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Religious Tolerance logo

Religion in the United Kingdom

UK religious data: from 2002 to 2005

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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. 5

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:

bullet 59% in the United States

bullet 57% in Mexico

bullet 33% in Great Britain

bullet 30% in Canada.

bullet Information 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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2004 data:

A BBC news report in 2004-MAY revealed that about 74% of adults in England and Wales regard themselves as Christians. Another approximately 6% identify with another religion. But only about 7% of Christians in the UK actually attend church regularly. Hanne Stinson, director of the British Humanist Association, said that many adults are "cultural Christians." They see themselves as being Christian in the same way that they are British, almost in a tribal way. She said:

"People label themselves with what they were brought up with...If they haven't gone to church for 20 years, they still put themselves down on official forms as 'Church of England'." 1

According to The Telegraph, the results of the 2004-DEC "YouGov" survey:

"... provides overwhelming evidence that the British are now a largely irreligious people. Only a minority believe that God exists and almost everyone acknowledges that Britain is becoming an increasingly secular society...the national mood appears to be one of benign indifference."

The UK's YouGov polled 1,981 adults across Britain during 2004-DEC-16 to 18. The margin of error was about 2.5 percentage points. Some results:

bullet A minority, 44%, believe in God. This is a drop from 77% in 1968 -- an unusually rapid change for religious matters in only 36 years.

bullet Among those who believe in God, 3% believe in more than one God and 10% believe in "some other kind of Supreme Being." Thus only about one in three adults are conventional monotheists.

bullet 33% believe in the existence of Heaven.

bullet25% believe in Hell. This result has changed little since 1968.

bulletOver a third of young adults describe themselves as Agnostic or Atheist. 1

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Data from a 2005 report:

After reviewing a report by the University of Manchester in 2005-AUG, News.Telegraph reported that

"Organized religion is in near-terminal decline in Britain because parents have only a 50-50 chance of passing on belief to their offspring." 2

Dr. David Voas, who oversaw the study said that religion would reach:

"... fairly low levels [before very long] The dip in religious belief is not temporary or accidental, it is a generational phenomenon. The decline has continued year on year. The fact that children are only half as likely to believe as their parents indicates that, as a society, we are at an advanced stage of secularization." 2

This report was based on interviews of 10,500 households over 14 years and used data from the British Household Panel and British Social Attitudes surveys. They found that between 1991 and 1999:

bulletThe importance of belief in God fell from 37.8% to 32.5%

bullet The percentage of people who said that they attended church services regularly fell by 3.5%. Responses to this type of question are notoriously inaccurate. For example, when church attendees were actually counted, once county at a time, in the U.S. only about 20% of the adult population actually attenced church. Yet previous U.S. surveys showed that about 40% claimed to attend weekly.

bulletThe percentage of people who regard themselves as affiliated with a religion dropped by 2.9%.

There was diverse reaction to the survey results:

bulletSteve Jenkins, a spokesperson for the Church of England was skeptical. He said:

"There is an assumption that people 'catch' religion from their parents, but many people come to faith through the grandparents, schools, and their friends. He said that the study had not released "proper evidence...There is nothing to back up the claims. Our recent statistics show that congregations are actually increasing, as is the number of ordinations."

Church of England data shows that in 2004, the ordinations of 564 candidates for the priesthood were approved -- the highest figure in six years. Congregations in 2003 had increased in size by 1 per cent. This compares to a total population growth which averages about 0.3% a year. 3

bulletThe National Secular Society welcomed the results. Their vice president, Terry Sanderson, said:

"We find [belief] embarrassing as a country and it is time we accepted that...People may say they believe in Christianity but if you question them even slightly it becomes clear that they cannot accept the central tenets of its faith -- they don't believe in its supernatural explanations."

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More 2005 data:

The Mori poll polled 4,270 adults during 2005-May. The margin of error would have been less than 2 percentage points. Some results:

bullet36% of young adults (18 to 34 years-of-age) define themselves as Atheist or Agnostic.

bullet24% of the adult population as a whole say they have no religion.

bullet Only 11% of those over 65 say they have no religion. 4

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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. "We believe, but not in church," BBC News, UK Edition, 2004-MAY-16, at:
  2. Matt Barnwell and Amy Iggulden, "Religious belief 'falling faster than church attendance'," News.Telegraph, 2005-AUG-17, at:
  3. "Population Estimates," National Statistics, 2004-SEP-09. at:
  4. "Religion and belief - some surveys and statistics," British Humanist Association, 2005, at: ** 
  5. "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:

** This web site contains extensive listings of various polls on religious belief.

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Site navigation: Home pageReligious information > Basic info > Religion in the UK > here

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Copyright 2003 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-FEB-19
Latest update: 2016-MAR-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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