Je suis Charlie and Other News


Last week’s news was dominated by a series of Islamist outrages in France, in which seventeen innocent people died, three police officers, four shoppers at a kosher supermarket, and ten journalists working for the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which in 2011 and 2012 had controversially published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The attack on Charlie Hebdo prompted an international campaign in defence of freedom of speech under the banner ‘Je suis Charlie’.  

Unsurprisingly, these Paris shootings were the most noticed news story of last week, according to an online poll of 2,047 Britons aged 18 and over by Populus on 7-8 January 2015. The then still unfolding events in France topped the list with 42%, far ahead of the AirAsia plane crash (9%) and the crisis in NHS hospitals (6%), which were in second and third places respectively. In another online poll, by YouGov on 8-9 January 2015 (explored in the next two items, below), only 4% of the 1,684 respondents were unaware of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, with 72% closely following the story. The implications of this new spike in radical Islamism will doubtless be the subject of further surveys in the days and weeks ahead. 

Perceptions of Islam

The toll which Islamist terrorism takes on public perceptions of Islam was exemplified in an internally commissioned module of the YouGov poll taken in the immediate aftermath of the murders at Charlie Hebdo’s offices, on 8 and 9 January 2015. Three-fifths (61%) of the sample said that they entertained a wholly or mainly negative view of Islam, the range by demographic sub-groups being from 48% (Liberal Democrat voters) to 77% (in the case of UKIP supporters). The national figure was double the proportion holding a wholly or mainly negative view of Christianity (31%). Merely 2% regarded Islam completely positively (presumably mostly if not entirely Muslims), with 23% voicing criticisms alongside a generally positive view, and 15% unable to make their minds up. Moreover, the majority (57%) said they would feel comfortable expressing criticisms of Islam to people they knew, against 25% who would feel uncomfortable, worried, or scared about doing so (two and a half times the number saying the same about criticizing Christianity). A plurality (34%) of the whole sample and a majority (51%) of UKIP voters thought the media were more willing to criticize Christianity than Islam, with 15% saying the opposite. Data tables can be accessed via a link on a blog about the survey, posted on 9 January at:

Freedom of speech

A second module in the same YouGov poll, undertaken for the Sunday Times, demonstrated majority support for the media’s right to publish content which could upset some religious believers, with a minority expressing reservations. On the original publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in Charlie Hebdo, 69% deemed it acceptable and 14% unacceptable, while 63% defended other newspapers which had chosen to reprint the cartoons. More generally, 71% agreed that the media have an obligation to show controversial items which are newsworthy even if they might offend the religious views of some people, with 11% prioritizing the avoidance of causing offence and 18% undecided. Three-fifths or more also endorsed publication in newspapers or magazines of certain specific controversial religious content, as summarized below. Data tables are at: 

% across



Articles or drawings criticizing and questioning the beliefs and practices of any religion



Drawings, pictures, or cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed



Articles or drawings mocking and ridiculing the beliefs and practices of any religion



Articles or drawings deliberately mocking and ridiculing religious figures like Jesus or the Prophet Mohammed



Trust in religious professionals (1)

The reputation of clergy/priests for telling the truth has improved slightly during the past couple of years, according to the results of the latest Ipsos MORI veracity index, which was published on 5 January 2015 (and for which 1,116 Britons aged 15 and over were interviewed by telephone between 5 and 19 December 2014). Clergy/priests now rank fifth among eighteen groups of professionals in terms of the public’s trust in them to tell the truth, securing a confidence vote of 71% against 24% who mistrust their veracity (albeit rising to 30% with the under-35s). However, this only restores the standing of clergy/priests to 2009 levels, and they are still 14 points below the trust figure for 1983, the first year of the index. Doctors remain the group most trusted to tell the truth (by 90% of the public) and politicians generally the least (by 16%). Full computer tables for the 2014 survey will be found at:

Trend data back to 1983 are at:

Trust in religious professionals (2)

Clergy may still be trusted to tell the truth, but religious leaders are not trusted across the board, according to the newly-released British results of the WIN/Gallup International End of Year 2014 poll, the fieldwork for which was undertaken by ORB International between 19 and 28 November 2014 among an online sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 and over (the survey was also carried out in 64 other countries). Indeed, 53% of Britons claimed not to trust religious leaders, who ranked just seventh out of ten occupations in terms of the degree of trust which they commanded, 23%, only slightly ahead of the traditional trinity of professional ‘villains’ – bankers, journalists, and politicians. The full scores are as follows: 

% across



Don’t know

Healthcare workers




















Business people




Religious leaders
















The poll also included a couple of other questions measuring the saliency of religion in respondents’ lives. In the first, asked which of five identities was most important to them, only 7% chose religion, against 35% nationality and 25% locality. In answer to the second question, and irrespective of attendance at religious services, 30% described themselves as a religious person, peaking at 45% of over-65s, with 53% declaring they were not religious and an additional 13% they were convinced atheists. These figures demonstrate a marked secularizing shift since the question was first asked by Gallup in Britain, in March 1981, when 58% identified as a religious person, 36% as not religious, and 4% as a convinced atheist. The British WIN/Gallup International 2014 data tables are at:

Opinium on religion

Self-assessed religiosity was also one of the questions posed in a survey released by Opinium Research on 5 January 2015, for which 2,003 UK adults were interviewed online between 19 and 23 December 2014. Results were broadly comparable with those obtained by WIN/Gallup International, with 26% agreeing they were religious (10% strongly and 17% somewhat) and 52% disagreeing (17% somewhat and 35% strongly); the remaining 22% said they were neither religious nor irreligious. In light of these findings, it was unsurprising that 70% of the sample believed that it was not important to be a Christian in order for a country to be defined as a democracy, residents of Scotland particularly taking this position (82%). Data tables, which complement those for a sample of first-time voters (already reported by BRIN), are at:

School choice

The low score for religion in defining personal identity, reported by WIN/Gallup International, was matched by an identical vote of 7% for religious ethos as the most important factor in parental choice of a school or college for their children aged 5-18, even though respondents were allowed to select up to five options. This emerged on 9 January 2015 when ComRes released the results of a poll commissioned by NASUWT (the teachers’ union), for which 1,019 UK parents were interviewed online on 19-21 September 2014. The most influential factors determining parental choice were: a school’s location (67%), supportive staff (54%), curriculum (41%), inspection reports (39%), reputation for dealing with bullying or behaviour (38%), and buildings and facilities (36%). The relatively low value attached to religious ethos, which was the least important factor along with a smart school uniform, chimes in with some of Linda Woodhead’s YouGov research in 2013. She found that, while faith schools might be popular with parents, it is predominantly for non-religious reasons. The ComRes data tables are at:

Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s stunning Old Testament frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, completed in 1512, has been judged the greatest work of art ever made in an online poll of 1,642 Britons by YouGov on 21-22 December 2014, netting 25% of the vote (rising to 32% among UKIP supporters). This put him well ahead of Leonardo da Vinci, who occupied second and third places with, respectively, Mona Lisa (7%) and The Last Supper (5%). YouGov conducted its survey in two stages, first asking one set of panellists, with no prompting, ‘in your opinion, what is the greatest work of art ever made?’; and then posing the identical question to a second set, inviting them to choose from the top 15 responses volunteered by the first set. The story, incorporating a link to the full data table, is featured in a blog dated 4 January 2015 on YouGov’s website at:

Christian conferences

The majority of speakers at 22 of the largest Christian conferences and festivals in the UK continue to be men, although the proportion of women on the platform increased from 24% in 2013 to 34% in 2014. The most ‘male-heavy’ events were the Keswick Convention and the Big Church Day Out, both of which had only 14% female speakers in 2014 (with Keswick having none in 2013). The analysis was made by Natalie Collins for Project 3:28’s UK National Christian Conferences Male/Female Speaker Statistics Report, 2014, which was published on 6 January 2015 and can be downloaded from:

Missed opportunity (1)

The current issue of The Tablet (10 January 2015, p. 34) reports that there will be no 2015 print edition of the Catholic Directory of England and Wales. The title has been published on behalf of what is now the Bishops’ Conference ever since 1838 and, inter alia, has been the principal public domain source for Catholic statistics in England and Wales, albeit their quality has left much to be desired, as frequent critiques by Tony Spencer of the Pastoral Research Centre clearly demonstrate. Although the Bishops’ Conference will be launching a new online directory on 19 January, it will apparently not include any pastoral statistics, which will be the responsibility of the 22 individual dioceses. Hopefully, this decision will be rethought, and some new published collation of national Catholic data will emerge in due course.

Missed opportunity (2)

Modern overviews of religion in Wales are comparatively rare, so expectations were inevitably raised with the recent appearance of The Religious History of Wales: Religious Life and Practice in Wales from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day, edited by Richard Allen and David Ceri Jones with Trystan Hughes (Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 2014, vii + 281p., paperback, ISBN 978 1 86057 079 7). With a focus on ‘the religious multiplicity of Wales’, the volume comprises 21 chapters, 19 of them on particular faith traditions (there are also cross-cutting accounts of evangelicalism and ecumenism), written by 18 different authors (a mixture of academics and faith leaders). As with most such collaborative enterprises, the contributions vary somewhat in terms of length, approach, originality of research, and quality. But a clear weakness of pretty well the whole venture is the failure to engage with religious statistics in any meaningful and holistic way, and the lack of currency in those few data which are cited; thus, there are references to the results of the 2001 but not 2011 census of religion. This exemplifies other internal evidence which suggests that the book has been several years in the making and its publication delayed. BRIN readers will certainly regret the absence of a chapter or an appendix which pulls together the key historical and contemporary Welsh religious statistics.


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