Muslim Distinctiveness and Other News

Today’s round-up of eight religious statistical news stories leads on the first substantive output from an important and academic-led four-year-old sample survey of British Muslims.

Muslim distinctiveness

The distinctiveness of British Muslims is explored in a short but highly significant article by Valerie Lewis and Ridhi Kashyap, ‘Are Muslims a Distinctive Minority? An Empirical Analysis of Religiosity, Social Attitudes, and Islam’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 52, No. 3, September 2013, pp. 617-26. Data derive from face-to-face interviews by Ipsos MORI with a sample of 480 British Muslims between January and May 2009; and from face-to-face interviews by NatCen with samples of Britons of other religious persuasions (n = 2,457) and none (n = 1,903) from the contemporaneous British Social Attitudes Survey. Muslims were found to be more religious than other Britons in terms of beliefs, practices (public and private), and salience. They were also more socially conservative on a range of topics: gender roles in the home, divorce, premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage. In terms of premarital sex and homosexuality, an independent effect of Islam was documented; on other social issues Muslim attitudes tended to resemble those of other religious people. Indeed, more generally, multivariate analysis revealed that much of the difference on socio-moral opinions was due to socio-economic disadvantage and high religiosity, both factors which – Lewis and Kashyap argue – predict social conservatism among all Britons and not just Muslims. The distinctiveness of Muslims, therefore, may not be as great as it superficially seems. It should be noted that no weights were applied to the Muslim data, and that there are several caveats from the authors concerning the representative nature of the Muslim sample (including a high rate of non-response). For access options for this article, go to:

Civic core

Two-thirds of all charitable activity (charitable donations and volunteering) in this country is attributable to just 9% of its citizens (the ‘civic core’). This is according to a report published by the Charities Aid Foundation on 13 September 2013 and entitled Britain’s Civic Core: Who are the People Powering Britain’s Charities? A further 67% of individuals account for the remaining 34% of charitable activity (the so-called ‘middle ground’), while 24% of the population undertake little or no charitable activity (‘zero givers’). Members of the ‘civic core’ have the greatest interest (37%) in supporting religious organizations (including places of worship), with ‘zero givers’ showing the least (10%); among the ‘middle ground’ the proportion is 20%. This trend reflects the fact that the ‘civic core’ is disproportionately composed of women, the over-65s, and people from professional/managerial backgrounds – precisely those groups most inclined to be involved with organized religion. The data derive from an online survey of 2,027 Britons aged 18 and over conducted by ComRes on 31 July and 1 August 2013, and the report is available at:

Full data tables for the poll were released by ComRes on 16 September. Table 21 provides breaks for interest in religious organizations by gender, age, social grade, employment sector, region, ethnicity, and the monetary value of volunteering and charitable donations. Table 64 gives details about volunteering for religious organizations during the past year among the sub-group of respondents who have given practical help to a social cause. Table 89 records self-assigned ‘membership’ of religious groups (56% Christian, 8% non-Christian, 34% none). Unfortunately, religious affiliation is not used in this set of tables as a variable to analyse answers to all the other questions about charitable disposition and activity. The data tables are at:


The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales reported on 2 September 2013 that the number of confessions (Sacrament of Reconciliation) is rising at many of its cathedrals. Twenty-two cathedrals were contacted by telephone or email on 21 August, of which 20 replied. Overall, 65% (i.e. 13 cathedrals) noted an increase in confessions, mostly attributing it to a ‘papal effect’ (either the visit to Britain of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, the inauguration of Pope Francis I in 2013, or both), while the remaining 35% (7 cathedrals) said confessions were ‘steady’ or ‘normal’. Actual statistics of those confessing were not cited by the Church, and it is possible that they constitute a relatively small proportion of professing Catholics. The Church’s press release is at:

The story was picked up by all the UK’s Catholic newspapers and by the Church Times, including a particularly upbeat report and leader in the Catholic Herald. Responding to the latter, in a letter to the editor published in the Catholic Herald for 13 September 2013 (p. 13), Anthony Hofler of Wolverhampton was in little doubt from his own experience that confession is falling out of fashion among Catholics, except, relatively, at Christmas and Easter. Undaunted, the front page of the same edition of the Catholic Herald highlighted responses by 32 priests to a survey about a three-year-long initiative in the Diocese of Lancaster to boost the uptake of confessions, apparently also with encouraging results. Significantly, again, no hard data were cited in this report, and none currently appear on the websites of the diocese or the diocesan newspaper, Catholic Voice.

With regard to the ‘papal bounce’, as already noted by BRIN in our post of 28 January 2012, average weekly Mass attendance was actually lower after the papal visit in 2010 than before. And, in gearing up for its Home Mission Sunday (which took place on 15 September 2013), the Church itself conceded there are ‘four million baptised Catholics who rarely or never attend Mass’ in England and Wales.


Recent public divisions about fracking within the Church of England and other Christian groups are evidenced in new research briefly reported in the latest issue of Christian Research’s monthly ezine, Research Brief, which was emailed to subscribers on 6 September 2013:


‘Our Resonate August omnibus, completed by 1.520 Resonate panellists, revealed that two-thirds of practising Christians regard it as valid that the church should derive income from mineral rights on property it owns (marginally higher support amongst church leaders). More than 2 in 5 regular churchgoers felt that the church should be able to profit from shale gas reserves located under land it owns, 1 in 3 were uncertain and 1 in 4 objected (to some degree). Interestingly, men (significantly so) and Londoners agreed more strongly than others. The results see-sawed the other way, 1 in 3 opposed and 1 in 5 in favour, if the land was dwelt on.’

University students’ religion

On 27 April 2013 BRIN provided preliminary coverage of research into English university students and Christianity, undertaken by a team led by Mathew Guest of Durham University, with funding from the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme. A major aim of the project, which collected data via online questionnaires completed by 4,341 undergraduates in 2010-11 and via in-depth interviews, was to test empirically the widespread assumption that higher education is a force for secularization. Full details of the findings were published on 12 September 2013 in Mathew Guest, Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma and Rob Warner, Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith (Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN 9781780937847, paperback, £19.99 – also available in hardback and ebook editions). The volume was reviewed by Gerald Pillay in Times Higher Education on 12 September 2013. Guest has also contributed a substantial article about the research – entitled ‘What Really Happens at University?’ – to Church Times, 13 September 2013, pp. 27-8.

Scottish religious affiliation

The results from the religion question in the 2011 census of population for Scotland are still not available (they are expected to be included in release 2A of the census data on 26 September 2013). Meanwhile, we can note the religious affiliation question from the latest Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS), conducted by ScotCen Social Research among 1,229 residents of Scotland aged 18 and over between July and November 2012. The marginals on the UK Data Service Nesstar site show that a majority of Scots (52%) now regard themselves as belonging to no religion, compared with 40% when SSAS commenced in 1999. A further 22% regard themselves as Church of Scotland (35% in 1999), 11% as Catholics (15%), 12% as other Christians (10%), and 2% as non-Christians (1%). This ‘belonging’ form of question-wording is known to maximize the number of religious ‘nones’, and a similar formulation is used in the Scottish census (‘what religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’). Claimed attendance at religious services (other than rites of passage) in the 2012 SSAS was 19% at least monthly, including 12% weekly or more often. These figures are down on 1999 levels (27% and 17% respectively) but are probably still aspirational to a considerable degree. The latest Scottish church attendance census, conducted by Christian Research on 12 May 2002, revealed a weekly participation rate of 11%, with no deduction for ‘twicing’.

Churchgoing in the Presbytery of Dunfermline

As noted in the previous entry, there has been no Scottish church attendance census since 2002. Nor does the Church of Scotland – as the ‘national church’ – routinely collect attendance data (in the way that the Church of England has since 1968). So there is added interest to annual churchgoing counts organized in the Church of Scotland’s Presbytery of Dunfermline since 2009, the latest on 17 and 24 March 2013. Through the kindness of Allan Vint, summary data for the Presbytery’s 24 congregations have been made available to BRIN. Total attendance in 2013 was 2,493, 4% down on the 2012 total and 14% on 2009. Attendees comprised 34% men and 66% women; 9% children, 3% teenagers, and 88% adults (with an average adult age of 63, up by four years since 2009).

Baby names

Biblical forenames remain fashionable for Jewish boys, according to a list compiled by the Jewish Baby Directory website. Analysing around 1,000 birth announcements in the Jewish Chronicle, Samuel was found to be first equal in the list of boys’ names for the Jewish year September 2012 to September 2013, with Jacob and Joshua joint third, Joseph joint fifth, and Benjamin, Ethan, Nathan and Noah in joint eleventh position. The attraction of female biblical names was less strong, with Leah in fourth place, Rachel in ninth, and Rebecca in eleventh equal. Previously popular biblical names for girls, such as Sarah and Naomi, failed to make it to the top twenty. The rankings are at:


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