 and, alongside it, a sub-report summarizing the results of a Populus poll which it had commissioned, for which 1,001 Britons aged 18 and over were interviewed between 22 and 25 January 2015. Asked to rate the seriousness of anti-Semitism in contemporary Britain on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 was low and 10 high), the mean score was 4.66, much as it was ten years ago (4.52), although 37% thought that the problem had worsened over the decade (against 16% who detected an improvement). Moreover, only 55% said that they would be able to explain what anti-Semitism was to somebody else, ranging from 37% of 18-24s to 71% of over-65s, while awareness of recent incidents which were widely regarded as anti-Semitic was relatively limited, the murder of four Jews in a kosher supermarket in Paris excepted, which was known to 91%, albeit one-fifth did not classify the attack as anti-Semitic.  

Some anti-Semitic stereotypes continued to find favour, such as the 11% who agreed that Jews have too much power in UK media and politics and the identical proportion that they have too much influence over the direction of UK foreign policy; 15% believed that Jews talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust. The identification of British Jews with Israel was problematical for rather more, 32% thinking that British Jews always defend Israel, regardless of the rightness or wrongness of its actions, and 30% that their loyalties are either divided between Britain and Israel or vested in Israel alone. This is despite the fact that 89% acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. The number of Jews in Britain was vastly over-estimated by respondents, the average guess being 2.7 million, nine times the real figure in the 2011 census, whereas the Muslim population was over-estimated by just one-third. The poll summary can be found at:


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Church Buildings and Other News


Church buildings

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)

Fresh Expressions 

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:

Bible – Bible Society presentation

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:

Anti-Semitic incidents

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. 

Magna Carta

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:


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ComRes on Religion and Other News


ComRes on religion

Exactly half the whole population (and 71% of those professing no religion) now denies that religion is a force for good in the world, according to a ComRes poll for ITV News on 16-18 January 2015, for which 2,036 adults were interviewed online. Only 24% overall agreed with the proposition with 26% undecided. Christianity was viewed somewhat more positively, a plurality (39%) agreeing that it is a force for good in the world (peaking at 55% of over-65s and 63% of Christians), against 30% who disagreed (including 53% of religious nones) and 31% who did not know. However, although 44% judged that religious leaders in Britain should not get involved in political debates (compared with 34% who thought they should), in practice there was majority support for some specific recent interventions: 65% approved of the criticisms made by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York of the behaviour of shoppers in the Black Friday sales; 63% of their charge that Britain has become dominated by consumerism and selfishness; and 50% of religious leaders speaking out about economic inequality. Data tables are at:

British Cohort Study

On 27 April 2014 BRIN included in one of its regular weekly round-ups of religious statistical news an item on ‘When we’re 42’. This contained a preliminary (topline) analysis of a short religion module which had formed part of the latest wave of the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS), which has been following the lives of babies born in Britain one week in 1970. Information was gathered by TNS BMRB between May 2012 and April 2013 from 9,841 members of the cohort at the age of 42, by a combination of face-to-face interview and self-completion questionnaire, the religion questions appearing on the self-completion form.  

A much fuller (27-page) analysis of the module, incorporating various cross-tabulations, was published on 21 January 2015 as Centre for Longitudinal Studies Working Paper 2015/1: David Voas, The Mysteries of Religion and the Lifecourse. It will also appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Longitudinal and Life Course Studies but meanwhile can be accessed via the link at:

The press release for the report led on the substantial gender differences which were found in the two religious beliefs which were enquired into, an emphasis which was then reflected in the media coverage, although the phenomenon is hardly novel and, as Voas comments, still lacks a clear resolution. Perhaps of greater interest are his methodological conclusions and observations arising from the research, with a plea to avoid over-reliance on single-item measures of religiosity. This is exemplified in the sevenfold religious typology proposed by the author in table 8, based on pooling BCS data about religious identity, religious attendance, and belief in God and life after death, and which demonstrates that religiosity is far from being a black and white matter. The table is reproduced below: 

Label Description


Non-religious Does not have a religion and believes in neither God nor life after death


Nominally religious Identifies with a religion but believes in neither God nor life after death


Unorthodox non-religious Does not have a religion or does not attend services, believes in God or life after death but not both


Unorthodox religious Has a religion and attends services at least occasionally, believes in God but not life after death (or vice versa)


Non-identifying believers Does not have a religion but believes in God and life after death


Non-practising religious Has a religion and believes in God and life after death but does not attend services


Actively religious Has a religion and believes in God and life after death and attends services


Religious affiliation

Lord Ashcroft’s latest themed political opinion poll was published on 14 January 2015, this time on public attitudes to the National Health Service. Fieldwork was conducted online between 14 and 24 November 2014 among adults aged 18 and over, and, as usual, there was a background question asked about religious affiliation: ‘which of the following religious groups do you consider yourself to be a member of?’ Summary weighted findings appear below, with comparisons from previous years, from which it will be seen that Christian disaffiliation and profession of no faith are proceeding relatively rapidly. The full results (with breaks by gender, age, social grade, region, employment sector, working status, educational attainment, and voting intention) can be found in table 149 of the data tables at: 

% down

11/2011 All

11/2012 All

11/2013 All

11/2014 All

11/2014 18-24

11/2014 65+















No religion














N =







Rating Pope Francis

Pope Francis was quick to condemn the Islamist outrages in Paris, but he subsequently raised more than a few eyebrows when he told journalists that there were limits to freedom of expression and that the faith of others should not be insulted, even cracking a joke in the process about punching anybody who foul-mouthed his own mother. The majority of Britons (51%) disagreed with the Pope’s (unguarded) statement (Londoners and UKIP voters most strongly, on 59%), against 36% who supported it, according to an online poll by YouGov among 1,747 Britons on 18-19 January 2015. Reviewing his pontificate more generally, 51% thought that the Pope is doing a good job, up by 15 points over two YouGov surveys undertaken during his first year in office in 2013, and very few (7%) suggested he is doing a bad job, as many as 42% being undecided. Almost one-quarter (23%) claimed they had a more positive view of the Catholic Church as a result of Pope Francis, albeit the plurality who hold a negative view of the Church is still as large as ever (36%, the same as in November 2013), the over-60s being most negative (48%). Nearly two-fifths (39%, 8 points up on November 2013) anticipated that the Pope would make the Church more liberal, notwithstanding there is as yet little tangible evidence that its teachings are about to be ‘modernized’ in any substantive way. A blog about the survey was published on 20 January 2015, with a link to the data tables, at:


