Grace Davie on Religion and Other News


Grace Davie on Religion in Britain

Twenty-one years ago, in 1994, Grace Davie published her seminal Religion in Britain since 1945, a sociological account which became a standard textbook for students of the sociology of religion and contemporary British history. It perhaps became best known for its sub-title of ‘believing without belonging’, encapsulating the persistence of the sacred alongside an ongoing decline in traditional forms of religious behaviour. A second edition of the book has just appeared: Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox (Wiley Blackwell, xv + 264pp., ISBN 9781405135962, £21.99, paperback). It has been so extensively revised and restructured as, in effect, to constitute an entirely new work. Its masterly survey of a wide and dynamic field, and the clarity and concision of the writing, are certain to ensure it a wide readership. 

Although the narrative still nominally starts in 1945, in practice the focus is on more recent decades, and coverage of the secondary historical literature is relatively sparse. Contemporary socio-religious scholarship and primary sources (including websites) are more heavily drawn upon, and this is especially true of research outputs from the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme (2007-13). Even so, given space constraints, the range of topics dealt with is necessarily selective, and some themes which had separate chapters in the first edition (such as age and gender or religious professionals) feature less prominently in the second. At the same time, more attention is devoted to religious issues in the public square. ‘Believing without belonging’ retains its pride of place, albeit in refined and developed form, together with the concept of vicarious religion (religious behaviour by proxy), which only emerged after the first edition of Religion in Britain was published. 

The second edition is informed throughout by statistics, but they are presented with a light touch. There are only eight figures and two tables, several of the former not being terribly clear when reproduced in black and white. This compares with one figure and eight tables in the first edition. The statistics derive from today’s standard sources, such as the census of population, sample surveys, and church data collected by Peter Brierley. In addition, good use has been made by Davie of the BRIN website, which ‘provides a huge amount of information about religion in Britain, and includes some helpful professional commentaries’.  

Religious freedom

In a further testimony to the declining significance of faith in contemporary Britain, religious freedom is regarded as an important ‘British value’ by just 13% of adults, being most prized by the over-65s (20%), Scots (17%), and Conservative voters (17%). Overall, freedom of speech (46%), respect for the rule of law (33%), a sense of humour (29%), politeness (27%), and tolerance of others (26%) are judged the most significant attributes. Data derive from a ComRes survey for Grassroots Conservatives, for which 2,017 Britons were interviewed online on 11-12 February 2015. Data tables were published on 10 March 2015 at:


Just under one-quarter (23%) of Britons think it very or somewhat likely that an apocalyptic disaster will strike the world during their lifetime, according to a YouGov poll conducted among an online sample of 1,745 on 8-9 March 2015. This is a smaller proportion than in the United States where 31% consider such a disaster to be very or somewhat likely. Although the publics in both countries identify nuclear war as the most probable single cause of the apocalypse, as many as 16% of Americans attribute it to Judgement Day, compared with just 3% of Britons (albeit 7% of Londoners and 6% of young people aged 18-24). YouGov’s blog on the survey, posted on 10 March and including links to both national results, can be read at:

Mums in ministry

On 5-9 March 2015, in the run-up to Mothering Sunday, Christian Research undertook an online survey (presumably via its Resonate panel) of 176 mothers in Britain who were engaged in full-time Christian ministry, 13% of them still with children of primary school age. The vast majority (82%) felt really or pretty satisfied in their ministerial role, although 22% had had cause fundamentally to question their calling. Three-quarters (73%) said that having children of their own had made them a better minister, the positive impact being most keenly felt in relation to pastoral work (72%) and community outreach (51%). However, 48% of mums in ministry reported that finding sufficient time to spend with their children was a major or significant challenge. Even more struggled to find time to pursue a hobby (60%), generally relax (58%), or be with their closest friends (57%). The full report will only be made available to Christian Research’s subscribers, but a press release about the study can be found at:


The latest research report from Theos, this time prepared in partnership with the Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies, was published on 11 March 2015: Ben Ryan, A Very Modern Ministry: Chaplaincy in the UK. It provides an interesting overview of contemporary chaplaincy, from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives, perceiving it as an area of religious growth and innovation which is complementary to the notion of the ‘gathered congregation’ and has now broadened out somewhat from its Christian roots. Terminological issues, about what constitutes a chaplain, are aired but not completely resolved. For example, are street pastors – who are now thought to number 11,000 trained volunteers – to be considered as chaplains or not? The quantitative evidence is reviewed in part 1 of the report, with chaplains being found in areas as diverse as higher education (1,000), prisons (1,000 with 7,000 volunteers), police (650), armed forces (500), hospitals (350 full-time and 3,000 part-time), and sport (300). A survey in Luton in October-November 2014 identified 169 chaplains working in eight primary and eight secondary fields, equivalent to one for every 1,200 residents, albeit only 20 of these personnel were salaried. The Luton chaplains were overwhelmingly Christian, even though Christianity was professed by a minority of the town’s population (47%), with 25% Muslim. The report can be read at:

Church social action

Jubilee+ published the results of the third biennial National Church and Social Action Survey on 7 March 2015: Geoff Knott, Investing More for the Common Good. ‘Several thousand’ places of worship of all denominations and all sizes across the UK were contacted, with replies being received from just 229 – a very small and potentially unrepresentative response. Scaled up nationally, factoring in church size, the report suggests that between 1.1 and 1.4 million volunteers participated in church-based social action in the UK in 2014, the number of volunteer hours having risen by 59% since the first survey in 2010. Direct church spending on social action grew by 37% over the same four years, to reach £393 million, but the total full economic cost to churches of their social initiatives is estimated at £3.5 billion per annum. The top three activities were food distribution (80%); parents and toddlers groups (70%); and school assemblies or religious education work (66%). The majority of churches (58%) planned to increase their social initiatives over the coming year. Volunteering by Christians in the community that is not initiated by a church is excluded from all these calculations. The report is at:

British Jews and Israel’s elections

Despite an otherwise generally close identification with Israel, large numbers of Britain’s Jews do not immerse themselves in the complex world of Israeli politics, even on the eve of elections to the Knesset (to be held on 17 March 2015). This is according to the latest in a series of polls conducted by Survation for the Jewish Chronicle, for which 1,000 self-identifying Jewish adults in Britain were interviewed by telephone between 4 and 9 March. Exactly 50% of respondents admitted not to follow Israeli politics much or at all, 46% did not know whom they would vote for in the elections (assuming they had a vote), and 41% could not say whether they preferred as next Israeli prime minister the Likud Party’s Benjamin Netanyahu (the incumbent prime minister) or the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog. Among those expressing an opinion, support for Netanyahu was more than double that for Herzog, whereas in Israel itself the latest polling shows the Zionist Union to be narrowly ahead of Likud. However, since only 31% of British Jews stated that they would vote for Netanyahu, the Jewish Chronicle’s claim (on the front page of its edition of 13 March 2015) that there was ‘huge backing’ for him among UK Jews seems inflated. Data tables were published on 11 March at:

Religion in the workplace and service delivery

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a major (226-page) report on religion and belief in the workplace and in service delivery in Britain on 12 March 2015: Martin Mitchell and Kelsey Beninger with Alice Donald and Erica Howard, Religion or Belief in the Workplace and Service Delivery: Findings from a Call for Evidence. Prepared by NatCen Social Research on behalf of the EHRC, it comprises an analysis of replies from 2,483 individuals and organizations to an online survey between 14 August and 31 October 2014. Respondents did not constitute a random sample but had been ‘invited to take part in order to ensure the widest possible range of views and experiences was gathered’. This is described as ‘a purposive and snowball approach to recruitment’. Although the report includes 25 tables and sundry other statistics, NatCen is at repeated pains to point out that ‘the study did not aim to measure the extent of perceived religious discrimination and unfair treatment because of religion or belief’. It is explained that the research was of an entirely qualitative nature and that any figures were tabulated for monitoring purposes only and cannot be generalized to the wider population. Predictably, some of the media coverage has failed to heed these important caveats. To judge by its press release, the principal conclusion drawn by the EHRC from the report concerns widespread public confusion and misunderstanding over the laws protecting freedom of religion or belief. The report can be found at:


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