Sacred Texts and Other News


Sacred texts

The potential contribution of religious and sacred texts to the school curriculum is explored in new research published by the Bible Society on 20 November 2014. Commissioned from YouGov, it involved online interviews with samples of (a) 795 primary and secondary teachers in England and Wales between 24 October and 4 November 2014 and (b) 566 students aged 8-15 in Britain on 24-27 October 2014. The Bible Society’s press release, incorporating links to the full data tables for both samples, will be found at:

Almost three-quarters (73%) of teachers agreed that the education system has more of a role to play in addressing the challenges of inter-religious and ethnic strife at home and abroad through changing attitudes and behaviour of the next generation. Just over two-fifths (42%) thought the teaching of religious and sacred texts in more of the curriculum would improve the cross-cultural understanding of their students with minority groups, with 31% believing it would enhance the general social development of students and 28% community cohesion. However, less than half of teachers (47%) felt confident about including such texts in their teaching plans. Beyond religious education (85%), personal, social, health and economic education classes were deemed appropriate for teaching about religion and faith (48%), followed by those in citizenship (46%), history (27%), and English (11%).  

Some two-thirds (64%) of pupils acknowledged the importance of knowing about different religions, but only 15% considered they would have a more positive opinion of religious people as a result (three-fifths saying it would make no difference). A minority clearly viewed religious people with some suspicion, 6% describing them as threatening, 7% as dangerous, 11% as weird, and 13% as old-fashioned. Overall, 46% of pupils said they were not religious themselves. One-fifth (21%) claimed not to have read or been taught about during the past year any of the six religious texts named in the survey, with 64% being exposed to the Bible and 25% the Koran.  

Aspirational churchgoing

One-fifth of Britons anticipate they will attend church during the forthcoming Christmas period, according to a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times conducted online on 20-21 November 2014 among 1,970 adults. The proportion rises to 25% for Conservative voters, 24% for the over-60s, and 23% for non-manual workers. The figure is likely to include a fair amount of aspiration since we know that, in the Church of England, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services last year were attended by around 2,400,000, or 4% of the English population. Even if we factor in churchgoing during Advent and Christmas attendances by non-Anglicans, it is hard to see how the 20% prediction will be met in reality. Moreover, this total is made up of 9% who claim to be regular churchgoers and 11% who are not but expect to worship at Christmas. The former statistic is also likely to be inflated as the last (2005) English church census revealed 6% of the population in the pews on a typical Sunday, which is almost certainly less now, notwithstanding recent growth in London. YouGov’s data tables are at:

Christians and poverty

Christian attitudes to poverty in Britain are briefly reported in a new book by Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams, The Myth of the Undeserving Poor: A Christian Response to Poverty in Britain Today (Grosvenor House Publishing for Jubilee+, ISBN 978-1-78148-875-1) – see especially pp. 42-7. The data, which derive from an online survey completed by an apparently self-selecting (and thus potentially unrepresentative) sample of 419 Christians (including church leaders) over a three-week period in the summer of 2014, were compared with opinions of a cross-section of adults as recorded by the British Social Attitudes Surveys.  

In general, Christians were found to have a slightly narrower definition of who is in poverty than the public, with 51% selecting the narrowest definition and merely 12% the broadest. However, Christians were ‘more sympathetic to those in need, more aware of the poverty that exists in Britain, and less prone to buying into myths about people on benefits’. For example, as many as 54% of Christians suggested that support for the poor from the State is too low, compared with 22% of the population as a whole.  

Nevertheless, as in the nation at large, political allegiance made a big difference to Christian opinion, with Christians who identified as Conservatives taking the hardest line. Whereas 67% of Christians who were Labour and 48% who were LibDems agreed that the income gap between rich and poor is morally wrong, just 33% of Conservative Christians said so. Newspaper readership and proximity to poverty were also revealed as having a substantial impact on Christian attitudes. The authors of the book seemed surprised that there was less of a consensus among Christians.    