A plurality (47%) of the British public believes that immigration has weakened Christian values in Britain, according to an online poll by Survation for the think-tank Bright Blue, for which 1,052 adults were interviewed between 12 and 16 September 2014 (although the results were only released on 19 January 2015). The proportion holding this view soared to 81% among UKIP voters and also constituted a majority for several other demographic sub-groups, including retired people (66%), the over-55s (62%), Conservative voters (56%), the lowest (DE) social grade (55%), men (54%), and married persons (53%). Just 19% of the whole sample disagreed with the proposition that immigration had weakened Christian values in Britain, while 25% neither agreed nor disagreed and 8% registered as don’t knows. On a related matter, and referring to a recent situation in real life, 66% of Britons favoured granting asylum in the UK to a woman from a strongly Muslim country who had been threatened with execution because of her Christian beliefs. Data tables are at:

The same questions were also posed to a separate sample of 1,307 current Conservative voters between 12 and 30 September 2014, and these data tables are at:

Anti-Semitism – Jewish perspectives

Anti-Semitism was again in the media spotlight during the past week, in the wake of the recent Islamist outrages in France, in one of which four Jews were murdered in an attack on a kosher supermarket. The heightened coverage of anti-Semitism is being underpinned by original empirical research. 

The Jewish Chronicle has published the second in its new series of Jewish topical issues polls, undertaken by Survation among a representative sample of 939 UK Jews (including secular and non-practising) aged 18 and over, who were interviewed by telephone on 19-20 January 2015. Notwithstanding greater efforts being made by the authorities to protect Jews, 58% claimed not to have noticed any increased police presence in their own areas during the past fortnight (against 40% who had), with Jewish over-55s most likely to have detected no improvement (70%). Asked whether the Government was doing all it could to combat anti-Semitism, only 33% answered in the affirmative, while 55% thought it should be doing more (rising to 61% of female Jews and 64% of under-35s). However, there was majority welcome (60%) from UK Jews for the letter which the Communities Minister had written to Muslim leaders calling for renewed efforts on their part to explain how Islam can be part of British identity. Data tables, with breaks by age, gender, and region, are at:

As well as summarizing the results of its own poll, the current issue of The Jewish Chronicle (23 January 2015, pp. 6-7, 35) also allocated space to continued discussion about the validity of the poll of Jews conducted online by the Campaign against Antisemitism (CAA) between 23 December 2014 and 11 January 2015, whose findings were rather alarmist (as featured in our last post on 18 January 2015). In The Jewish Chronicle, CAA chair Gideon Falter had an article strongly affirming the ‘bulletproof’ nature of his organization’s research, while distinguished academic (and Holocaust survivor) Michael Pinto-Duschinsky urged the newspaper’s readers ‘don’t trust these misleading figures’, backing up previous criticisms of them by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Alderman, a regular columnist on The Jewish Chronicle, called for an end to ‘point-scoring’ about the CAA survey of Jews, although he was skating on somewhat thin ice himself since he had apparently made some use of the CAA data in an article he had written for The Spectator. 

Anti-Semitism – public opinion

A survey of public attitudes to Jews and the Holocaust was published by the European Jewish Congress on 21 January 2015. It was designed by 202 Strategies and undertaken by Survation among a sample of 504 UK adults aged 18-35 (48% of whom described themselves as not religious), who were interviewed online between 8 and 10 January 2015. A significant minority of respondents was found to have ambiguous, prejudiced, or ill-informed views on both topics, albeit some might consider a few of the questions to be a little leading. Although a majority (53%) acknowledged the existence of anti-Semitism in the UK, 23% denied it and 24% were undecided. Three-fifths had been taught about the Holocaust at school but fewer, 40%, regarded it as the most important event in European history over the last century, just 34% knew who Adolf Eichmann was, 31% underestimated the number of Jews who had perished in the Holocaust (with a further 21% unable to answer at all), and only 29% were aware of Holocaust Memorial Day. One in seven inclined to Holocaust denial in that they agreed ‘the evidence surrounding the Holocaust is not complete and I would need to see more proof to believe without a doubt that it occurred’. A similar proportion (15%) backed the introduction of a legal requirement for businesses owned by Jews to have a special form of identification (22% saying the same about Muslim businesses) and 15% wanted individual Jews to carry religious identification (13% wishing to see a similar obligation on Christians). One-quarter thought it very or somewhat likely that laws discriminating against Jews could be passed in Europe today, and 24% anticipated that another Holocaust might happen in Europe during their lifetime. Full data tables have not yet been released (and may not be, since 202 Strategies rather than Survation did the analysis), but a 16-page report is available at:

The Conversation of 22 January 2015 contained a preliminary analysis by Tim Bale of a poll which he had commissioned from YouGov to gauge voter reactions to the prospect of a Jewish politician leading a political party and becoming Prime Minister. This is more than a distant scenario, given that Ed Miliband leads the Labour Party and might, after the May general election, become the first British Jewish Prime Minister since 1880, albeit – conceivably – at the head of a minority or coalition government. In fact, only one-third of all UK voters are aware of Miliband’s religious background, and even fewer of those intending to vote Labour than for the other parties. Even if they were aware, for the vast majority (83%) it would apparently make no difference to their electoral choice. However, 13% of UKIP voters would be less likely to vote for a party with a Jewish leader, twice the proportion of Conservative and LibDem voters who said this, and three times the number of Labour voters. UKIP voters were also least likely (48%) to see a Jewish prime minister as equally acceptable as one from another faith, compared with 62% of all voters and 72% of Labour voters. More generally, just 10% agreed that Jews have too much influence in the country, a reduction from 18% in 2004 (albeit UKIP supporters are still at 18%). Bale’s post, which is a spin-off from his forthcoming Oxford University Press book on the Labour Party under Miliband, can be read at:

Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion

Among the 11 essays in the latest edition (Vol. 25, 2014) of Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, an annual published by Brill, are a couple which might interest BRIN readers, details of which are given below: 

  • pp. 2-16, Leslie Francis and Mandy Robbins, ‘Religious Identity, Mystical Experience, and Psychopathology: A Study among Secular, Christian, and Muslim Youth in England and Wales’ – a survey of the incidence of mystical experience and its association with psychoticism and neuroticism among 203 Muslim, 477 Christian, and 378 religiously unaffiliated young people aged 14-18 attending 12 schools in England and Wales 
  • pp. 78-108, Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip and Sarah-Jane Page, ‘Religious Faith and Heterosexuality: A Multi-Faith Exploration of Young Adults’ – a survey of the sexual values, attitudes, and behaviour of 515 self-defined heterosexual religious young adults aged 18-25 living in the UK


Posted in Measuring religion, People news, Religion and Politics, Religion in the Press, Religious beliefs, Survey news | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

The recent Islamist outrages in France continued to dominate the news last week, being the most noted story for 74% of the 2,070 Britons interviewed online by Populus on 14-15 January 2015. However, the domestic research agenda has now broadened out to include the implications for the Jewish community.

