Religion in Scotland

Scotland’s Population, 2009, the 155th annual review of the Registrar General for Scotland, was published on 6 August. It can be purchased in print format (ISBN 978-1-874451-80-8, £7) or be downloaded from:

The review is accompanied by Vital Events Reference Tables, 2009, which is available on the internet at:

As usual, these annual publications contain an analysis of marriages in Scotland by mode of solemnization. In 2009, of 27,524 ceremonies 48% were religious and 52% civil. The religious figure was almost 1% higher than in 2008, but the general trend remains towards civil weddings, interrupted only in 1997-2002 when there was a small rise in religious services largely associated with an increase of ‘tourism’ marriages, especially carried out at Gretna. Back in 1946-50, civil ceremonies accounted for only 17% of the total in Scotland; they first became a majority in 2005. Full data since the Second World War are given in Table 7.6 of Vital Events Reference Tables, 2009.

Of the 13,285 religious ceremonies in 2009, 46% were conducted by the Church of Scotland, 13% by the Roman Catholic Church and 40% by other religions. Heading the list of these ‘other religions’ is the Humanist Society of Scotland, with 12% of all religious ceremonies (humanist celebrants have been authorized to conduct marriages in Scotland since 2005). The Pagan Network and the Spiritualists’ National Union also make an appearance, with 26 and 14 marriages respectively. So, a proportion of religious ceremonies are not really religious in the understood sense of the word. Neither are religious marriages necessarily conducted in places of worship. In fact, in 2009 only 54% were, hotels being the venue for about 2,000 religious weddings and castles and other historic buildings for 1,100.

These statistics, coupled with the forthcoming (16 September) visit to Edinburgh of Pope Benedict XVI, have prompted Adam Morris to write a summative assessment of the state of religion in Scotland. This appeared under the tile ‘Losing our Religion’ in the Edinburgh Evening News for 9 August. The article can be found (with sundry comments) at:

In it Morris claims that ‘Scots are turning their back on religion’, with just 53% identifying themselves as Christian. Besides the marriage statistics, he also cites falling congregations (with only 18% of Scots regular churchgoers and two-thirds not attending during the past year), the disappearance of Sunday schools and other church-based youth organizations, and the growing fashion for non-religious naming ceremonies in lieu of Christian baptism.

Morris quotes Peter Kearney, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Scotland, who says that society today is designed against faith, with churchgoers ‘increasingly seen as odd’. Kearney acknowledges that church numbers are down but highlights reduced participation in organizations in general, a point with which Morris agrees. ‘While all may not be alive and well across Christian churches in Scotland, the 600,000 who attend every Sunday is still more than the 100,000 who go to a professional football game and the 300,000 who attend the cinema.’

Clearly, the Edinburgh Evening News would not claim this to be an especially deep analysis of religion in Scotland. Those interested in learning more could try: Clive Field, ‘“The Haemorrhage of Faith”? Opinion Polls as Sources for Religious Practices, Beliefs and Attitudes in Scotland since the 1970s’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 16, 2001, pp. 157-75; Peter Brierley, Turning the Tide: The Challenge Ahead – Report of the 2002 Scottish Church Census, London: Christian Research, 2003; David Voas, ‘Religious Decline in Scotland: New Evidence on Timing and Spatial Patterns’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 45, 2006, pp. 107-18; and the various publications by Steve Bruce and Tony Glendinning arising from the religion module of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey ( However, caveat emptor – the statistics in all of these writings are now several years out of date.

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