Religious Self-Identification and Other News


Religious self-identification

The current issue of Religion (Vol. 44, No. 3, 2014) is a special theme issue on ‘Making Sense of Surveys and Censuses: Issues in Religious Self-Identification’, guest-edited by Abby Day and Lois Lee. It contains a number of contributions which will be of interest to BRIN readers, and these are detailed below (there are also three other papers on exclusively non-British topics). All can be accessed (via institutional subscription or pay-per-view options) through the journal issue homepage at:

Abby Day and Lois Lee, ‘Making Sense of Surveys and Censuses: Issues in Religious Self-Identification’ (pp. 345-56) – This provides a general introduction to the theme issue and summarizes the individual chapters. It also draws upon Day’s own research into the religion question in the 2001 UK census of population and upon her involvement in discussions with the Office for National Statistics regarding the 2011 and 2021 censuses.

Clive Field, ‘Measuring Religious Affiliation in Great Britain: The 2011 Census in Historical and Methodological Context’ (pp. 357-82) – This traces the history of the measurement of religious affiliation in Britain from the Reformation to the present day, with particular reference to the contribution of the Churches, the State, and empirical social science. Nominal affiliation is shown to have been universal until the time of the French Revolution and preponderant until as late as the 1980s. The phenomenon of religious ‘nones’ has emerged since the latter date, but its extent today is dependent upon the way each question about religious affiliation is formulated. Alternative question-wordings are revealed to lead to wide variations in the results obtained. There are twelve tables.

Conrad Hackett, ‘Seven Things to Consider When Measuring Religious Identity’ (pp. 396-413) – The author offers seven suggestions for those wishing to describe and understand religious identity using survey data. He draws upon a range of American and international examples to illustrate his arguments. One section (pp. 402-4) attempts to explain the apparent discrepancy in religious affiliation results between the 2010 Annual Population Survey in England and Wales and the 2011 census of population.

Serena Hussain and Jamil Sherif, ‘Minority Religions in the Census: The Case of British Muslims’ (pp. 414-33) – The article considers the benefits for religious groups of having census data on religion, and for Muslims in particular. Much space is given over to the successful campaign (involving, among others, the Muslim Council of Britain) to persuade Government to field a religion question in the 2001 census; to the profile of Muslims which emerged from the 2001 and 2011 censuses, not least concerning disadvantage; and to the public policy and media impacts of such data, including perceived Islamophobic responses to the results of the 2011 census. The authors conclude with a brief expression of concern about the potentially negative effects for publicly available data on religion of the proposed changes in the methodology for the 2021 UK census.

Martin Stringer, ‘Evidencing Superdiversity in the Census and Beyond’ (pp. 453-65) – The concept of ‘superdiverse’ communities, as originally defined by Steve Vertovec, is explored through the lens of religion and other census statistics for England and Wales, with particular reference to Birmingham. The discussion is somewhat inconclusive, partly because the full range of local census data was not available to the author at the time of writing, but the conclusion appears to be that a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures will be necessary to differentiate ‘superdiverse’ from simply ‘diverse’ communities. The paper will probably make most sense when read alongside Stringer’s book Discourses on Religious Diversity (Ashgate, 2013).

Lois Lee, ‘Secular or Nonreligious? Investigating and Interpreting Generic “Not Religious” Categories and Populations’ (pp. 466-82) – The author uses qualitative, ethnographic research among self-identifying non-religious in Cambridge and Greater London to investigate what non-religious categories actually measure, specifically whether they indicate non-affiliation or disaffiliation or an alternative form of cultural affiliation. The widespread assumption that such categories merely denote secularity or secularization is questioned, many who subscribe to non-religious categories identifying with substantive (albeit diverse) non-religious and spiritual cultures. Distinctions between religious and non-religious categories as, respectively, ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ are thus flattened. The paper is somewhat jargon-ridden.

Vivianne Crowley, ‘Standing Up To Be Counted: Understanding Pagan Responses to the 2011 British Censuses’ (pp. 483-501) – Although the number of people self-identifying as Pagan increased between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, from 44,000 to 85,000, many Pagans remain reluctant to declare their Paganism, and census statistics of Pagans thus fall below those from other sources. The paper principally reports the results of an online questionnaire completed by 1,706 Pagans in Britain in May-June 2013 who were recruited via ‘snowballing/viral methods’, the sample consequently being ‘skewed heavily towards those well-networked Pagans who are active in e-groups, rather than those whose community links are weaker and more diffuse’. Respondents were asked about how they had handled the 2011 census question on religion and about their motivations for doing so. Overall, 85% recollected that they had written in Pagan on the census form, the remainder opting for another religion category (including none), not answering the census question, or being unable to say what they had done two years before. Crowley concludes that: ‘The census is not a good instrument for measuring the number of Pagans in Britain, particularly when based on household rather than individual forms.’

