Searchlight on Religion

A major new source of public opinion data on religion and inter-faith relations has just become available in the form of a Populus poll for Searchlight Educational Trust.

The survey is of unusual importance in terms of the number of questions asked and the large size of the sample (5,054 adults aged 18 and over interviewed online in England on 28-31 January 2011).

The Trust is a registered charity formed in 1992 that works with communities to build responses to racism and hatred, dispel myths and develop greater understanding. It has just established the Together project to explore and tackle the rise of right-wing nationalism and extremism in Britain and Western Europe.

Only a small proportion of the poll’s statistics have been included in Searchlight’s Fear & HOPE report, based on the survey, which concluded that ‘there is not a progressive majority in society and … that there is a deep resentment to immigration, as well as scepticism towards multiculturalism.’

‘There is a widespread fear of the “Other”, particularly Muslims, and there is an appetite for a new right-wing political party that has none of the fascist trappings of the British National Party or the violence of the English Defence League. With a clear correlation between economic pessimism and negative views to immigration, the situation is likely to get worse over the next few years.’

At the same time, ‘there are also many positive findings from the report. Young people are more hopeful about the future and more open to living in an ethnically diverse society. The vast majority … reject political violence and view white anti-Muslim extremists as bad as Muslim extremists and there is overwhelming support for a positive campaign against extremism.’

The document is available, in a somewhat curious format, at:

For this post BRIN has ignored the report and drawn upon, but cannot claim to have summarized adequately, the 128 computer tables extending to 395 pages. These provide topline responses, the only ones used here, together with disaggregations by gender, age, socio-economic group, region, employment sector, ethnicity, religion, and a sixfold segmentation by identity ‘tribes’. These tables can be accessed at:

Two clusters of questions are briefly considered here, those which sought to enumerate the nation’s general verdict on and participation in religion, and those which assessed attitudes to and engagement with people from the various faith traditions in Britain.


35% of adults professed no religious affiliation, while 54% were Christians and 7% non-Christians (table 7).

23% said that religion was important to them, with 55% disagreeing and 22% neutral (table 76).

Just 7% said religion was the most important element in their personal identity. This compared with 35% for nationality, 24% for country of birth, 16% for the city, town or village in which they lived, 7% for ethnicity, 6% for their immediate neighbourhood, and 5% for the country of residence, where different from that of birth (table 32). Religion was the second most important influence on identity for 8% (table 33) and the third most important for 10% (table 34).

55% never attended a place of worship in their local community. 8% claimed to go at least once a week, 5% at least once a fortnight, 6% at least once a month, and 26% less than once a month (table 63).

Only 23% thought that, by and large, religion is a force for good in the UK. 42% disagreed and 35% expressed no opinion (table 77).

68% agreed that religion should not influence laws and policies in Britain, with 16% disagreeing and 16% neutral (table 75).

On a scale of 1 (= do not trust at all) to 5 (= trust fully), the mean respect score for local religious leaders was 2.95. This was lower than for the respondent’s general practitioner (3.98), the local headteacher (3.44), women’s institute (3.43), the local scout/girl guide leader (3.41), the local branch of service organizations (3.31), and leaders of local clubs (3.15).

But it was higher than for the local chamber of commerce (2.81), a local trade union (2.72), the local mayor (2.62), the local MP (2.58), local councillors (2.57), and the local council (2.54). See tables 38-51.


62% considered religious abuse to be as serious as racial abuse, but 38% viewed the latter as more serious (table 115).

28% thought religious abuse to be more widespread in Britain than racial abuse. 72% said the reverse (table 116).

71% assessed religious abuse to be on the increase in Britain, 29% disagreeing (table 117). 64% said that racial abuse was growing (table 118).

60% believed that people should be able to say what they wanted about religion, however critical or offensive it might be. 40% thought there should be restrictions on what individuals could say about religion, and that they should be prosecuted if necessary (table 119). Significantly more, 58%, were in favour of limitations on freedom of speech when it came to race (table 120).

44% regarded Muslims as completely different to themselves in terms of habits, customs and values. Just 5% said the same about Christians, 19% about Jews, 28% about Hindus, and 29% about Sikhs (tables 78-83).

42% said that they interacted with Sikhs less than monthly or never, 39% with Jews, 36% with Hindus, 28% with Muslims, and 5% with Christians. There were a lot of don’t knows for this question (tables 84-89).

59% did not know any Sikhs well as friends and family members, work colleagues, children’s friends or neighbours. 55% said the same about Jews, 53% about Hindus, 41% about Muslims, and 8% about Christians (tables 90-95).

32% argued that Muslims created a lot of problems in the UK. Far fewer said this about other faith groups: 7% about Hindus, 6% about Sikhs, 5% about Christians, and 3% about Jews (tables 96-101).

49% contended that Muslims created a lot of problems in the world. Again, this was much less often said about other faith communities: 15% about Jews, 12% about Christians, 10% about Hindus, and 9% about Sikhs (tables 102-107).

25% viewed Islam as a dangerous religion which incites violence. 21% considered that violence or terrorism on the part of some Muslims is unsurprising given the actions of the West in the Muslim world and the hostility towards Muslims in Britain.

49% thought that such violence or terrorism was unsurprising on account of the activities and statements of a few Muslim extremists. 6% dismissed accusations of violence or terrorism by Muslims as something got up by the media (table 126).

On hearing reports of violent clashes between English nationalist extremists and Muslim extremists, 26% would sympathize with the former who were standing up for their country and 6% for the Muslims who were standing up for their faith. 68% would view both groups as bad as each other (table 127).

43% indicated that they would support a campaign to stop the building of a new mosque in their locality, against 19% who would oppose such a campaign, with 38% neutral (table 124).

In the event of such a campaign turning violent or threatening to do so, by the action of either of the disputing parties, 81% would condemn such violence but 19% would continue to support one side or the other (table 125).

Interviewees were asked to react to the possibility of a new political party which would defend the English, create an English Parliament, control immigration, challenge Islamic extremism, restrict the construction of mosques, and make it compulsory for all public buildings to fly the St George’s flag or Union Jack. 21% said that they would definitely support such a party and a further 27% that they would consider backing it (table 122).

Quizzed about a new organization which would campaign against religious and racial extremism, and promote better relations between different ethnic and religious groups, 20% said that they would definitely and another 48% that they might possibly support it (table 123).

Hopefully, this gallop through a veritable mountain of statistics will give BRIN readers some insight into the range of questions posed in this Populus/Searchlight survey, and some sense of the research potential of the dataset.

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

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