Cathedral friends

An illustration of social capital generated in a religious domain is provided by Judith Muskett, ‘Measuring Religious Social Capital: Scale Properties of the Modified Williams Religious Social Capital Index among Friends of Cathedrals’, Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2014, pp. 242-9. The main purpose of the article is methodological, to validate a modified version of the religious social capital index originally devised by Emyr Williams in 2008. However, along the way, interesting light is shed on the profile and motivations of 923 members of the friends’ associations of six Anglican cathedrals in England who responded to a postal questionnaire sent out by Muskett in 2011. These respondents were disproportionately over 65 years of age (74%), educated to degree level (44%), and – in their own estimation – religious (96%, including 54% who described themselves as rather or extremely religious). The research originated in the author’s 2013 PhD thesis from York St John University on ‘Cathedrals Making Friends: The Religious Social Capital of Anglican Cathedral Friends’ Associations’. Access options to the article are outlined at:

Clergy burnout

One manifestation of the decline of institutional Christianity in Britain has been the growing trend for clergy to be required to look after more than one church, especially in rural areas. Mandy Robbins and Leslie Francis have examined the relationship between ministerial oversight of multiple churches and levels of clerical burnout, taking into account personal, psychological, theological, and other contextual factors, based upon a sub-sample of 867 female Anglican clergy under the age of 71 serving in stipendiary parish ministry in England in 2006-07. Their findings are reported in ‘Taking Responsibility for Multiple Churches: A Study in Burnout among Anglican Clergywomen in England’, Journal of Empirical Theology, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2014, pp. 261-80. They demonstrate a small significant inverse association between number of churches and satisfaction in ministry but no association with emotional exhaustion. Access options are outlined at:;jsessionid=3mkajba2b384x.x-brill-live-03

Origins of life on earth

News that the European Space Agency’s Philae probe had landed on comet 67P rekindled the debate about the origins of life on earth and, in particular, the extent to which comets might have played a part by bringing organic compounds to earth many millions of years ago. This prompted YouGov to ask representative samples of both Britons and Americans how they currently think life on earth began. In Britain 2,003 adults were interviewed online on 12-13 November 2014, and the results are presented at:

Just 15% of Britons believed that the earth was created by God, the proportion rising to no more than 23% in any demographic sub-group, that being Londoners among whom, through immigration, there are relatively high levels of religiosity. Overall, the divine explanation found less favour than comets, which 19% suggested were instrumental in starting life on earth (possibly because they had heard media speculation along these lines). Another 4% subscribed to the view that an older, alien civilization brought life here from elsewhere in the universe. Two-fifths discounted all these arguments and opted for life beginning because conditions on earth happened to be suitable, while 22% had no idea.

These findings were in stark contrast with those for the United States sample, with no fewer than 53% of Americans agreeing that life on earth was created by God, ranging from 42% in the western states to 70% among blacks and Republicans. However, there is absolutely no difference between Britain and America in the likelihood of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe, an opinion held by, respectively, 66% and 67%. American data tables are at:


Peter Webster’s latest blog post, on 18 November 2014, continues his analysis of the religious dimensions of UK webspace. This time, he has identified and categorized the unique UK hosts linking to any of the four main anti-creationist websites at any point between 1996 and 2010. His conclusion is that, during this period, ‘British creationism was talking largely to itself, and was mostly ignored by academia, the media and most of the churches’. His blog, with links to the source data, can be found at:

Time to say goodbye

Hymns, as well as classical music, are decreasingly popular as choices for funeral music, according to 84% of funeral directors in the latest annual survey by Co-operative Funeral Care, which was published on 21 November 2014, and based on more than 30,000 funerals conducted by the company. There are now only three traditional hymns left in the top 20 funeral music choices: The Lord is My Shepherd (in second place, the most requested hymn in all but one listing since 2005), Abide with Me (in third position), and All Things Bright and Beautiful (in sixth). In top spot is Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, which has displaced the former long-standing leader, Frank Sinatra’s My Way (now in fifth place). Advancing up the league table is the Match of the Day theme tune, occupying fourth place. Schubert’s Ave Maria came sixteenth. Funerals have often been viewed as the ‘last monopoly’ of organized religion, but, if music choice is anything to go by, they too are being secularized. For the overall top 20, and the top 10 or 20 in each music genre (including the top 10 hymns), see the press release at:

Jewish lives

The Jewish Chronicle for 21 November 2014 (p. 18) highlights an interim report from Jewish Lives, an ongoing project of UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal) and funded by the Pears Foundation, involving a longitudinal study of more than 1,000 Jewish families whose children entered Jewish secondary schools in London and Manchester in 2011. The report, which does not appear to be in the public domain, is said to show that, during their first two years at Jewish secondary school, pupils strengthened their British identity without any diminution of their Jewish identity or lessening of support for Israel. The newspaper write-up, which is relevant to current debates about the teaching of ‘British values’ in schools, is at:

BRIN site traffic

The latest site traffic statistics (analysed by Siobhan McAndrew) reveal that there have been 650,457 page views of the BRIN website since its official launch in March 2010 in 300,543 sessions and by 234,744 unique users. In the latest complete month (October 2014) there were 13,587 page views by 6,144 unique users.



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