1 What can the census tell us about religion?
Before you start thinking through the course's key questions in more depth, watch this short film explaining how the census data can help us understand religious identity in Milton Keynes:
Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1 What can the census tell us about religion?
Transcript: Video 1 What can the census tell us about religion?
Are we getting less religious? Every ten years in the UK we have a national census, giving us data about the way we live – and since 2001 that’s included our religious identification. What story does this data tell us about religion – and non-religion – in the 21st century?
In the media, the big headline has been ‘Christianity is dying’. The number of people ticking the ‘Christian’ box dropped by 12.4%, to 59.3%, between 2001 and 2011. If this pattern is continued, then the UK will no longer be a Christian-majority country. But this isn’t a simple story: the number of Christians from some minority ethnic backgrounds has been increasing, and equally, someone might tick ‘Christian’, but not have attended church for years.
The broader trend of falling numbers of Christians isn’t due to immigration: Muslims still only make up 4.8% of the population, a rise of less than 2%. Nor is it due to a rise in new religions like Jedis or Scientology. The biggest increase – 10.3% – was ‘no religion’.
But this is where census data gets tricky – who ticks the ‘no religion’ box? It could be a confirmed atheist, or someone agnostic or undecided, or even someone who is ‘spiritual’, perhaps enjoying a yoga class or aromatherapy, but less keen on organised religion. In fact, many are probably just indifferent – religion is just not particularly relevant to their lives. So ‘no religion’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘goodbye religion’.
In fact, when we dig down, religious identity, commitment and practice are complex. Someone might tick a box in the census, but their own story – like millions of others – is unique. Are we getting less religious? Perhaps the best answer is: it’s complicated.
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