Restudies of Religion in English and Welsh Communities

Steve Bruce, who has been Professor of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen since 1991, has been engaged since 2007 on an extended reappraisal of religious change in Britain since 1945, made possible by the award of a Leverhulme Trust senior research fellowship.

A novel feature of his project has been micro-analyses of institutional and ‘popular’ religion, based on a series of restudies of classical post-war sociological surveys of individual communities. Within the last year, Bruce has had published four articles in academic journals derived from these restudies.

Bibliographical details are shown below, including a link to the pay-per-view online version. Some indication is also given of the principal religious statistics which Bruce has compiled in each case. However, it should be noted that the articles are also rich mines of qualitative data.

‘Religion in Rural Wales: Four Restudies’, Contemporary Wales, Vol. 23, 2010, pp. 219-39.

Restudies of Llanfrothen Ffestiniog, Gwynedd by Isabel Emmett in A North Wales Village (1964); Llanuwchllyn-Llangower, Gwynedd by Trefor Owen in ‘Chapel and Community in Glan-llyn, Merioneth’, Welsh Rural Communities, eds Elwyn Davies and Alwyn Rees (1960); Llanfihangel yng Ngwynfa, Powys by Alwyn Rees in Life in a Welsh Countryside (1950); and Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog, Wrexham by Ronald Frankenberg in Village on the Border (1957). All four communities were located in Welsh-speaking areas of north and mid Wales.

Includes tables of religious affiliation in Llanfrothen in 1962 and 2009; Llanuwchllyn-Llangower in 1950, 1990, 2002 and 2007; Llanfihangel yng Ngwynfa in 1940, 1997 and 2008; and Llansantffraid Glyn Ceiriog in 1953 and 2008. Also a table of religious affiliation and social correlates for all four communities from the 2001 census.

‘A Sociology Classic Revisited: Religion in Banbury’, Sociological Review, Vol. 59, No. 2, May 2011, pp. 201-22.

Restudy of Banbury, Oxfordshire by Margaret Stacey in Tradition and Change (1960) and Margaret Stacey, Eric Batstone, Colin Bell and Anne Murcott, Power, Persistence and Change (1975).

Includes tables of church adherence and membership in 1950 and 1967, of church membership and attendance in 2010, and of Bruce’s corrected estimates of church membership in 1950, 1967 and 2010.

‘Secularisation, Church and Popular Religion’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 62, No. 3, July 2011, pp. 543-61.

Restudy of Staithes, north Yorkshire by David Clark in Between Pulpit and Pew (1982).

Includes table of Methodist membership at various dates between 1945 and 2005.

‘Methodism and Mining in County Durham, 1881-1991’, Northern History, Vol. 48, No. 2, September 2011, pp. 337-55.

Partial restudy of the Deerness Valley, County Durham by Robert Moore in Pitmen, Preachers and Politics (1974), with new research by Bruce on Upper Teesdale and the Peterlee area (east coast).

Includes tables of Methodist members and Anglican Easter Day communicants for census years between 1851 and 1991.

Unsurprisingly, Bruce reveals in all seven restudies that there has been a significant decrease in religious belonging over the years, relative to population, which he naturally interprets as further evidence for the secularization thesis, for which he has been for so long a leading proponent. He has recently restated the thesis in his book Secularization: in Defence of an Unfashionable Theory (2011).

However, the articles are not simply a blunt attempt to shoehorn grassroots data to fit the national picture. Although the restudies are inevitably less thorough than the original enquiries, they are based upon some fieldwork by Bruce in each locality, and he has undertaken at least some of the necessary background historical research in libraries and archives. He is also at pains to expose and to explain diversity in each community. 

The Banbury essay contains a useful methodological section exploring the challenges and opportunities of undertaking such restudies. Naturally, additional restudies of religion would potentially be possible in the future, for instance of Rawmarsh and Scunthorpe by Bill Pickering in 1954-56 and of Billingham by Peter Kaim-Caudle in 1957-59 and 1964-66.

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