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Census stories: bringing statistics to life in Milton Keynes
Census stories: bringing statistics to life in Milton Keynes

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Census stories: Bringing statistics to life in Milton Keynes


This free course, Census stories: Bringing statistics to life in Milton Keynes, aims to provide you with opportunities to reflect on contemporary religious identities, as well as the role of religious and secular communities in providing a sense of belonging, in our increasingly global, urban and multifaith society. During this course you will compare data from the UK national census, particularly statistical evidence on religion and ethnicity, with people’s own stories. These stories include themes of identity, belonging and the sorts of practices (be these religious, spiritual or secular ritual practices) they engage in to celebrate life’s big events, such as births and funerals.

The UK national census seems to confirm some scholarly predictions that we are witnessing a continuous and persistent decline in religious identity over time, a process which is known as secularisation. The 2001 census indicated that 72% of the population of the UK identified as Christian, yet the 2011 census showed that only 59.3% still identify as Christians. There has also been a corresponding growth in people who identify as ‘not religious’.

But what does this mean? Are people in the ‘no religion’ category Christians who no longer practise, or people who practise but do not believe in God? Are they indifferent to religion altogether, or perhaps they are ‘spiritual but not religious’ – a category that is increasingly used by people to describe their religious identity, but is not captured by the census.

Of course, census data, like other types of quantitative survey data, cannot tell us the entire story – but they can provide us with very interesting perspectives over a longer time span, such as the past two decades since the UK census has begun to ask questions about religious identity.

This course will try to augment – and animate – the data, exploring people’s experiences of religion, ethnicity, and migration in a diverse British city. Milton Keynes is a large multicultural town in South East England, a commuter hub for London, where multicultural communities are the norm. As a result, the town presents a great case study for the religious changes that have marked British society since the late 1960s – when Milton Keynes was officially established.

The structure of this course: three key questions

Many scholars preoccupied with religion claim that there is convincing evidence that religion in Britain is in fact finding new channels of expression, such as through a growing, global, and increasingly digital, contemporary spirituality for example. Thus, in order to go beyond the labels that people use to describe their religious or secular identities, this course will present people's personal accounts as a lens for considering three key questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What do I do?