Anti-Semitism (1)

The Campaign against Antisemitism (CAA), a grass-roots movement which started in August 2014, published its Annual Antisemitism Barometer, 2015 Full Report on 14 January 2015, summarizing the results of two surveys which it had commissioned in Britain, one among the public and the other among Jews. These new data led the CAA to conclude: ‘Whilst antisemitism in Britain is not yet at the levels seen in most of Europe, the results of our survey should be a wakeup call. Britain is at a tipping point: unless antisemitism is met with zero tolerance, it will continue to grow and British Jews may increasingly question their place in their own country.’ The report, the preparation of which was funded by the Anglo-Jewish Association and private donors, can be viewed at:

The survey of the general public was undertaken by YouGov among 3,411 adults interviewed online in two separate polls, on 21-22 December 2014 and 5-6 January 2015 (i.e. just before the recent Islamist outrages in France, including an attack on a kosher supermarket during which four Jews were killed). Respondents were presented with a list of seven stereotypical statements deemed by the CAA to be anti-Semitic in nature, and it was found that 45% of Britons believed at least one of them to be definitely or probably true, including 51% of men and 39% of women, the regional range being from 30% in Scotland to 48% in northern England. One-quarter (26%) believed at least two statements were true, 17% at least three, and 11% at least four.  

If the last statistic is taken as some kind of approximation of hard-core prejudice against Jews in Britain, then the proportion is similar to that discovered by Clive Field in his ‘meta-analysis’ of polls on anti-Semitism published in Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung, Vol. 15, 2006, pp. 259-300.Also, more recently, according to The ADL Global 100: An Index of Anti-Semitism, released by the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in May 2014, Britain has one of the lowest rates of anti-Semitism in the world – see BRIN’s coverage at:

Results for each of YouGov’s seven statements are tabulated below, showing highs and lows by demographic sub-groups.

% saying definitely or probably true




Jews chase money more than other British people


39 (UKIP)

18 (LibDem; 18-24)

Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to Britain than other British people


28 (UKIP)

15 (women; Scotland; no religion)

Jews think they are better than other people


27 (UKIP)

11 (women)

Jews have too much influence in the media


29 (non-Christian)

11 (women)

Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to get sympathy


23 (non-Christian)

10 (women; Scotland)

In business Jews are not as honest as most people


17 (UKIP)

7 (Scotland; no religion)

I would be unhappy if a family member married a Jew


22 (non-Christian)

7 (LibDem)

The full data tables are at:

For its second survey, the CAA claims to have polled ‘a representative sample of the British Jewish community’, with the assistance of various Jewish agencies. In practice, informants appear to have constituted a self-selecting sample, who responded to an online questionnaire between 23 December 2014 and 11 January 2015, and which they accessed via a weblink distributed via social media and email lists. So, although electronic identifiers enabled duplicate or non-UK responses to be filtered out, and although the British data were weighted to reflect the regional distribution of Jews in the census (it is unclear why other census demographics of Jews were not deployed), the results should still be treated with some caution and may not be representative. As we have noted previously, it is genuinely very difficult to achieve proper cross-sections of minority religious populations. 

In particular, those with a special angst about anti-Semitism and/or who felt particularly protective of Israel may have been more predisposed to reply to the CAA enquiry than other Jews. We may note that social scientist Keith Kahn-Harris is quoted in The Jewish Chronicle as having already dismissed the CAA survey as ‘methodologically invalid. There can be no confidence in its representativeness’. The equally respected Institute for Jewish Policy Research has issued a press release in which it criticizes the CAA study for being ‘littered with flaws’ and ‘rather irresponsible’. The release can be read online at:

With this significant caveat in mind, we should note, for the record, that, of the 2,230 British Jews who replied to the CAA: 

  • 84% agreed that boycotts of businesses selling Israeli products constituted intimidation (11% disagreeing)
  • 82% agreed that media bias against Israel fuelled persecution of Jews in Britain (11% disagreeing)
  • 77% reported that they had witnessed anti-Semitism disguised as a political comment about Israel (13% disagreeing)
  • 69% agreed that the Jewish community had to protect itself because the State does not protect it enough (18% disagreeing)
  • 63% argued that the authorities let too much anti-Semitism go unpunished (19% disagreeing)
  • 58% were concerned that Jews may not have a long-term future in Europe (28% disagreeing)
  • 56% had witnessed or experienced more anti-Semitism in the past two years than previously (26% disagreeing)
  • 56% concurred that the recent rise in anti-Semitism in Britain had echoes of the 1930s (27% disagreeing)
  • 45% were concerned that Jews may not have a long-term future in Britain (37% disagreeing)
  • 45% agreed that their family was threatened by Islamic extremism in Britain (37% disagreeing)
  • 37% avoided showing any visible signs of Judaism when they went out (42% disagreeing)
  • 27% often avoided mentioning their Judaism when they were with new people (57% disagreeing)
  • 25% claimed to have considered leaving Britain in the past two years due to anti-Semitism (63% disagreeing) 

Anti-Semitism (2)

To be fair to the CAA, it had settled upon its own survey of Jews only after approaching ‘major polling organisations’ who ‘advised that they did not have enough Jewish panellists on their databases to conduct an effective or valid survey of the Jewish community’. The CAA will doubtless have been as surprised as everyone else to have read the announcement by The Jewish Chronicle, on the same day as CAA’s Annual Antisemitism Barometer was published, that the newspaper had been working with Survation over several months to develop ‘an extensive targeted database of thousands of Jews across the UK who can be randomly contacted for polling’, each poll to have a sample of around 1,000 Jews.  

