Devil in the Detail

Eight religious statistical news stories feature in our latest miscellany, starting with a survey on belief in the Devil and ending with a public consultation on the future of the decennial population census in Britain, to which some BRIN readers may wish to respond. Our next post will concentrate on the results of the religion question in the last (2011) census of Scotland.


Belief in the existence of the Devil is three times as great in the United States (57%) as it is in Britain (18%), according to YouGov data published on 27 September 2013, 1,919 Britons having been interviewed online on 24-25 September and 1,000 Americans on 12-13 September. The current British figure is 16 points lower than when Gallup first posed a similar question in February 1957. Disbelievers now number 65% (compared with 42% a half-century earlier), with 17% undecided. Belief in the Devil does not vary hugely by most demographic variables, but it does by religion, being 7% for the non-religious, 25% for Christians, and 41% for non-Christians.

The national results are identical for belief that some people can be possessed by the Devil or another evil spirit: 18% yes (against 51% in the United States), 65% no, and 17% don’t know. This belief again peaks among non-Christians (37%) and is lowest for the non-religious (10%). Of these British believers in possession, 6% think that it occurs frequently, 12% occasionally, 33% rarely, and 6% never (the rest being uncertain). Among these believers in possession, 35% believe in the power of exorcism, with no major demographic fluctuations (even by religion), 18% do not, and 47% cannot make up their minds. YouGov’s blog post about the study, with links to full data tables, is at:

Religious discrimination and the young

Interviewed online by ComRes for BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat programme, 72% of 1,001 adults aged 18-24 considered that young people today are more tolerant than their parents of different ethnic groups, religions, and sexual orientations. They also identified religious discrimination as the second most widespread form of discrimination in Britain (39%), after racism (58%) and just ahead of homophobia (36%). No more than 5% denied that Islamophobia exists in the UK, and 60% accepted that Muslims have a negative image among the British public (compared with 11% to 17% for the five other world faith communities).

At the same time, significant numbers of these young adults themselves exhibited negativity towards either Islam or Muslims. The Islamic faith was described as traditional by 88%, set in its ways by 81%, disrespectful of women by 67%, unequal by 63%, separate by 61%, intolerant by 52%, and violent by 37%. The Muslim community was often not thought to share the same values as other people (44%), nor to be doing enough to combat extremism (39%). More than one-third (37%) had no regular interactions with Muslims in any context, 27% distrusted them (against 12% to 16% for members of the other faiths), and 28% thought the country would be better off with fewer Muslims (13% to 17% for the other faiths).

Fieldwork took place between 7 and 17 June 2013, but the extensive data tables (481 pages) were only released on 25 September. They may be found at:

Christians and wills

The Church Times for 20 September 2013 (p. 6) carried a brief report about a new study by Christian Research among its online panel (Resonate). Respondents numbered 1,917 churchgoers aged 45 and above and church leaders. Of those who had made a will, 45% said that they had left money to a charity, a much higher proportion than the norm. According to Remember a Charity, only 7% of all wills in the UK contain a charitable bequest. BRIN has so far failed to discover any more details about this survey. It is certainly not publicized on the current Christian Research website, which is sparse and, it is claimed, ‘soon’ to be replaced.

Anglican mindsets

To the same issue of the Church Times (20 September 2013, p. 16), Professor Linda Woodhead contributed an important article ‘A Gap is Growing within the Church’. This continues the analysis of two YouGov polls she commissioned for this year’s Westminster Faith Debates, on ethics and personal life (25-30 January, n = 4,437) and ethics and public life (5-13 June, n = 4,018). Her main thesis, underpinned by the survey data, is that, in both contexts, majority Anglican opinion is a ‘mirror image’ of the official teaching and policy of the Church of England. On personal morality most Anglicans espouse liberalism (in the sense that individuals should be allowed to decide for themselves how to lead their lives) and fairness, whereas the Church inclines to authoritarian-paternalism, and the maintenance of difference, altogether occupying the ‘conservative’ ground. In matters of public life, however, the roles are reversed, majority Anglican views veering towards the free market and ‘Little England’ ends of the spectrum, while the Church is more social welfarist-paternalist and cosmopolitan in outlook. ‘In  short’, Woodhead writes, ‘Anglicans have a good deal in common with the Government. They are in line with The Guardian on personal issues, but the Telegraph or even the Mail on wider social and economic matters.’ She also notes a values gap between Church and society, which widens as the age range is descended, perceived discrimination against women and gay people being significant factors in the disaffection of the young from the Church of England.

Religion and depression

The claim is often made, especially on the basis of research undertaken in the United States, that religion promotes psychological well-being, but the contrary appears to be the case in a multinational study reported in Psychological Medicine, Vol. 43, No. 10, October 2013, pp. 2109-20: ‘Spiritual and Religious Beliefs as Risk Factors for the Onset of Major Depression: An International Cohort Study’. Written by a team of ten academics (with Michael King of University College London as corresponding author), the data derive from 8,318 adults aged 18-75 attending general practices in seven countries (including 1,331 in the UK, 66% of whom were women) and followed up at six- and twelve-month intervals in 2003-04. The overall conclusion is that ‘holding a religious or spiritual life view, in contrast to a secular outlook, predisposed people to the onset of major depression and that such beliefs and practice did not act as a buffer to adverse life events’. This was particularly so in the UK, where the 27% of the sample claiming a spiritual understanding of life (without practising a religion) were almost three times as likely to experience an episode of depression than the secular group (32% of respondents). The odds ratios (adjusted and unadjusted) for the onset of major depression were also higher than the seculars for the 41% in the religious group, albeit the difference was not as marked as for the spiritual group. The explanation advanced is that ‘people predisposed to depression increase their search for existential meaning in religion and spirituality’. For access options to the article, go to:

Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s blockbuster thriller novel (2003) and film (2006), which has been frequently denounced as an attack on the Roman Catholic Church, was the most-read of nineteen works of modern fiction in a survey conducted by Opinium Research in which 2,001 UK adults were interviewed online between 19 and 22 July 2013. More than one-third (36%) of all adults claimed to have read it, including 42% of the over-55s. Data tables were released on 25 September 2013 and are at:

Scotland’s Jews

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities has published the final report on Being Jewish in Scotland, written by Fiona Frank, Ephraim Borowski, and Leah Granat. It derives from a mixed methods research project, which commenced in November 2011 with funding from the Community Safety Unit of the Scottish Government. It ultimately involved more than 300 Scottish Jews (about 5% of the total, albeit possibly not representative) who either attended 30 focus groups or (n = 155) participated in one-to-one interviews or completed a survey form. The report is essentially a qualitative document but drawing upon pre-existing statistical evidence. Although the experience of living in Scotland was largely found to be positive, some anti-Semitism was revealed, leading to a sense of insecurity. Four-fifths of respondents were also concerned about ‘increasingly acrimonious attacks on Israel’. Being Jewish in Scotland can be read at:

Beyond 2011

The Office for National Statistics issued a public consultation document on 23 September 2013 on The Census and Future Provision of Population Statistics in England and Wales. Two principal options for taking the census forward have been identified: a) a census once a decade, as in 2011, but primarily completed online; and b) a census repurposing existing government data with new compulsory annual surveys completed by a sample of households (cumulatively covering about half the population over a decade). Further details about these options, a SWOT analysis of them, the consultation questions, and how to respond (by 13 December 2013), together with links to two supplementary reports (one of which, Summary of the Uses of Census Information, contains sundry references to religion), can be found at:


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