Secularizing Selfhood and Other News


Secularizing selfhood

I recently gave a presentation at the Rethinking Modern British Studies conference at the University of Birmingham, which was loosely devoted to an exploration of themes contained in a previous working paper from the Modern British Studies initiative. One of these themes is the transformation of selfhood in modern British society, which I illustrated in my presentation by a study of six different self-rating measures of religiosity derived from recurrent and non-recurrent sample surveys undertaken in Britain since the 1960s. These data on the personal saliency of religion were found to be broadly consistent with other quantitative performance indicators which suggest that Britain is in the midst of progressive (and ongoing) secularization. In this particular instance, the 1990s were revealed as a major tipping-point and the personal saliency of religion was shown to be much lower than in most other Western nations. An article based on the presentation will hopefully appear in an academic journal in due course, but meanwhile some BRIN readers may be interested to see the PowerPoint slides from the conference. They can be viewed by clicking on the following link:

Saliency – conference presentation

Religion and ethnic minorities

The Conservative peer Baroness Berridge initiated a short debate in the House of Lords on 6 July 2015 by asking the Government ‘what assessment they have made of the contribution of Britain’s ethnic minorities to faith communities and public institutions in the United Kingdom’. In her opening speech, she illustrated, through census and other statistics, the disproportionate influence of BMEs on the religious landscape: ‘If you are from the black and minority ethnic community, you are more likely to identify with a religion than the white population, to be religiously observant, and to see religion as an important part of your life.’ For a transcript of the debate, see:

Church-based parent and toddler groups

The Impact of Church-Based Parent and Toddler Groups is assessed in a new report from Jubilee+, written by Andy Biggs, Miles Jarvis, Andrew McWilliam, and Rachel Green. These groups are the second commonest form of church-based social action, after food-distribution schemes (such as foodbanks). The report derives from an online survey of parent and toddler groups undertaken between July and September 2014, which attracted 470 responses, 440 of them from group leaders, from a wide range of UK locations and denominations. Unsurprisingly, the self-assessed impact of the groups was found to be positive for individuals, families, and communities alike, including a modest contribution to church growth. The authors’ overall estimate, from other studies, is that up to 27,000 UK churches run projects for the early years (ages 0-5) and that 52% of children in England access some form of parent and toddler group via churches. The report can be found at:

Anglican church growth

Church growth appears to have become a bit of a growth industry recently, in the Church of England at least. The latest output, published on 30 June 2015, is by Bob Jackson, What Makes Churches Grow? Vision and Practice in Effective Mission (London: Church House Publishing, 2015, xvi + 299pp., ISBN 9780715144749, £19.99, paperback). Jackson has a long track-record in church growth initiatives, with several books and courses to his credit, and he is currently Director of the Centre for Church Growth at St John’s College, Nottingham, as well as being a consultant and speaker in the field. As might be inferred from the title, this is not an academic treatise but a good practice guide written from empirical and theological standpoints, addressing both numerical and spiritual growth, and seemingly mainly intended for an Anglican audience. There are plenty of tables (33) and figures (31), although most of the raw data can be more comprehensively obtained from the Church’s Research and Statistics website.  

Unsurprisingly, Jackson is fairly upbeat about the prospects for growth: ‘the balance of the evidence suggests that the Church of England has probably stopped shrinking numerically and, on some measures, may even be growing overall’ (p. xiv). He gets especially excited about Messy Church (‘the biggest single churchgoing growth phenomenon in this country since the rise of Sunday schools and Methodism at the end of the eighteenth century’, p. 175) and at the apparent excess of joiners over leavers in the worshipping community (an experimental measure raising sundry methodological caveats). Like much writing about church growth, progress tends to be measured in absolute terms not against an increasing and more diverse population, so that much which passes as church growth is, in reality, still relative decline. The publisher’s webpage for the book is at:


The number of infant baptisms performed by the various Churches in the UK has now fallen to around one-third of births, according to the latest estimates by Peter Brierley in UK Church Statistics, 2005-2015 (table 13.8.3), compared with over half in the late 1990s. Nowhere has the decrease been greater than in the Church of England, where there were only 79,400 infant and 42,600 child baptisms in 2013. Nevertheless, research released in the barest headline by the Church on 3 July 2015 revealed that Anglican christenings are still not without appeal to the Church’s outer fringes. Interviews with 1,000 individuals who were not regular churchgoers and who had a child aged two or younger baptised in the Church of England found that for 89% christening was deemed an essential foundation for life and that 91% had been influenced by godparents to have their child baptised. The press release is at:

Catholics and the family

Further evidence that grass-roots Catholics are disenchanted with the Church’s teaching on marital, family, and sexual matters is provided by the results of two surveys released by the pressure group A Call to Action (ACTA) on 1 July 2015. One study attracted responses from Catholics across England and Wales (n = 342) while the other was organized by a parish group in Wolverhampton (n = 376). The samples were neither random nor quota, but the findings were compatible with those obtained from earlier and more representative national samples of Catholics, such as the YouGov poll for Westminster Faith Debates in 2013. They exemplified the demand among Catholics for ‘a kinder, more open Church and an end to rule-book driven policies on the family and sex’. In particular, there was overwhelming support for lifting the bans on the use of artificial methods of contraception and on divorced and remarried persons receiving Communion, as well as very strong empathy for people in same-sex relationships. The report on the national survey (written by Andrew Hornsby-Smith) and appendices of raw data on both the national and Wolverhampton surveys can be accessed via the links in ACTA’s press release at:

Religious education teachers

The majority (54%) of the 15,300 state-funded secondary school teachers of religious education in England have no relevant post-A Level qualification in the subject, according to the results of the School Workforce Census for November 2014 which were published by the Department for Education on 2 July 2015. Only teachers of citizenship (93%), engineering (82%), media studies (78%), foreign languages other than French, German, or Spanish (62%), and information and communications technology (58%) are less qualified to teach their subjects. See Table 12 in the main tables of the census at:

Hospital chaplaincy

NHS trusts across the UK spent £23.5 million on chaplaincy services in the last financial year, £1.5 million more than in 2012/13, according to data obtained from Freedom of Information requests submitted by The Independent to 230 trusts. For the newspaper’s coverage, see:

Sunday trading

Sunday trading is back on the political agenda with the recent announcement by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne that the Government is proposing to introduce a form of local option for Sunday trading hours in England and Wales, which are currently capped at six for large shops. Under the proposal, responsibility for determining the extent of trading hours in particular areas would be devolved to the relevant local council. The announcement has prompted YouGov to take the pulse of public opinion on the matter, through an online survey of 1,669 Britons on 9-10 July 2015. Data tables are at:

A majority of the population (53% in Britain and 52% in England and Wales) favours liberalization of the laws on Sunday trading, with 33% backing total deregulation (leaving shops to decide when they open) and an additional 20% wishing to see the current rules relaxed so that shops can open for longer hours. This majority is disproportionately to be found among the under-25s (67%), Liberal Democrat voters (62%), and in Scotland (where the existing legislation does not apply, 71%). About one-quarter (24%) are happy with the status quo of six hours for large shops, while 6% want to see more restricted Sunday trading and 9% none at all. The aggregate of the last two categories (15%) rose to 22% of UKIP supporters and 20% of over-60s. 

Asked whether, in practice, they ever go shopping on a Sunday, 51% say that they do once a month or more, including 61% of under-25s and 64% of Scots. The proportion never or hardly ever shopping on Sunday (28%) peaks among over-60s (42%). Respondents were also questioned about how often they worked on Sunday, 16% (roughly one in four of those currently in employment) doing so at least once a month, with the under-40s (23%) and Scots (26%) being most likely to work on Sundays.

Star signs

The overwhelming majority (96%) of the British population is aware of their star sign, the most ignorant (12%) being the under-25s. But only 20% believe that such signs can tell you something about yourself or another person, women being most convinced (27%), while 69% deny the possibility. This is according to a YouGov poll conducted among an online sample of 1,601 adult Britons on 1-2 July 2015.  

Disbelief is higher in the ability of horoscopes to foretell what will happen in the future, 82% saying that they cannot do so and just 8% (peaking at 11% in Scotland) that they can (less than in the United States, where the figure is 14%). Even fewer Britons (4%), and no more than 7% in any demographic sub-group, claim to have changed their behaviour based on something read in a horoscope, 93% definite that they have not.

At the same time, as many as 55% of the population believe in fate, disproportionately concentrated among women (65%) and manual workers (61%), with 32% disbelieving and 12% uncertain. Slightly more Britons than Americans (52%) believe in fate. For more information, including links to both British and American data tables, see the YouGov blog of 3 July 2015 at:


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