2021 census

On 18 July 2014 the Government, under the signature of Francis Maude (Minister for the Cabinet Office), gave its response to the National Statistician’s recommendations for taking the 2021 population census. It accepted the proposal to have a predominantly online census in that year supplemented by more extensive use of administrative and survey data. However, Government made it clear that its support for this dual-track approach was restricted to 2021 and that its ‘ambition is that censuses after 2021 will be conducted using other sources of data and providing more timely statistical information’. The exact content of the 2021 census has still to be determined, so it is not yet definite that a question on religion will be included for a third time.

Christians, sex, and marriage

The UK’s practising Christians mostly continue to uphold a ‘traditional’ view of Christian marriage but are far from being strait-laced or immune from marital failure. This is according to a new survey by Christian Research on behalf of Christian Today, published on 30 July 2014, and for which 1,401 churchgoers and church leaders were interviewed online on 28-30 June 2014. More than two-thirds said that Christians should not cohabit before marriage. About four-fifths felt it important to marry another Christian, and of those who were married, a similar proportion had done so. Nearly seven in ten thought their spouse or partner had been specially ‘put aside’ for them by God, and almost half had explicitly looked for their ideal partner in a Christian context. Although two-thirds believed that personal desire did not need to translate into the sex act, more than seven in ten agreed that ‘my spouse/partner and I love the physical part’. Some 12% reported that their relationships had failed, in that they were either divorced or separated or remarried after divorce. A surprisingly high 0.6% of practising Christians claimed to be in civil partnerships, which only came into effect in December 2005, and this was the lead finding from the poll in the Christian Today coverage (there are currently no data tables in the public domain), which is at:

Ex-Anglican Catholic Priests

Research by Professor Linda Woodhead and Fr Christopher Jamison, reported in the current issue of The Tablet (2 August 2014, p. 32), suggests that 389 Catholic priests in England and Wales are former Anglican clergy, most of them believed to be working in Catholic parishes and chaplaincies, and a very large proportion of them married. The figure is approaching one-tenth of all active Catholic priests, secular or religious, in England and Wales. Of the 389, it is estimated that 250 left the Church of England between 1994 (when the first women were ordained in that Church) and 2000, 52 from 2001 to the present, with a further 87 joining the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham following its establishment in 2011. The report is online at:

Muslim heroes

Today marks the centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War. It is an appropriate moment to remember the service and sacrifice of millions from Britain and its then Empire who supported the war effort in the front line and on the home front. Among them were 400,000 Muslims, preponderantly from the then unpartitioned India (covering the area of the present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), who fought in the British armed forces, alongside 800,000 Hindus and 100,000 Sikhs. Few contemporary British citizens are aware of the strength of this Muslim contribution to the First World War, according to the results of an ICM Research poll for the British Future think tank which were released on 2 August 2014 to coincide with the Living Islam festival. Asked to estimate how many Muslims fought with Britain in the First World War, only 2% correctly placed the number between 250,000 and 500,000. Another 600,000 Muslims fought in the Second World War.

Islamic terrorism

Almost half (46%) of the population view Islamic terrorism as a critical threat to Britain, according to an opinion poll by YouGov, conducted online on 31 July and 1 August 2014 among 2,083 adults aged 18 and over. The proportion rose to 71% of UKIP voters, 60% with the over-60s, and 59% for Conservatives. A further 33% regarded Islamic terrorism as an important but not critical threat to Britain, bringing to 79% the figure for those deeming it some kind of serious threat (and 92% or 93% for Conservatives, UKIP supporters, and over-60s). Just 2% (peaking at 8% of 18-24s and 6% of Londoners) saw it as no threat at all, with another 10% assessing it as only a minor threat. Islamic terrorism was seen as a greater danger to Britain than Russia’s military in the post-Ukraine crisis world; 11% viewed Russia as a critical threat and 47% as an important but not critical threat. Data tables can be found at:

Anti-Semitic incidents

The Community Security Trust announced on 31 July 2014 that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in the first six months of the year was, at 304, 36% up on the January-June 2013 figure. The reasons for the increase are unclear, since no specific ‘trigger event’ occurred during that half-year, but the Trust speculates that improved reporting of incidents as well as more anti-Semitism both contributed to the trend. Naturally excluded from the data are incidents registered in July 2014, over 130 of them in what the Trust describes as ‘the second worst outburst’ of anti-Semitism in recent memory, and largely linked to the ongoing Israeli military operation against Hamas in Gaza. Antisemitic Incidents Report, January-June 2014 can be downloaded from:


British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

This entry was posted in Historical studies, Measuring religion, News from religious organisations, Religion and Politics, Religious Census, Survey news and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.