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Religion in the United Kingdom

UK religious data: 1992-2002

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Religious data:

1992 data:

Membership in Christian denominations: Data shows that only 14.4% of the UK population belonged to a Christian denomination. The vast majority of Christian church members were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, or the Presbyterian Church:


Number of members (million)

Roman Catholic 2.044
Church of England 1.808
Presbyterian 1.242
Methodist 0.459
Independent 0.357
Eastern Orthodox 0.276
Baptist 0.231
Pentecostal 0.170
Other 0.131

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1995 to 1997 data:

The Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan periodically conducts the World Values Survey. It polls a statistically valid sample of adults from a total of 60 nations. In their their 1995-1997 survey, the found that:

bullet16% of the British adult population consider religion to be very important in their lives. This compares with:
bullet53% in the U.S.,
bullet14% in France, and
bullet13% in Germany. 1

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2001 data:

Adherents to various religions: On 2003-FEB-14, TimesOnline published the results from the 2001-APR-29 decennial government census. 3 For the first time since 1851, the census included a question on religion. 4 It was the only optional question on the census. Over 92% of the population answered it. The results indicate that Britain remains a Christian country in 2001, at least in terms of religious affiliation. Out of a total population of 58.79 million: 5

Religion Number (in millions) % of total population
Christianity 42.079 71.6%
No religion (Incl. Jedi) 9.10 15.5
Refused to answer 4.29 7.3
Islam 1.59 2.7
Hinduism 0.559 1.0
Sikhism 0.336 0.6
Judaism 0.267 0.5
Buddhism 0.152 0.3
Other 0.179 0.3
Total population 58.789 100.0%

Reaction to the Times Online article:

bullet"Jedism" appears to be the fourth most popular religion in the UK, with 390,000 adults (0.66% of the population) identifying themselves as followers of this religion. This refers to the spirituality expressed by the characters in Star Wars. These are the "May the force be with you" folks. Very few subjects who marked this religion during the poll are actually Jedi. They probably intended their vote to be a statement about their opinion of religion, religious polls, or the government census. A hoax E-mail circulated around the Internet stating that if 10,000 people put "Jedi" on the census form, it will become "a fully recognized and legal religion." 6 The Office of National Statistics...assigned the response "Jedi Knight" a numeric code to simplify the process of tabulating census results, as is typically done when many people answer a question by writing in a response not offered as a choice on the census form. Since the government does not recognize Jedism as an actual religion, the Jedis were finally lumped together under the "no religion" category. 7
bulletGraham Zellick, vice chancellor of the University of London, opposed the religious question, and urged that people refuse to answer the question. He said: "It is improper to use the unique power of the State to ascertain information so that these bodies can carry out their own functions. It is wholly inconsistent with our traditions of freedom and personal privacy to ask a question about a person's religious beliefs." 4
bulletThe Right Rev Keith Sutton, the Bishop of Lichfield, said: "These figures prove as a lie claims that England is no longer a Christian country. Clergy in my diocese baptize some 23 per cent of all babies before they are one year old. The Christian faith is still relevant to many, many people....But welcome as they are, the statistics are a wake-up call to all of us in Christian leadership. While the Christian faith remains relevant to the vast majority of society, the Church is clearly no longer seen as important."
bulletIqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "Up to now, Muslims have been statistically invisible, and thus easily marginalized. The census output is a strong signal to central and local government, social services and employers in particular that the needs of all sections of Britainís multicultural society must be fairly and equitably addressed."
bulletProfessors Barry Kosmin and Stanley Waterman, of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, suggested that the total of Jews had been undercounted. "Nationally, 15.5 per cent of the population stated that they had no religion and 7.3 per cent did not answer the question. In other words, almost a quarter of the population did not provide a specific religious preference...This alone suggests that the number of Jews is undercounted. This was not unexpected and, in fact, there are grounds for suggesting that Jews may be more reluctant than others to answer a voluntary question on religion in the census. For historical reasons, many older Jews of Central and Eastern European background are reluctant to cooperate with government-sponsored counts of Jews."
bulletThe followers of some religions are reluctant to admit their identification. Vexen Crabtree wrote that: "...at a London Satanists gathering I polled all the members present about what they had put on the 2001 April National Census, and half of them said they had put 'no religion'." This is a significant under-representation." Wiccans and other Neopagans are probably under-represented as well. 8

Degree of commitment:

During the 2001 poll, 72% identified themselves as "Christian." This does not necessarily indicate that they are committed Christians. Vexen Crabtree collected some statistics from a variety of sources which indicate that many of these folks are Christian in name only:

bulletThe Office of National Statistics found in the 2001 census that: "...half of all adults aged 18 and over who belonged to a religion have never attended a religious service."
bulletUk.news.yahoo.com reported in 2000 that "[Church attendance in 1999 was] 7.5% on an average Sunday, [down] from 10% in 1989 and 12% in 1979."
bulletA New Scientist Poll in 2002-Autumn showed that "55% of British public do not believe in a higher being." 9

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2002 data:

The Pew Research Center conducted a recent series of studies called "The Pew Global Attitudes Project." They is measuring the "impact of globalization, modernization, rapid technological and cultural change and the Sept. 11 terrorist events on the values and attitudes of more than 38,000 people in 44 countries..."  A poll released on 2002-DEC-19 revealed whether people around the world consider religion to be personally important. 2

Results showed that the percentage of the public who considered religion important ranged from a high of 97% in Senegal to a low of 11% in both France and the Czech Republic, among the 41 countries sampled. They found that the percentage was:

bullet59% in the United States
bullet57% in Mexico
bullet33% in Great Britain
bullet30% in Canada.
bulletInformation on other countries

The disparity between the World Values Survey's 16% and the Pew Global Attitude Project's 33% may be an accurate representation of a real increase in interest over a four or five year interval, from about 1997 to 2002. However it is more likely due to a difference in the specific question asked. On matters of religion, people tend to give the answer that is expected of them, rather than the truth. So, results often differ because of the setting, the nature of the questioning, the specific question asked, and even the order of the questions.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Diane Swanbrow, "Study of worldwide rates of religiosity, church attendance," University of Michigan news release at: http://www.umich.edu/
  2. Ruth Gledhill & Richard Ford, "Christianity remains dominant religion," Times Online, 2003-FEB-14, at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/
  3. Richard Allen Greene, "Poll Position: As Britain conducts its census, religion question ruffles feathers," JewsWeek.com, 2001, at: http://www.jewsweek.com/politics/
  4. "Census 2001 - Religion in Britain," National Statistics, at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk
  5. "Jedi e-mail revealed as hoax," BBC News, 2001-APR-11, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  6. "Census Knight," Urban Legends Reference Pages, at: http://www.snopes.com/religion/
  7. Vexen Crabtree, "Numbers of world religions tend to be exaggerated," Bane of Monotheism, 2003-FEB-18, at: http://www.vexen.co.uk/
  8. Vexen Crabtree, "Religion in Britain," Bane of Monotheism, 2000-APR-26, at: http://www.vexen.co.uk/
  9. "Among Wealthy Nations, U.S. stands alone in its embrace of religion," 2002-DEC-19, The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, at: http://people-press.org/

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Copyright © 2003 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-FEB-19
Latest update: 2008-MAY-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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