Gender and Religion and Other News

Today BRIN features the third instalment of findings from the YouGov poll commissioned in connection with the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates, plus the usual miscellany of other British religious statistical news.

Gender and religion

There is little public sympathy for gender segregation and discrimination in organized religion, according to the latest batch of findings from the YouGov poll of 25-30 January 2013 commissioned by Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University to provide background for the 2013 series of Westminster Faith Debates. Online interviews were undertaken with 4,437 adult Britons. An innovative set of questions about the gender aspects of religion was posed, summarized in the press release to be found at:

The full data tables, incorporating numerous cross-breaks, have also been uploaded by YouGov at:

Hardly anybody (relatively) thinks it acceptable for the major religions to differentiate between men and women in various practical ways. Thus, only 4% find it appropriate that the sexes should be separated in public worship and other religious contexts; 12% that religions should strongly encourage men and women to dress differently; 11% that they should offer men and women different teachings about how to lead a good life; and 5% that they should insist on the sexes being educated separately.

Unsurprisingly, the most religious, those who currently engage in some form of religious activity, are generally more well-disposed to these forms of differentiation; even so, the majority still say that they are inappropriate. Of the various denominations and faiths, Muslims are a notable exception, with as many as 54% supporting different dress for the sexes, 50% gender segregation in religious contexts, and 44% separate education. 

A good many people (43%) think that major religions would be better off if more women held senior leadership positions. Just 5% say that religions would be worse off, with 52% neutral or undecided. A somewhat larger proportion (49%, rising to 55% of females) believe that more women should lead major religions in Britain, with a mere 6% against, and 32% contending that it is a matter for the religions to determine. Yet more (74%) are of the view that women are just as suited to religious leadership as men, and 3% that they are better suited (8% saying the contrary).

The Church of England (in the gender news recently because of the unresolved issue of women bishops) comes in for a fair amount of implied criticism in the poll. Only 10% of all adults approve of the way in which women are depicted in its teachings and traditions, with the figures not much better for nominal Anglicans (15%) and practising Anglicans (23%). No more than 8% approve of the Established Church’s current policies towards women (against 11% of nominal and 16% of practising Anglicans). Even considering the parish level, just 13% endorse the way in which women are treated (20% of nominal Anglicans, albeit a more respectable 47% of practising Anglicans).

The Roman Catholic Church comes off even worse on the same measures, with 6% of Britons approving of the way in which women are depicted in its teachings and traditions (rising to 23% of nominal Catholics and 32% of practising ones). The same number back its current policies towards women (22% of nominal and 31% of practising Catholics). At local parish level, just 7% support the way in which women are treated (28% of nominal and 38% of practising Catholics).

Summing up, Woodhead concludes: ‘These new findings show that the churches are seriously out of step not only with society but with their own members’. The same trend has emerged from the results released in connection with the two previous Westminster Faith Debates. It would seem that, in matters of religion and personal life, there is a real clash of sources of authority, between revelation, scripture, and religious teachings on the one hand and the standards, expectations, and behaviours of society (and perhaps the state) on the other.


The election of Pope Francis I on the evening of 13 March 2013 has partly overtaken the papal survey released by ComRes and Premier Media Group the day before, based on online interviews with 2,030 Britons aged 18 and over on 6 and 7 March, i.e. before the commencement of the papal conclave. Nevertheless, some of the findings remain topical. The full data tables can be found at:

According to the British public, by far and away the most important issue facing the new pope is child abuse in the Catholic Church, mentioned by 47%, followed by improving the Church’s global image (16%). Few support prioritizing the promotion of the Church’s teachings on same-sex marriage (3%), contraception (3%), euthanasia (1%), or abortion (1%). There is likewise limited interest in respecting diversity (5%), caring for the vulnerable (4%), celibacy of priests (4%), and women priests (3%). In a separate question, 80% agreed that it is part of the new pope’s role to try and enhance the Church’s reputation.

As for the conclave itself, 50% of respondents considered that the process of appointing a new pope needs updating, while 56% thought that it should be more transparent. Although 58% favoured an upper age limit in papal elections (80 was quoted by ComRes, which is already the de facto position), fewer (43%) concurred that popes should have to retire at 85 (with 28% disagreeing). Most (69%) wanted the pope to be free to retire whenever he wished, whereas death in office has been the papal tradition. There was no great enthusiasm for a pope being appointed from outside Europe (18%), 53% having no opinion on the matter; from this perspective, there is a certain irony that Francis I is an Argentinian.  

Anti-Muslim incidents

On 10 March 2013 the Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) campaign published preliminary statistics of anti-Muslim hate incidents in the UK which have been reported to it during its first year of operation, with a fuller analysis to follow in July. Cases logged thus far total 632, 74% of which occurred on social media sites. A majority of victims (58%) were women, and the overwhelming majority of perpetrators (75%) men, mostly in their twenties. MAMA claims to have identified 54% of the perpetrators as supporters of the British National Party or English Defence League. More details at:

European values

A second edition of the Atlas of European Values, which first appeared in 2005, has recently been published. It incorporates results from the latest (2008) wave of the European Values Study, the fieldwork for which was actually conducted in Great Britain in 2009-10. Maps, charts, and some commentary (but no data tables) present the main findings thematically. There is a chapter on religion (pp. 54-72) which covers the full range of religious affiliation, practice, belief, and attitudes. Details of the book are: Loek Halman, Inge Sieben, and Marga van Zundert, Atlas of European Values: Trends and Traditions at the Turn of the Century (Leiden: Brill, 2012, xi + 141p., €139 hardback, €69 paperback).

Hymns and mental health

Feeling down or depressed? Forget the G&T, for a good hymn could be your pick-me-up, especially if you sing it, and particularly if you are a woman and/or consider yourself highly religious. For hymns can ‘raise your spirits and make you feel better’, according to a survey of ‘what hymns mean to you’, undertaken by members of the Research Group of the Christian Council on Ageing: Michael J. Lowis, Janet Eldred, Albert J. Jewell, and Michael I. Jackson, ‘Hymns and Mental Health: A Survey of Church Attendees’, Journal of Applied Arts & Health, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2012, pp. 149-61.

It is freely admitted by the authors that ‘this study is not without its shortcomings’, and certainly the sample may not be entirely representative, even of churchgoers, although it was mostly recruited through religious organizations. It comprises 394 adults, almost entirely from England, of whom 75% were female and 95% Protestants (disproportionately from the Free Churches). For abstract and article purchase option, go to:


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