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:


British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

This entry was posted in church attendance, News from religious organisations, Official data, Religion and Politics, Religion and Social Capital, Religion in public debate, Religion in the Press, Religious Census, Survey news and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.