Survation has published the following description of its methodology: ‘SAMPLING METHOD: Respondents were sampled based on a modelled probability of residents identifying themselves as Jewish. This was done using a range of demographic indicators selected by Survation in consultation with Jewish community leaders and academics. Respondents were asked to confirm whether they were Jewish before completing the survey, this includes both secular and non-practicing Jews. Only those who identified themselves as Jewish were asked to complete the survey.’  

‘DATA WEIGHTING: Data were weighted to the profile of all Jewish adults aged 18+ in the UK … by age and sex … Targets for the weighted data were derived from Office of National Statistics 2011 Census data.’ 

The Jewish Chronicle had originally planned to publicize this panel of adult UK Jews towards the end of January 2015 but rushed it forward in the light of recent events in France, and commissioned its first poll, with 555 respondents contacted by telephone on 12-14 January 2015. Topline results for the four questions (excluding don’t knows) are shown below, but data tables (with breaks by gender, age, and region) have also been posted at: 

  • Thinking about personal safety, how safe or unsafe do you feel as a Jewish person in Britain? – very safe 17%, quite safe 58%, quite unsafe 19%, very unsafe 3%
  • Do you feel life in general is getting better or worse for Jewish people in Britain, or is it about the same? – better 9%, about the same 45%, slightly worse 34%, much worse 9%
  • Have last week’s events in Paris made you more concerned about your safety in Britain or have they made no difference? – much more concerned 32%, slightly more concerned 41%, made no difference 27%
  • Have last week’s events in Paris made you consider leaving Britain? – yes 11% (16% among under-35s), no 88%  

An article in The Jewish Chronicle about the survey is at: 

Anti-Semitism (3)

Further evidence that hard-core prejudice against Jews in Britain may not exceed 10% of the population came in a second YouGov poll for The Sunday Times on 15-16 January 2015, among 1,647 adults. Data tables are at:

The survey revealed that, although 13% considered that, as regards other people, there was more prejudice against Jews than ten years ago (compared with 61% saying the level of prejudice was unchanged or lessened), the overwhelming majority of the public had a favourable personal view of Jews, with only a small minority (disproportionately located among UKIP voters) unfavourable. In particular: 

  • 10% disputed that British Jews are well integrated into British society, against 71% thinking they are and 18% uncertain
  • 8% denied that British Jews make a positive contribution to British society, with 73% believing that they do and 20% expressing no view
  • 7% admitted to having a negative opinion of Jewish people in Britain, 77% being positive, and 17% undecided 

Islamophobia (1)

The fall-out from the recent Islamist outrages in France has also negatively impacted Muslims in Britain, and matters are not helped by the fact that the population at large harbours an exaggerated notion as to how many Muslims there actually are in the country. According to the 2011 census, the proportion is just under 5%, yet only 9% of 1,782 adults interviewed by YouGov online on 12-13 January 2015 knew this, with the mean guess being 17%, more than three times the reality. Moreover, 26% of this national cross-section (and 54% of UKIP voters) also felt that ordinary Muslims needed to apologize when people claiming to be acting on behalf of Islam committed terrorist acts, with 63% considering that ordinary Muslims had nothing to apologize for, and 11% undecided. Data tables were published on 14 January 2015 at:

Islamophobia (2)

YouGov’s poll for The Sunday Times on 15-16 January 2015, published on 18 January, also probed Islamophobic attitudes, as well as reactions to the latest edition of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, whose front page showed another cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. The majority (53% overall, 68% of UKIP voters) agreed that this had been the right thing for the newspaper to do, and a plurality of the whole sample (43%) and majority of men, Liberal Democrats, and UKIP supporters still took this line even though it would make further terrorist attacks more likely. On British Muslims, there were some sharp divisions of opinion: 

  • 58% (and 84% of UKIP voters) contended that most British Muslim leaders could be doing a lot more to combat radicalization and terrorism, against 27% accepting they were doing all they reasonably could
  • 46% thought that all, most, or a majority of British Muslims shared British values and the identical proportion that only a minority, hardly any, or no British Muslims did so, peaking at 73% of UKIP voters
  • 42% believed that British Muslims were well integrated into British society but 50% said that they were not, including 79% of UKIP voters and 59% of over-60s
  • 41% assessed that British Muslims were usually friendly to non-Muslim Britons but 20% judged them usually unfriendly, with a high of 39% among UKIP supporters
  • 33% agreed with the suggestion of UKIP leader Nigel Farage that ghettoes had sprung up in Britain where Sharia law prevailed and from which the police and other legal authorities had withdrawn, a view shared by 75% of Farage’s own backers, with 41% denying the statement (63% of 18-24s)


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Je suis Charlie and Other News


Last week’s news was dominated by a series of Islamist outrages in France, in which seventeen innocent people died, three police officers, four shoppers at a kosher supermarket, and ten journalists working for the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which in 2011 and 2012 had controversially published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The attack on Charlie Hebdo prompted an international campaign in defence of freedom of speech under the banner ‘Je suis Charlie’.  

Unsurprisingly, these Paris shootings were the most noticed news story of last week, according to an online poll of 2,047 Britons aged 18 and over by Populus on 7-8 January 2015. The then still unfolding events in France topped the list with 42%, far ahead of the AirAsia plane crash (9%) and the crisis in NHS hospitals (6%), which were in second and third places respectively. In another online poll, by YouGov on 8-9 January 2015 (explored in the next two items, below), only 4% of the 1,684 respondents were unaware of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, with 72% closely following the story. The implications of this new spike in radical Islamism will doubtless be the subject of further surveys in the days and weeks ahead. 

