Religion, Identity, and Other Issues

Church of England and Britishness

Although only a tiny minority attends its services, and very many are critical of its stance on diversity issues, the majority of Britons (51%) still consider the Church of England to be important in defining Britishness, much the same as three years ago (52%), albeit it ranked only 19th of 25 factors. This is according to a new poll by YouGov for The Sunday Times, undertaken among an online sample of 2,036 adults on 10-11 April 2014 and published today. The proportion thinking the Church of England important in defining Britishness was especially high for women (60%), the over-60s (59%), and Conservative voters (57%). Not unexpectedly, it was at its lowest in Scotland (31%). Data tables can be found at:

The full list of factors considered important in defining Britishness follows (all figures being percentages):

William Shakespeare




Common law


House of Commons


Composed of three nations


Britain’s role in the world


Undivided by civil war since 17th century






Our weather


‘God Save the Queen’


Driving on the left


No identity cards


‘Land of Hope and Glory’


Double-decker buses


Red telephone boxes


Formerly had a great empire


Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo


Church of England




Quality of British restaurants


Motorway network


Stiff upper lip


Membership of European Union


Warm British beer


Respondents were also asked to identify from a list of 50 prominent British people the ten who best reflect Britain today. Just one religious leader was included on the list, John Sentamu (Archbishop of York), who collected 5% of the vote, less than the arch-atheist Richard Dawkins (8%). The table was headed by Her Majesty the Queen (on 63%).

Religion and identity

Religion is not an especially significant factor in defining personal identity, according to an Ipsos MORI poll for the BBC which was published on 7 April 2014, for which 2,517 UK adults aged 15 and over were interviewed face-to-face between 13 and 31 March. The question put to respondents was: ‘If you were introducing or describing yourself to somebody you hadn’t met before, apart from your friends and family, the job or work you do, and where you live, which three or four of these, if any, would you say are most important to your identity?’ A list of 17 options was offered.

‘My religion’ was selected by 10% of respondents, putting it in 11th place, a long way behind interests or leisure activities (44%), values and outlook (38%), and personal views and opinions (34%). Religion also scored less than other demographic characteristics such as age or generation (22%), nationality (20%), and gender (13%) but more than social class (7%), ethnicity (6%) or sexual orientation (2%). Religion was most likely to be chosen as a self-identifier by BMEs (24%), female over-55s (17%), and over-65s generally (15%). Full results are available in tables 22-25 at:

Multiple religious identities

Survey questions on religious affiliation invariably assume that it is only possible for a person to have a single allegiance at any one time. This was true, for example, of the voluntary question on religion in the 2011 census, even though the question om national identity permitted more than one option to be ticked and that on ethnicity had a category for mixed/multiple ethnic groups. Such a unitary approach can be problematical for some people of South Asian origin, as a recently-published essay about a study of 300 households (n = 1,993 individuals) in the UK Nepali community in 2010 demonstrates: David Gellner and Sondra Hausner, ‘Multiple Versus Unitary Belonging: How Nepalis in Britain Deal with “Religion”’, in Social Identities Between the Sacred and the Secular, edited by Abby Day, Giselle Vincett, and Christopher Cotter (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 75-88. The work derives from the ‘Vernacular Religion: Varieties of Religiosity in the Nepali Diaspora’ project funded by the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme.

The Nepali respondents were first asked, unprompted, to describe their religion, and at this stage 9.4% elected for a dual faith identity. But, when prompted by a list of possibilities which included dual and triple affiliations, no less than 26.6% selected a multiple identity, the commonest combination being Hindu and Buddhist (15.5%), with 9.1% choosing Kirat and Hindu, and 2.0% Kirat and Buddhist. Buddhists were the group most likely to change between the unprompted and prompted phases, one-third reassigning themselves to a multiple identity, mostly Buddhist and Hindu (to which 28.6% subscribed). Fewer (one-fifth) of Hindus altered their affiliation, but that minority was redistributed in more complex ways, with 9.2% shifting to Hindu and Kirat, 7.4% to Hindu and Buddhist, and 3.8% to other religious positions (including non-religious). Kirats changed least of all (11.5%).

Religious census

On 11 April 2014 the UK Data Service announced a further release of 2011 census aggregate statistics through InFuse, a portal providing free and open access (with no requirement for registration or login) via an online tool that allows users to build queries and extract the data they need. InFuse incorporates census data collected and processed by the three respective national statistical agencies in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The latest release includes multivariate data for England and Wales down to the output area level of geography from the third, fourth and fifth releases of 2011 census aggregate statistics from the Office for National Statistics, as well as comparable univariate data across the UK down to the district level of geography from the key statistics and quick statistics for local authorities in the UK Part 1 release. Religion is one of the topics covered. For further information, consult the UK Data Service’s press release at:

Religion and abortion

Public opinion on abortion in Britain has progressively liberalized over the years, even within religious groups, but residual hostility to it, both in general and in particular circumstances, is still associated with religion. The precise nature of this relationship between religious factors and opposition to abortion in Britain is explored in a new article by Ben Clements: ‘Religion and the Sources of Public Opposition to Abortion in Britain: The Role of “Belonging”, “Behaving”, and “Believing”’, Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 2, April 2014, pp. 369-86. Data are drawn from the 2008 waves of the British Social Attitudes Survey (all four sub-samples) and the European Values Study, relate to adults aged 18 and over, and explore support for abortion for both elective and traumatic reasons. Breaks by religious affiliation are provided for each question asked about abortion (tables 1 and 2), but the bulk of the article focuses on multivariate analysis, using binary logistic regression techniques, to assess the relative influence of ‘belonging’ (religious affiliation), ‘behaving’ (attendance at religious services and salience of religion), and ‘believing’ (religious beliefs) dimensions of religion (tables 3, 4, and 5). ‘The main finding is that opposition to abortion is not solely based on differences in faith or denominational affiliation but that greater religious involvement or commitment, as measured by attendance at services and personal salience, and more traditionalist beliefs underpin opposition. These findings generally hold across surveys, different estimation techniques and different specifications of the dependent variable.’ Article access options are explained at:

Religion and happiness

Did you celebrate United Nations International Day of Happiness on 20 March 2014? One group which certainly did was Action for Happiness, an international movement dedicated to creating a happier society. Founded in 2011 and part of the Young Foundation, it marked the day by commissioning YouGov to conduct an online survey of 2,391 UK adults on 10-11 March 2014. The second of the three questions asked respondents to identify the factors most important for their own happiness and wellbeing. They could choose three from a list of nine options. Their religious/spiritual life came in seventh position with 8%, just ahead of appearance and possessions, which scored 4% each. Ranked a resounding first were relationships with partner/family (80%), followed by health (71%), money and financial situation (42%), friends and community (35%), place/area of residence (21%), and work (15%). The Action for Happiness press release, dated 19 March 2014 and giving only these topline results, is at:

Religious education teachers

There were 15,400 teachers of religious education (and philosophy) in publicly-funded secondary schools in England in November 2013, according to the Department for Education’s latest annual workforce census, which was published on 10 April 2014. This number represented 6.6% of all teachers, although the hours for which they actually taught religious education (123,000) was only 3.3% of all teaching hours, suggesting that most taught other subjects, also. Fewer than half (46.8%) had a relevant post-A Level qualification in the subject, which was one of the smallest proportions of any discipline. Only ICT (44.9%), foreign languages except for French, German and Spanish (38.8%), media studies (22.6%), engineering (18.6%), and citizenship (7.4%) had lower figures. For further information, see tables 11-13 and 15 at:

Religious newspapers

Further to our coverage of the Jewish and Muslim press in our post of 6 April 2014, BRIN has checked to see which other religious weeklies are registered with the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). Unfortunately, only the Roman Catholic publication The Tablet appears to be. It had an average weekly circulation of 20,471 copies throughout 2013, of which 70% were distributed in the UK and the Republic of Ireland and 30% in other countries, with 96% in print and 4% in digital format. For the rest, The Universe and the Catholic Times were once registered with ABC but not since 2003. All the other religious weeklies which BRIN can think of, such as the Church Times and Catholic Herald, do not appear in the ABC database. The most recent tabulation of circulation data for all religious newspapers and periodicals would appear to be the UK Christian Resources Handbook, 2009/2010 (Bible Society, 2009), p. 223, but circulation will have dropped for many titles since then and some have disappeared completely as print editions (such as the Baptist Times).

Bibliometrics and religion

BRIN readers interested in the comparative quantitative analysis of published scholarship (bibliometrics) may like to know of an article in the current issue of Religion (Vol. 44, No. 2, April 2014, pp. 193-219): Steven Engler, ‘Bibliometrics and the Study of Religion/s’. Although the author contends that bibliometric measures are inherently biased against work in the study of religion/s, and the humanities and social sciences more generally, he does advance ‘a case for the limited value of bibliometrics in making quantitative comparisons within and across clearly delimited disciplinary contexts’. In particular, he presents a range of statistical data about the content of academic journals in religion, including in table 1 an analysis of the proportion of corresponding authors from the UK and other countries contributing to fifteen leading journals between 1996 and 2013. The UK figure is at its highest, 51%, in the case of Journal of Contemporary Religion, with a mean of 10% for all the titles. The article is currently available on an open access basis at:

40 years ago this month …

The leadership of organized religion already commanded less public confidence than did most other institutions and professions, according to an Opinion Research Centre poll for The Times which was undertaken face-to-face on 13-19 April 1974 and published in that newspaper on 30 April 1974. The proportion of electors expressing a great deal of confidence in people ‘running’ religion was only 22%, ranking it 12th out of 18 institutions, well behind the police (68%) and medicine (62%) in the top two spots, and 4% down on the year before. The best-known individual British religious leaders of that time would have been Michael Ramsey (Archbishop of Canterbury) and Cardinal John Heenan (Archbishop of Westminster).


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