End-of-Year Round-Up

This will be the final news post on BRIN for 2013. It features 11 sources which have come to hand over the Christmas period. This year we have been able to bring you 63 general posts containing 310 different news stories. We hope that they have been of interest and value. We will be back in 2014. Meanwhile, we wish you all a Happy New Year.

Christmas religion (1)

Britons appear less likely than Americans to uphold the religious dimension of Christmas, according to a poll by Angus Reid Global published on 23 December 2013, in which 998 Britons were interviewed online between 9 and 11 December. The proportion of Britons saying the religious aspect of Christmas was meaningful to them personally was not much more than half that of Americans (39% against 70%), with a similar transatlantic disparity between those planning to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day (40% versus 72%). One-quarter of Britons claimed they would attend a special Christmas service during December and one-fifth a regular religious service in the month, whereas two-fifths of Americans had the same plans in each case. Some 16% of Britons stated that they normally attended church monthly or more (compared with 18% of Canadians and 37% of Americans). Fewer Britons (48%) than Canadians (64%) or Americans (66%) reported they had been raised in a Christian household that attended church. In all three nations preferences for Christmas carols against Christmas songs were almost evenly balanced, albeit more Britons (39%) than Americans (35%) intended to sing carols. Overwhelmingly, Christmas was said to have become too commercialized (by 84% in Britain), but 14% of Britons also regarded it as too religious. Whatever the good intentions of respondents, it seems improbable that the anticipated levels of religious observance of Christmas were achieved in practice, certainly in Britain. Topline data from the poll can be found at:


Christmas religion (2)

Britons may have been taught a lot (30%) or a little (55%) about the Bible when at school, but their knowledge of the biblical accounts of the Christmas story is often shaky, according to a ComRes survey for the Christian Institute published on 21 December 2013, 2,055 adults aged 18 and over being interviewed online on 18-19 December. Some of their false assumptions about the biblical version of the nativity are perhaps understandable, such as the 84% who thought that three kings visited Jesus (the Gospels only referring to wise men from the East), or the 34% who recalled the Bible specifying He was born on 25 December (whereas the Gospels do not cite a specific date). However, other errors were more of the ‘exam howler’ variety, including 7% who were convinced that a Christmas tree is mentioned in the Bible and 4% that Father Christmas appears there. The biblical knowledge of the older age cohorts tended to be sounder than that of the younger, reflecting the fact that they were more likely to have been taught a lot about the Bible during their schooldays. The ComRes data tables are at:


and a Christian Institute press release at:


Christmas Day shopping

Christmas Day is fast becoming a retail extravaganza. Not only were record numbers of independent shops (16,000) open on Christmas Day this year, but online shopping also hit a new peak. Before the event, Barclaycard estimated that 31% of adults would shop online on Christmas Day, with anticipated purchases of £350 million, according to the Interactive Media in Retail Group. Afterwards, Experian reported that there had been 114 million visits to online shopping sites in the UK on Christmas Day, 6% more than in 2012, with over 1% of all online searches on Christmas Day including the words ‘sale’ or ‘sales’. Christmas Day shoppers almost certainly outnumbered Christmas churchgoers several times over. However, when the Mail on Sunday contacted 42 senior Church of England bishops for their reactions to this exponential rise in Christmas Day trading, and its compatibility with the spiritual values of Christmastide, only a handful felt able to comment. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London were among those keeping their heads down on the subject. The Mail on Sunday article can be read at:


Westminster Faith Debates: new analyses of data

Professor Linda Woodhead continues to draw upon the January and June 2013 YouGov polls conducted for the Westminster Faith Debates to provide fresh insights into religion in Britain. On 28 November 2013 she took advantage of the publication by the Church of England of the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality to highlight ‘a revolution in Anglican attitudes to homosexuality and same-sex marriage not reflected in official teaching’, based upon the opinions of 2,381 self-identifying Anglicans in the YouGov surveys. Her press release can be found at:


On 22 December 2013 Woodhead issued another press release headed ‘“No Religion” is the New Religion’, with 38% of adult Britons in the two YouGov polls professing no religion. The number varied greatly by age cohort, rising to 48% of the under-30s (among whom only 26% were Christians), but falling to 27% of over-60s (58% of whom were Christians). Indeed, the majority (55%) of those aged 18 or 19 had no religion, and no religion was the biggest single faith category for everybody under 50 years. Although a plurality (43%) of ‘nones’ were atheists, 40% were agnostics, and 16% believers in God. Only 13% of ‘nones’ were found to be hostile to religion in the Richard Dawkins sense, in that they had no religion, admitted to being atheist, and regarded the Church of England and Roman Catholic Churches as negative forces. These hostile ‘nones’ were disproportionately (62%) male. ‘Nones’ were more liberal than the rest of the population in their attitudes to personal morality, and this was enhanced by the age effect (young people also being more liberal). This press release is not yet available on the Westminster Faith Debates website but doubtless will be in the New Year. In the meantime, Woodhead has a blog on the same subject (dated 20 December 2013) at:


Westminster Faith Debates: the book

The book of the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates has been published by Darton, Longman and Todd recently: Religion and Personal Life, edited by Linda Woodhead with Norman Winter (ISBN 978-0-232-53018-6, £8.99 paperback, also available as an e-book). The debates are presented in condensed form (based on recordings and transcripts), together with additional research findings (from the special YouGov poll on ethical opinion in Britain commissioned in January 2013), media reactions, and teaching materials. New commentary and reflection is offered in each of the six debate chapters, which deal with: abortion and stem cell research; sexualization of society; religion and gender; the traditional family; same-sex marriage; and assisted dying. A seventh chapter is devoted to ‘why do God?’ with Delia Smith and Alastair Campbell in conversation.

Recent Eurobarometers

The European Commission’s Eurobarometer surveys continue to include occasional questions touching on religion, and a couple of recent reports exemplify this. Interviews are conducted face-to-face with representative samples of the adult population aged 15 and over in each member state of the European Union (EU). United Kingdom fieldwork is carried out by TNS UK.

Special Eurobarometer 401, published in November 2013, was on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), Science and Technology and included interviews with 1,306 UK citizens (between 27 April and 14 May 2013) as part of Eurobarometer 79.2. Inter alia, the report revealed that adults in the UK were fairly evenly split about whether ‘we depend too much on science and not enough on faith’, 36% agreeing (EU average 39%), 34% disagreeing (32%), and 30% undecided (29%). The pattern of results was broadly similar to Eurobarometer 73.1 in Spring 2010, albeit the dissentients in the UK were 5% fewer in 2013. Hardly anybody (2% in the UK, 1% in the EU) viewed representatives of the various religions as being best qualified to explain the impact of scientific and technological developments on society, by far the lowest score for the 12 groups investigated. Topline findings are presented on pp. T11-T13 and T23 at:


Standard Eurobarometer 80.1, undertaken in the UK on 2-17 November 2013 among 1,326 adults, enquired into which of 12 factors most created a feeling of community among EU citizens (a maximum of three responses being permitted). Relatively few (10% in the UK, 11% in the EU) singled out religion, which – in the UK’s case – was just one-third the level of the top-scoring unifying factors of sport and culture. Only citizens of Cyprus (27%) and Romania (24%) considered religion to be especially important in creating a sense of EU-wide identity. The question had previously been asked in Eurobarometer 79.3 six months before, when 8% in the UK had mentioned religion. Topline data are on pp. T176-T177 at:


Spatially concentrated Jews

The fourth report in the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s series on the 2011 UK population census was published on 19 December 2013. Written by David Graham, and entitled Thinning and Thickening: Geographical Change in the UK’s Jewish Population, 2001-2011, it demonstrates how that population is becoming increasingly concentrated in a small number of core geographical areas. The ten local authorities which experienced the largest absolute increases in Jews between 2001 and 2011 accounted for 36% of UK’s Jews in 2001 but 44% in 2011, whereas the ten places which registered the biggest absolute decreases over the decade saw their aggregate share of the UK Jewish population fall from 23% in 2001 to 18% in 2011. The former list comprised: Barnet, Hackney, Hertsmere, Salford, Haringey, Gateshead, Bury, St Albans, Nottingham, and Epping Forest. UK Jews overwhelmingly (97%) lived in England in 2011, with Scottish numbers contracting by 8% between the two censuses. Areas of ‘thickening’ population are said to be growing as a result of migration from areas of ‘thinning’ population and as a consequence of differing age profiles, resulting in high birth rates in the thickening cores and high death rates in places which are thinning. The report is available at:


Religious hate crimes

BRIN readers may have noticed media coverage in recent days of a partial survey of religious hate crimes undertaken by the Press Association on the basis of Freedom of Information requests sent to police authorities in England and Wales. However, the media seem to have overlooked an important interdepartmental Government report on the subject, prepared by the Home Office, Office for National Statistics, and Ministry of Justice, which was published on 17 December 2013: An Overview of Hate Crime in England and Wales. This brings together, for the first time, data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW, a continuous survey of adults aged 16 and over), police statistics of recorded crime, and certain other sources. According to the CSEW for 2011/12 and 2012/13, there are on average 70,000 incidents of religiously motivated hate crime each year, evenly divided between personal and household crimes. This represents a sharp increase on the 39,000 incidents for the previous four years, back to 2007/08. Overall, in 2011/12 and 2012/13, 0.1% of English and Welsh citizens were victims of a religiously motivated hate crime during the 12 months prior to interview, but the proportion increased sharply (to 1.5%) for Muslims. The CSEW reporting period spanned March 2010 to February 2013 so excluded the spike in Islamophobic incidents which followed the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in May 2013. Non-whites generally were more susceptible (0.7%) than whites to be victims of religious hate crimes. Religious hate crimes comprised 25% of all hate crimes estimated from the CSEW (55% for race) but only 4% of hate crimes recorded by the police (against 85% for race). In 2012/13 the police registered just 1,573 religious hate crimes (24% entailing violence against the person), suggesting, by comparison with the CSEW, that the vast majority go unreported. For extensive commentary and tables, go to:


Murder of Lee Rigby

The brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by two Islamist terrorists on 22 May 2013 was the equal top news story of 2013, according to a YouGov poll for The Sun on 17-18 December, for which 1,937 adult Britons were interviewed online. It was the choice of 17% of respondents, the same proportion as selected the death of Nelson Mandela and the investigations into sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile as being the biggest news story, with the birth of Prince George and the conflict in Syria being in fourth and fifth positions (13% and 10% respectively). The fact that the trial of Rigby’s murderers was in its final stages at the time of fieldwork, culminating in a guilty verdict from the jury on 19 December, may partly explain the overall salience of the story. The case was seen as especially important by UKIP supporters (28%) and the over-60s (22%). The data table is at:


Secularisation and Humanist History blog

Callum Brown, Professor of Late Modern European History at the University of Glasgow and an authority on secularization in British and international contexts, launched his Secularisation and Humanist History website on 16 December 2013. It ‘hosts discussion on the social and cultural history of humanism and allied secular positions’ and features blogs based on the author’s own research and on current news. It can be accessed at:


Faith in Research conference

The Church of England’s annual Faith in Research conference will take place in Birmingham on 4 June 2014. Preliminary information about the event has been published recently, together with a call for abstracts for papers (with abstracts to be submitted by 24 January). If you are interested, go to:



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