Perceptions of Islam

The toll which Islamist terrorism takes on public perceptions of Islam was exemplified in an internally commissioned module of the YouGov poll taken in the immediate aftermath of the murders at Charlie Hebdo’s offices, on 8 and 9 January 2015. Three-fifths (61%) of the sample said that they entertained a wholly or mainly negative view of Islam, the range by demographic sub-groups being from 48% (Liberal Democrat voters) to 77% (in the case of UKIP supporters). The national figure was double the proportion holding a wholly or mainly negative view of Christianity (31%). Merely 2% regarded Islam completely positively (presumably mostly if not entirely Muslims), with 23% voicing criticisms alongside a generally positive view, and 15% unable to make their minds up. Moreover, the majority (57%) said they would feel comfortable expressing criticisms of Islam to people they knew, against 25% who would feel uncomfortable, worried, or scared about doing so (two and a half times the number saying the same about criticizing Christianity). A plurality (34%) of the whole sample and a majority (51%) of UKIP voters thought the media were more willing to criticize Christianity than Islam, with 15% saying the opposite. Data tables can be accessed via a link on a blog about the survey, posted on 9 January at:

Freedom of speech

A second module in the same YouGov poll, undertaken for the Sunday Times, demonstrated majority support for the media’s right to publish content which could upset some religious believers, with a minority expressing reservations. On the original publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in Charlie Hebdo, 69% deemed it acceptable and 14% unacceptable, while 63% defended other newspapers which had chosen to reprint the cartoons. More generally, 71% agreed that the media have an obligation to show controversial items which are newsworthy even if they might offend the religious views of some people, with 11% prioritizing the avoidance of causing offence and 18% undecided. Three-fifths or more also endorsed publication in newspapers or magazines of certain specific controversial religious content, as summarized below. Data tables are at: 

% across



Articles or drawings criticizing and questioning the beliefs and practices of any religion



Drawings, pictures, or cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed



Articles or drawings mocking and ridiculing the beliefs and practices of any religion



Articles or drawings deliberately mocking and ridiculing religious figures like Jesus or the Prophet Mohammed



Trust in religious professionals (1)

The reputation of clergy/priests for telling the truth has improved slightly during the past couple of years, according to the results of the latest Ipsos MORI veracity index, which was published on 5 January 2015 (and for which 1,116 Britons aged 15 and over were interviewed by telephone between 5 and 19 December 2014). Clergy/priests now rank fifth among eighteen groups of professionals in terms of the public’s trust in them to tell the truth, securing a confidence vote of 71% against 24% who mistrust their veracity (albeit rising to 30% with the under-35s). However, this only restores the standing of clergy/priests to 2009 levels, and they are still 14 points below the trust figure for 1983, the first year of the index. Doctors remain the group most trusted to tell the truth (by 90% of the public) and politicians generally the least (by 16%). Full computer tables for the 2014 survey will be found at:

Trend data back to 1983 are at:

Trust in religious professionals (2)

Clergy may still be trusted to tell the truth, but religious leaders are not trusted across the board, according to the newly-released British results of the WIN/Gallup International End of Year 2014 poll, the fieldwork for which was undertaken by ORB International between 19 and 28 November 2014 among an online sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and over (the survey was also carried out in 64 other countries). Indeed, 53% of Britons claimed not to trust religious leaders, who ranked just seventh out of ten occupations in terms of the degree of trust which they commanded, 23%, only slightly ahead of the traditional trinity of professional ‘villains’ – bankers, journalists, and politicians. The full scores are as follows: 

% across



Don’t know

Healthcare workers




















Business people




Religious leaders
















The poll also included a couple of other questions measuring the saliency of religion in respondents’ lives. In the first, asked which of five identities was most important to them, only 7% chose religion, against 35% nationality and 25% locality. In answer to the second question, and irrespective of attendance at religious services, 30% described themselves as a religious person, peaking at 45% of over-65s, with 53% declaring they were not religious and an additional 13% they were convinced atheists. These figures demonstrate a marked secularizing shift since the question was first asked by Gallup in Britain, in March 1981, when 58% identified as a religious person, 36% as not religious, and 4% as a convinced atheist. The British WIN/Gallup International 2014 data tables are at:

Opinium on religion

Self-assessed religiosity was also one of the questions posed in a survey released by Opinium Research on 5 January 2015, for which 2,003 UK adults were interviewed online between 19 and 23 December 2014. Results were broadly comparable with those obtained by WIN/Gallup International, with 26% agreeing they were religious (10% strongly and 17% somewhat) and 52% disagreeing (17% somewhat and 35% strongly); the remaining 22% said they were neither religious nor irreligious. In light of these findings, it was unsurprising that 70% of the sample believed that it was not important to be a Christian in order for a country to be defined as a democracy, residents of Scotland particularly taking this position (82%). Data tables, which complement those for a sample of first-time voters (already reported by BRIN), are at:

School choice

The low score for religion in defining personal identity, reported by WIN/Gallup International, was matched by an identical vote of 7% for religious ethos as the most important factor in parental choice of a school or college for their children aged 5-18, even though respondents were allowed to select up to five options. This emerged on 9 January 2015 when ComRes released the results of a poll commissioned by NASUWT (the teachers’ union), for which 1,019 UK parents were interviewed online on 19-21 September 2014. The most influential factors determining parental choice were: a school’s location (67%), supportive staff (54%), curriculum (41%), inspection reports (39%), reputation for dealing with bullying or behaviour (38%), and buildings and facilities (36%). The relatively low value attached to religious ethos, which was the least important factor along with a smart school uniform, chimes in with some of Linda Woodhead’s YouGov research in 2013. She found that, while faith schools might be popular with parents, it is predominantly for non-religious reasons. The ComRes data tables are at:

Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s stunning Old Testament frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, completed in 1512, has been judged the greatest work of art ever made in an online poll of 1,642 Britons by YouGov on 21-22 December 2014, netting 25% of the vote (rising to 32% among UKIP supporters). This put him well ahead of Leonardo da Vinci, who occupied second and third places with, respectively, Mona Lisa (7%) and The Last Supper (5%). YouGov conducted its survey in two stages, first asking one set of panellists, with no prompting, ‘in your opinion, what is the greatest work of art ever made?’; and then posing the identical question to a second set, inviting them to choose from the top 15 responses volunteered by the first set. The story, incorporating a link to the full data table, is featured in a blog dated 4 January 2015 on YouGov’s website at:

Christian conferences

The majority of speakers at 22 of the largest Christian conferences and festivals in the UK continue to be men, although the proportion of women on the platform increased from 24% in 2013 to 34% in 2014. The most ‘male-heavy’ events were the Keswick Convention and the Big Church Day Out, both of which had only 14% female speakers in 2014 (with Keswick having none in 2013). The analysis was made by Natalie Collins for Project 3:28’s UK National Christian Conferences Male/Female Speaker Statistics Report, 2014, which was published on 6 January 2015 and can be downloaded from:

Missed opportunity (1)

The current issue of The Tablet (10 January 2015, p. 34) reports that there will be no 2015 print edition of the Catholic Directory of England and Wales. The title has been published on behalf of what is now the Bishops’ Conference ever since 1838 and, inter alia, has been the principal public domain source for Catholic statistics in England and Wales, albeit their quality has left much to be desired, as frequent critiques by Tony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre clearly demonstrate. Although the Bishops’ Conference will be launching a new online directory on 19 January, it will apparently not include any pastoral statistics, which will be the responsibility of the 22 individual dioceses. Hopefully, this decision will be rethought, and some new published collation of national Catholic data will emerge in due course.

Missed opportunity (2)

Modern overviews of religion in Wales are comparatively rare, so expectations were inevitably raised with the recent appearance of The Religious History of Wales: Religious Life and Practice in Wales from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day, edited by Richard Allen and David Ceri Jones with Trystan Hughes (Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 2014, vii + 281p., paperback, ISBN 978 1 86057 079 7). With a focus on ‘the religious multiplicity of Wales’, the volume comprises 21 chapters, 19 of them on particular faith traditions (there are also cross-cutting accounts of evangelicalism and ecumenism), written by 18 different authors (a mixture of academics and faith leaders). As with most such collaborative enterprises, the contributions vary somewhat in terms of length, approach, originality of research, and quality. But a clear weakness of pretty well the whole venture is the failure to engage with religious statistics in any meaningful and holistic way, and the lack of currency in those few data which are cited; thus, there are references to the results of the 2001 but not 2011 census of religion. This exemplifies other internal evidence which suggests that the book has been several years in the making and its publication delayed. BRIN readers will certainly regret the absence of a chapter or an appendix which pulls together the key historical and contemporary Welsh religious statistics.


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Twixtmas News


Hopefully, BRIN readers have had a good rest over Christmas. In case any of you ‘switched off’ from the religious statistical news during the festivities, here is a round-up of seven stories which made headlines between 24 and 29 December 2014. This will definitely be our last news post of 2014, but we will naturally be back in 2015. A Happy New Year to you all! 

Belief in the Christmas story

Although 65% of 2,087 adult Britons interviewed online by YouGov on 16-17 December 2014 believed that Jesus Christ really existed, and no more than 18% disbelieved, only minorities accepted four key elements in the nativity story (as summarized in the table, below). Not unexpectedly, the proportions believing in the biblical account of Christ’s birth were considerably higher among those who acknowledged His existence as an historical figure than those who rejected it (four-fifths or more of the latter dismissing each of the four components of the story). Belief was also greatest among women and the over-60s. There was most scepticism about the Virgin Birth, which even 63% of believers in Jesus either disbelieved or were unsure about. This is a feature which has distinguished polling on religious beliefs since the first scientific study by Mass-Observation in Hammersmith in 1944-45. The YouGov data tables were published on 24 December 2014 and can be accessed from a link embedded in a brief blog post on the Christmas story at: 

% across



Don’t know

Newborn Jesus laid in a manger




Wise men guided by a star brought Jesus gifts




Angel appeared to shepherds to announce birth of Jesus




Jesus was born to a virgin




Christmas Day working

An Office for National Statistics press release on 24 December 2014 revealed that 863,000 people, equivalent to 2.9% of the total UK workforce, worked on Christmas Day in 2012 (the last year for which data are currently available), ranging from 2.1% in London to 3.6% in the North-East. Clergy headed the list in terms of the proportion at work on Christmas Day (49%), followed by communication operators (28%), paramedics (25%), prison officers (25%), and farm workers (20%). However, measured in actual numbers at work on Christmas Day, clergy were only sixth in the league table, with 26,000 on duty, compared with 136,000 care workers and 120,000 nurses or nursing auxiliaries. Data derive from the Labour Force Survey. The press release (which incorporates a link to the full data in Excel format) is at:

Christmas carol ‘top of the pops’

As in previous years, Classic FM radio invited its listeners (not representative of the adult population, of course) to vote online for their favourite Christmas carol from 1 December 2014 onwards, ‘tens of thousands’ doing so. The results of the poll were officially announced in ‘The Nation’s Favourite Carols’, broadcast on Christmas Day, with the top five also listed in several newspapers on 22 December. For the first time since 2002, Silent Night was the most popular carol, displacing O Holy Night, which had headed the chart for 11 years in succession. The change may doubtless be attributed in large measure to the centenary of the Christmas truce in 1914, which was reportedly inaugurated by German troops singing Stille Nacht (the original German-language version) from their trenches. The top 10 carols are shown below, while the top 30 appear on Classic FM’s website at:

  1. Silent Night
  2. O Holy Night
  3. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  4. In the Bleak Midwinter (Holst version)
  5. O Come All Ye Faithful
  6. In the Bleak Midwinter (Harold Darke version)
  7. Once in Royal David’s City
  8. O Little Town of Bethlehem
  9. Away in a Manger
  10. Joy to the World

Alcohol and religion

An online poll by ComRes on 12-14 December 2014, commissioned by brewer AB InBev and published on 29 December, has revealed some modest differences in alcohol consumption among the various faith groups (some of which will be accounted for by demographic effects). As the table below shows, among the sample of 2,061 adults aged 18 and over, those professing no religion were more likely than average to drink alcohol and least likely to be giving it up or reducing their intake in January. Christians were just one point behind as alcohol drinkers, with non-Christians well below the norm for alcohol consumption, albeit they registered the largest proportion expecting to give it up or reduce their intake in January. Data tables are at: 


Ever drink alcohol

Expect to reduce/give up alcohol in January

All Britons









No religion



Obesity and religion

Did any BRIN readers notice headlines in the online media over Christmas such as ‘Holy Roast! Religious Brits More Likely to Be Overweight than Atheists’? The source of the story turns out to be an article in the online first edition of Journal of Religion and Health by Deborah Lycett: ‘The Association of Religious Affiliation and Body Mass Index (BMI): An Analysis from the Health Survey for England’. Examining data for 7,414 adults aged 16 and over interviewed (and measured) for the 2012 Health Survey for England, she discovered that religious affiliation was associated with an unadjusted 0.91 kilograms per square metre higher mean BMI, the association being strongest among professing Christians. Although some of the higher BMI was explained demographically, it was not accounted for by smoking status, alcohol consumption, or physical activity level. Even after all adjustments had been made on the linear regression models, affiliates of a religion still had an 0.58 kilograms per square metre higher mean BMI than the irreligious, with Protestants greater than Catholics. A significantly higher waist-to-hip ratio was also seen in Christian and Sikh men. The author observes that: ‘As the study reported here is cross-sectional, it cannot provide any suggestion of whether religion or higher BMI comes first and as such cannot be used to determine cause and effect, but it provides sufficient evidence for further exploration’. Options for accessing the article are outlined at:

