Today’s digest of religious statistical news highlights a thought-provoking blog about ‘surveyitis’ by the Director of the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme, as well as headline findings from two actual surveys, among evangelicals and adult learners.
A bad case of surveyitis
In our last post, on 4 December, we briefly anticipated the publication of Professor Linda Woodhead’s blog inspired by the recent Theos report, Post-Religious Britain? The Faith of the Faithless. This blog was published on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website on 5 December under the heading ‘Surveying Religious Belief Needs Social Science Not Hard Science’. In it Professor Woodhead provides some salutary advice on the difficulties of measuring public opinion in relation to religion, which she characterizes as an ever-changing and often also a vague and contested area. She particularly counsels against ‘surveyitis’, ‘a disease that afflicts people who stay indoors too long poring over data’, and whose ‘symptoms include credulity about the accuracy of survey responses and morbid attachment to outdated questions’, the latter ‘working with zombie categories’. She detects ‘a new outbreak of surveyitis’ occasioned by an upsurge of interest in ‘nones’, people who do not identify with or practice religion. She emphasizes ‘doubt, subtlety, uncertainty and cognitive modesty’, in contrast to the idea of ‘a fantasy rational man with clear and distinct ideas’ who ‘lurks behind many survey designs’. The blog can be read at:
Evangelicals living the Christian life
Three-quarters (76%) of lay evangelicals have been Christians for more than twenty years, with an average of twenty-two years, ‘reflecting, perhaps, a lack of priority in evangelism’. Indeed, evangelism is only seen as the fourth most important (of six) key dimensions of church life. Stability is also suggested by the fact that two-fifths have never attended any other than their existing place of worship. Notwithstanding, the overwhelming majority of lay evangelicals consider that their faith has grown during the past year, the principal reasons for such growth being the fellowship and teaching (in services) of their church and house groups. The Bible is also deemed a significant influence, not just for faith development but in shaping attitudes to family and world; this is especially true of the over-40s. Prayer is widespread, 71% of these laity praying every day and a further 22% several times a week. However, they rather struggle with the concept of Christlikeness, which is typically expressed in terms of kindness, while 54% have a concern that ‘becoming more Christlike will increasingly alienate Christians from the culture around them’.
Source: Surveys undertaken by Brierley Consultancy in 2012 among 1,999 English evangelicals from three groups: a) churchgoers in seven congregations (three Anglican, one Baptist, three Independent); b) laity answering advertisements in Christian newspapers and magazines (and thus self-selecting); c) ministers from a range of denominations. The research was commissioned by the Langham Partnership (UK and Ireland), whose purpose is ‘to help churches grow in maturity or simple Christlikeness’, and which is running the ‘9-a-day: Becoming Like Jesus’ campaign in January-July 2013 ‘to encourage Christians in that transformative process’. A summary of the study (which BRIN found rather confusingly presented) appears in the 16-page pamphlet Living the Christian Life: Becoming Like Jesus (Tonbridge: ADBC Publishers, 2012). This can be obtained (for £2, inclusive of postage) from Brierley Consultancy, The Old Post Office, 1 Thorpe Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent, TN10 4PW, email email@example.com. Also available for purchase from the same source are detailed reports of the research among laity in the seven participating congregations (Vol. 1) and the ministers (Vol. 2), priced £7.50 each. Cheques should be made payable to Peter Brierley.
Religion and belief in adult learning
Just over one-half (53%) of adult learners at further education colleges in England consider themselves to have a religion, a further 10% say that they have some form of non-religious belief (agnosticism, atheism, humanism, and spiritualism being most often mentioned), while 37% have neither. Students with religion are disproportionately to be found among the over-25s, women and ethnic minorities. Of those reporting a religion, 57% are Christian and 27% Muslim, and 53% claim actively to practise their religion. Within the learning environment 56% are fully or partially open about their religion or belief, typically through the expression of their opinions or the wearing (by 22%) of some form of religious dress or symbol. Although religion and/or belief are not widely seen as barriers to learning opportunities, 11% of adult learners with religious beliefs report that they have experienced bullying or harassment due to their religion and 4% due to their beliefs. This compares with 11% of those with non-religious beliefs who have been victims of bullying or harassment on account of their beliefs and 5% of those without any religion or belief. Fewer than one-third of victims have notified somebody in the learning environment about their experience of bullying or harassment. One-quarter of all adult learners state that they have had positive learning outcomes as a result of their religion or belief, rising to 35% of those with a religion.
Source: Survey of a self-selecting sample of 1,139 adult learners aged 19 and over (with 49% aged 19-29) attending further education colleges in England who completed an online questionnaire between 16 February and 11 May 2012. Women (63%) were overrepresented by 6% relative to the adult learning sector as a whole. The study was undertaken by Babcock Research on behalf of the Skills Funding Agency, with take-up of the survey being promoted by further education providers. It is reported in Donna James, Clare Lambley and Kay Turner, Religion and Belief in Adult Learning: Learner Views (Coventry: Skills Funding Agency, 2012), which is freely available at: