Home Shrines

The existence of religious shrines in British domestic households is largely uncharted territory, certainly in any statistical sense, so it is good to be able to draw BRIN readers’ attention to some initial data on the topic from the current issue of Journal of Beliefs & Values (Vol. 31, No. 3, December 2010, pp. 353-7).

The research report, written by Phra Nicholas Thanissaro of the Warwick Religions and Education Research Unit, is entitled ‘Home Shrines in Britain and Associated Spiritual Values’. Such shrines can be anything from a raised cabinet or shelf housing religious artefacts to an entire room.

A question about the presence of a home shrine was included in a much wider survey of the religious attitudes and practices of a multi-faith sample of 369 pupils aged 13-15 attending three London schools.

237 were boys and 132 girls. 150 were whites and 209 of other ethnicities. 149 were Christians, 98 of other religions and 120 of no religion. Fieldwork was undertaken, by self-completion questionnaire, in January-February 2010.

11% of the whole sample reported having a home shrine. Indians were the ethnic group with most shrines (50%), followed by any other Asians (ie not Bangladeshi, Indian or Pakistani) on 46%, Chinese on 28% and Bangladeshis on 14%. Then came black Africans (9%), black Caribbeans and mixed race (8% each), with whites on 2%. No Asian Pakistani had a shrine at home.

By religion, Buddhists and Hindus topped the list, with 50% of their households having a shrine. For Jews the figure was 33%, for Sikhs 20%, for Christians 9%, and for Muslims 6%. 4% of those professing no religion had a shrine at home.

Answers to 91 five-point Likert scale attitude questions on religious education and values were correlated with the existence of a shrine at home. For 82 of these having a home shrine made no significant difference.

However, having a shrine was found to correlate significantly with eight of the remaining ‘spiritual’ attitudes, such as agreement with filial piety, the Eightfold Path, subjectivity of happiness, meditation, Sikh festivals, reincarnation and opening Gurdwaras to all.

Thanissaro concludes by recommending that teachers and social services should become more aware of the importance of shrines to many religious communities and recognise their potential as a spiritual asset and manifestation of religion outside places of worship.

Clearly, more research is needed in this area, on the basis of not merely a much larger sample, but one which includes adults (since decisions about whether to have a home shrine are presumably driven by parents rather than their children).

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