First-time voters

It is only about four months to go now before the next UK general election (it is scheduled for 7 May 2015), and already the opinion polling machine is cranking up for it. It is expected to be a hard-fought contest, and the electoral choices of first-time voters (those currently aged 17-22, who were not old enough to vote in the 2010 election) are likely to be critical in determining the outcome. Opinium Research, in partnership with The Observer, polled 503 of these first-time voters online on 18-22 December 2014, with extensive data tables of results made available on 27 December at:

One thing is pretty clear from the survey: religious influences seem to hold little sway over this first-time voter generation and therefore, by implication, are unlikely to be a significant factor in affecting how they will cast their votes. Just 11% strongly agreed that they are religious, with a further 18% somewhat agreeing, while a majority (56%) disagreed (the remaining 14% being neutral). In a throwback to last year’s debate about whether Britain is or should be a Christian country, merely 10% identified being a Christian as an essential feature of a nation being considered as a democracy, the remaining 90% stating it was an unimportant characteristic. Shown a list of famous people, no more than 10% recalled the Archbishop of Canterbury (Justin Welby) discussing politics and current affairs, and under one-quarter of this minority actually agreed with what he said. As if to illustrate the point, first-time voters held socially liberal views on several of the issues on which the Churches have been seen by some as dragging their feet (by upholding ‘traditional’ morality), with, for example, 77% of first-time voters supportive of the legalization of same-sex marriage, and 78% finding nothing wrong in sex outside marriage.    

Moral leadership

Speaking of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he has not had the best of Christmases. First, he was struck down with pneumonia, having to ‘deliver’ his Christmas Day sermon online, and then he was given a relatively modest rating for moral leadership in a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, for which 2,109 Britons were interviewed online on 18-19 December 2014. Panellists were presented with a list of famous names and asked to choose three or four who provided the best moral leadership. Archbishop Welby was placed fourth, with 15%, after Her Majesty the Queen (34%), the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (30%), and Malala Yousafzai (the Nobel Peace Laureate, 19%). Prime Minister David Cameron came fifth (8%) and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, fifteenth (5%), the same as Labour leader Ed Miliband but behind actress Judi Dench and former footballer David Beckham, among others. Data tables are not yet online (hopefully, they will be in the New Year), but an article about the survey was published on the front page of the main section of the newspaper on 28 December 2014 (only available online to subscribers).


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Quantiphobia and Other News



Quantiphobia – the fear or suspicion of statistics – surfaces among religious leaders from time to time, and, of course, has some biblical foundation in David’s alleged sin in numbering the Israelites (2 Sam. 24:1-25, 1 Chron. 21:1-30). It is particularly likely to manifest itself during periods when religious performance indicators are perceived as unhealthy, such as during the Edwardian era in Britain, when, according to one noted historian (Keith Robbins), there was ‘a crisis of Christendom’. Thus, Charles Booth, the pioneering religious sociologist, concluded his multi-volume assessment of religious forces in London in 1902 with the verdict: ‘Spiritual influences do not lend themselves readily to statistical treatment … The subject is one in which figures may easily be pressed too far, and if trusted too much are likely to be more than usually dangerous.’ And the Protestant leadership in the capital was so paranoid about declining church attendance in 1913 that it frustrated an attempt by the Daily News and Leader to replicate a census of churchgoing first taken in 1902-03, reminding the newspaper that: ‘The influence of the Church is often in inverse proportion to its numerical strength, as in the early days, under the Roman Emperors.’ (I have written up the story of this long forgotten episode as an article for forthcoming publication). 

Notwithstanding some pockets of church growth, few informed observers would deny that most branches of organized Christianity in Britain today are facing another crisis, with downturns in key metrics of religious belonging, behaving, and believing, and with the social significance of religion declining in the non-institutional arena, too, in a quantitatively measurable way. Statistics of the Churches, therefore, rarely present a good news story from their perspective these days, causing occasional voices to be raised against their use. The latest example is to be found in an article by Edward Dowler (Vicar of Clay Hill in the Diocese of London) on ‘Lies, Damned Lies, and the Gathering of Data’ which is published in the Church Times of 19/26 December 2014, p. 12 (only available online to subscribers). In it the author advises us to ‘be wary of an overemphasis on statistics at the expense of faithfulness to the gospel’. He is especially critical of the ‘data-driven approach’ which has characterized the Church of England in recent years, exemplified (he writes, in somewhat garbled fashion) by ‘the British Religion in Numbers project associated with Professor Linda Woodhead, and her surveys on the part played by religion in public life …’ In reality, the piece is a bit of a rant by Dowler against ‘the prevailing managerialist delusion of contemporary Western society’ and ‘a clear connection between collecting data and wielding economic power’. 

Of course, statistics should never be used in complete isolation, and they must be understood and interpreted within the context of relevant and rigorous qualitative evidence, where it exists, as well as against the historical background. And we should be on our guard against ‘bad statistics’, gathered in methodologically inadequate ways and presented without due regard to their limitations. But a plea for recourse solely to qualitative data (or none at all) can often degenerate into a reliance on the anecdotal and a tendency to generalize from the atypical, with the consequent potential to mislead. What is worse, it may result in self-delusion on the part of religious leaders, and being in denial of reality. Caution and moderation in the use of statistics would be wise counsel, yet Dowler goes beyond that, which is why, in the last resort, we are unpersuaded by his arguments. Doubtless his retort to BRIN would be, in the misquoted words of one of the principal characters in the Profumo scandal (who died last week), ‘well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’      

Religion in the 2011 English and Welsh census

For some unexplained reason, the Office for National Statistics rereleased on 16 December 2014 Table QS210EW from the 2011 census of England and Wales, giving national totals for the six principal faith communities, as well as an analysis of the write-in answers for those who ticked the ‘other religion’ and ‘no religion’ boxes. The table will be found at:

Religion in colonial and Commonwealth censuses

Anthony Christopher explores ‘The “Religion” Question in British Colonial and Commonwealth Censuses, 1820s-2010s’ in Journal of Religious History, Vol. 38, No. 4, December 2014, pp. 579-96. The focus is on how investigation of religious affiliation in such censuses has developed, since being pioneered by the Australasian and North American colonies in the late 1820s, rather than on the presentation of results from them (which would have been difficult, given the diversity of approaches which are described). Nevertheless, drawing as it does on a range of primary and secondary sources, it is very useful to have all this information brought together in one place, seemingly for the first time, although its value would have been enhanced by inclusion of an appendix listing for each country or territory the dates for which religion data were collected. The article, which complements the author’s summary of the coverage of religion in the UK censuses (in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 65, No. 3, July 2014, pp. 601-19), can be accessed at:

News stories of 2014

For its end-of-year review, Opinium Research asked 2,001 members of its UK online panel on 9-12 December 2014 which of 30 events of 2014 they considered to be most memorable. Unsurprisingly, the Ebola outbreak (49%), the First World War poppy display at the Tower of London (44%), and the Scottish independence referendum (44%) occupied the top three spots. But Islamism had also made a big impression, with the rise of Islamic State in fourth place (41%) and the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram in eleventh (26%). The canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, by contrast, was relegated to twenty-seventh position, being deemed memorable by just 5% of all adults (equivalent to about half the Catholic population), albeit the proportion rose to 14% in London (with its concentration of immigrants). Data tables are at:


Asked to select their three most important personal values from a list of twelve, just 8% of 1,317 UK residents chose religion in the latest Eurobarometer (wave 82.3), undertaken by face-to-face interview by TNS UK between 8 and 17 November 2014. As the table below indicates, this was tenth in the UK’s value rankings, although not as bad as in the European Union (EU) as a whole (where religion came bottom of the list). Apart from Malta and the Republic of Cyprus (both on 17%), religion was not deemed an important personal value in most EU countries, falling to 2% in three instances. Even fewer (3% in both the UK and the EU) viewed religion as one of the three values best representing the EU, although 12% in the UK and 9% in the EU were willing to concede that religion helped create a feeling of community among EU citizens. These questions have been posed in previous Eurobarometers, with very similar results. Topline data for the latest wave are at:

Important personal values (%)



Respect for human life






Human rights






Individual freedom



Rule of law






Respect for other cultures









Solidarity for others






Christmas traditions

The Salvation Army’s UK Territory issued a series of five (one national and four regional) press releases between 4 and 8 December 2014, lamenting the disappearance of British Christmas traditions, both secular and religious, based on the evidence of a survey of the public which it had commissioned. Among the vanishing traditions was attendance at midnight Mass or the Christmas Eve church service, which just 7% reported plans to attend in 2014. Nativity plays and carolling were also investigated, apparently. The press releases did not present an especially coherent overview of the research and have attracted minimal media attention. BRIN’s efforts to obtain from the Salvation Army further details of the survey’s methodology and findings have gone unanswered thus far, but we will keep trying. The national press release is at:

Church Commissioners

The Church Commissioners are the eighth largest charitable donor in the world, and the second in the UK (after the Wellcome Trust, in second place globally), according to City AM’s World Charity Index 2014, published on 18 December 2014. In their last reported year the Commissioners made £208 million of charitable donations to support the Church of England. More information about the Index can be found at:


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Understanding Society, Wave 4

Wave 4 of ‘Understanding Society’, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, is now available to registered users of the UK Data Service.

Every year the study collects data on the social and economic characteristics of people living in 40,000 households across the country. In addition, the British Household Panel Survey, which began in 1991, has been integrated into the study. There is also a large booster sample of ethnic minorities. The data allow researchers to study social change over past decades and prospectively for decades to come.

The study is largely funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It is designed and managed by a group in the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex.  (To declare an interest, I am acting director of ISER as well as co-director of BRIN.)

The Wave 4 dataset is the product of interviews with nearly 70,000 adults and 9,000 children (age 10-15). It covers some new topics (for example on wellbeing, post-Olympic participation in sport, net income) and a number of areas of enquiry that have appeared previously. Respondents provided information about their religion in the first wave, and Wave 4 goes further.

The basic question on religious affiliation is posed using the filter plus follow-up wording: “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?” [If yes] “Which religion do you regard yourself as belonging to?” The breakdown for adults in Great Britain is:

No religion                                                                              50.4
Church of England/Anglican                                              24.1
Roman Catholic                                                                       8.5
Church of Scotland                                                                  2.1
Free Church or Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland    0.2
Episcopalian                                                                             0.1
Methodist                                                                                   1.8
Baptist                                                                                        0.7
Congregational/United Reform/URC                                 0.3
Other Christian                                                                         1.9
Christian (no denomination specified)                                3.8
Muslim/Islam                                                                            2.7
Hindu                                                                                          1.1
Jewish                                                                                         0.3
Sikh                                                                                             0.5
Buddhist                                                                                     0.4
Other                                                                                            1.1

On frequency of attendance at religious services or meetings, the distribution is:

Once a week or more often                     10.8
Less often but at least once a month      6.0
Less often but at least once a year         14.2
Never or practically never                       22.2
Only at weddings, funerals etc.              46.8

Respondents were also asked “How much difference would you say religious beliefs make to your life? Would you say they make …”

a great difference                15.2
some difference                   17.5
a little difference                 18.9
no difference                       48.5

Wave 4 contained a religious practice module, but it was used for the ethnic minority boost rather than the entire sample. Respondents were asked to say whether “My religious beliefs affect … what I eat / drink (such as alcohol) / wear / my decisions related to marriage and dating / what school I would send my children to / my decisions for charitable giving and helping others / my decisions related to investment and savings / the friends I choose / the sort of job I would do.”

As expected, Muslims are considerably more religious than the majority of the population. Nearly three quarters (72%) claim to pray every day, and more than three quarters (77%) say that religious beliefs make a great difference in their lives. For most, religion has a substantial effect on what they eat, drink, and so on. Only for a minority, though, does faith affect schooling or friendship decisions. And not all self-identified Muslims are devout: one in eight (12%) pray less than weekly.

This descriptive summary provides only a hint of the work to come. The longitudinal and household nature of the survey mean that scholars will be able to analyse change in the religious involvement of individual respondents, the way that religiosity is linked to family, and so on.


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