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Census Data Evaluations and Continued Question of Christian Secularisation

Sarah Butler

28th October 2022

With the religion data from the 2021 UK Census due to be released at the end of November, I've thinking about the criticism around the potentially leading religion questions - the subject of ongoing criticism in recent years. So this extended blog entry reflects on these arguments, as we await 29th November's data reveal.

The 2021 data on religion, language, national and ethnic identity will be released here.

The first throwback is Tim Minchin’s Facebook plea for Australians to think carefully about calling themselves religious.

Up next is this article from Humanists UK from 2020, in which the leading question ‘what is your religion?’ is criticised. Humanists UK have campaigned to have this changed, as they believe it distorts the data and can lead to loose affiliations of culture being conflated with genuine religious practice. Humanists UK praise the question used in the British Social Attitudes Survey ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?’ and ‘If yes, which?’ As sociologists we can question the difference these questions may have on the validity of the data collected, and how well the term religion has been operationalised.

This Guardian article from 2021 predicts the outcome of the most recent census as one which will demonstrate our journey further into the ‘post Christian era’. It also points to Church of England data showing that fewer than 1% of the population attended church on Sundays in 2019, with a third of those attending aged 70 or over.

And finally, this 2022 article predicts a rise in Islam alongside the ongoing decrease in Christianity, and also questions how people will find a sense of belonging in 2022 without religion being so significant in people’s lives? Interestingly, the visiting of church for quiet reflection is still significant: whilst only 1.9 per cent of people in Norfolk actually attend church, a whopping 85 per cent visit a church at least once during a year for sanctuary, quiet reflection and meditation, demonstrating that our perceived secularisation is more complex than some data may indicate.

Sarah Butler

Sarah is an experienced Head of Social Sciences, EPQ Coordinator and Sociology examiner.

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