Just to clarify, part II refers to this being our second post on the 2008 BSA, rather than the survey having two parts. The excellent news is that the dataset has been published online this week, and it’s fair to say that it’s the largest and best survey of religion in Britain ever conducted. It’s available for download from the ESDS at: http://www.data-archive.ac.uk/findingData/snDescription.asp?sn=6390
This is an amazing resource for sociologists of religion. The survey includes three separate ‘modules’ (or sets of questions) on religion, which comprise about 100 questions on religious beliefs, behaviour and identity. Some questions were put in slightly different wording to one or other half of the set of survey respondents, hence rounding it to ‘about 100’.
The BSA usually asks people what their religious affiliation is and their frequency of church attendance. The three additional modules are:
- The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) Religion III Survey
- The NORFACE Research Consortium ‘ISSP Extension and Enhancement’ items
- Faith Matters UK: Replication of the US Faith Matters Survey.
1. The ISSP Module
The ISSP is a cross-national collaborative project to add questions to national social surveys, to allow researchers to compare findings across countries. It began in 1984 as a US-German-British-Australian collaboration; it has since grown rapidly so that by 2008 45 member countries took part. Each year recurrent questions are asked on respondents’ socio-demographic characterstics, and in addition there are modules of questions on particular issues, often repeated every decade or so, covering areas such as the role of government, sport and leisure, inequality, gender and the family, and so forth.
Religion I was conducted in 1991 and Religion II in 1998. Religion III was conducted in 2008, replicating many questions from the Religion I and Religion II surveys. The full 45-country dataset is scheduled for release later this year, when the data will be published at the ZACAT online archive. Together, the three surveys will constitute the best longitudinal, cross-national resource in existence on religion.
2. The NORFACE Extension
The main drawback of the ISSP is that it only surveys about 1,000 people in each country, which while fine for cross-national comparative purposes, makes it difficult to conduct detailed analysis of population subgroups within countries, or change over time.
Another problem is that the replication of questions from previous surveys, while important for measuring change, means that relatively little space is available to cover new issues. Survey questions are expensive and funding limited! But much has changed since 1991: there is greater religious diversity due to migration, increasing interest in the management of religious diversity, scientific advances such as embryonic stem cell research, and rapidly-changing family forms.
A consortium of researchers in Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and Northern Ireland accordingly proposed to extend the sample size in their countries to 2000, and to add 24 new questions to the survey. These enhancements allow deeper analysis of religion and society both within these five countries and through cross-national comparisons.
The investigators are:
David Voas, Institute for Social Change, University of Manchester, Great Britain (Principal Investigator)
Alison Park, National Centre for Social Research, Great Britain
Gillian Robinson, University of Ulster and ARK, Northern Ireland
Máire Nic Ghiolla Phádraig, Social Science Research Centre, UCD, Ireland
Ariana Need, School of Management and Governance, University of Twente, the Netherlands
Peter Lüchau, Institute of Philosophy, Education and the Study of Religions, University of Southern Denmark
The following are examples of the NORFACE additional questions:
- Some schools are for children of a particular religion. Which of the statements on this card comes closest to your views about these schools?
“No religious group should have its own schools”
“Some religious groups but not others should have their own schools”
“Any religious group should be able to have its own schools”.
- Some books or films offend people who have strong religious beliefs. Should books and films that attack religions be banned by law or should they be allowed?
- Some people say that being Christian is important for being truly British [or Catholic and Irish, or Christian and Danish or Dutch as appropriate – this question was not put in Northern Ireland]. Others say it is not important. How important do you think it is?
Other extension questions ask how religious the respondents’ parents were when they were children, and the importance of religion in their lives at present. This will allow future researchers to examine transmission of religiosity between generations. Others ask respondents their attitudes towards gay marriage and adoption, embryo cell research and euthanasia.
The data for Northern Ireland are also available here and the responses to the questions have also been tabulated here. So far as I’m aware, the datasets for other participant countries haven’t been published online yet. However, the investigators have begun analysing the data: a half-day symposium was held last week on 5 March at the UCD School of Sociology, reporting on the Irish and Northern Irish data. Paper titles are available here.
3. Faith Matters UK
The Faith Matters UK items replicate a major US survey held in 2006 and 2007. The Faith Matters survey was also replicated in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and again in Britain with an oversample of British Muslims. This was funded by the Templeton Foundation. The US survey – the birthchild of Robert Putnam (Harvard) and David Campbell (Notre Dame) – was arguably the biggest survey ever into religion in the US, and designed to investigate further the finding in Bowling Alone (2000) that religious organisations were a major source of social capital in the US. Putnam and Campbell’s findings are due to be published this autumn in American Grace.
The Faith Matters questions were originally run in the US and occasionally have a slightly American flavour – attitudes to ‘salvation’, for example – but overall have a strong focus on social relations and civic engagement which will make this part of the survey fascinating to sociologists and political scientists alike. Direct comparisons will be possible between the US (highly religious and diversely so, and polarised by ‘culture wars’), Britain (highly secular, with a very small but very religious Muslim minority), Ireland (until very recently very religious and homogenously so, but rapidly secularising and experiencing immigration), and Northern Ireland, where religious identity has been at the core of political identity, social separateness and conflict. More information is available here.
The ISSP, NORFACE and Faith Matters datasets should keep researchers busy for a very long time hence. Happy hunting!