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Christians continue to dominate in national census

Dr Abby Day, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kent has commented on the level of UK citizens selecting ‘Christian’ as their religion in the 2012 National Census.

She said:‘Numbers are down, as we would expect – not because of increasing numbers of non-Christians, such as Muslims which are still a tiny percentage of the population, but because older people, the most religious cohort of society, are dying. Young people are less religious. We know that, but the number is still important because census data are used to inform important political decisions about a range of issues, such as health, welfare, and education. The census helps the government decide about funding religious schools, for example. What they may be funding are ‘white schools’.

‘For many people, selecting “Christian” is an emotional, defensive choice: when they look down the list and see the options, ranging from Buddhist to Muslims or others, they feel compelled to tick the Christian box as a sign of solidarity.

‘Importantly, it fuels comments about what the real, perhaps “proper” UK culture or identity is. “Culture”, like “tradition”, is often a stick used to beat anyone who doesn’t fit the dominant, powerful status.

‘Christian, for many people, means English, and often a particularly hard form of English that rejects multi-culturalism. Many of the census Christians are more concerned about protecting English culture than Christian beliefs. What people really believe, however, is more complex. Many ‘Christians’ don’t worship Jesus or even God, or give religion any thought unless asked to on occasions like census day.’

Dr Abby Day is part of the Department of Religious studies in the School of European Culture and Languages. Dr Day has been studying religious identification on the national census since 2011 and is also Chair of the British Sociological Association's Sociology of Religion study group. Dr Day was the only qualitative researcher to be involved as an advisor for the 2011 National Census on questions about religion, ethnicity, and identity.


Story published at 9:45am 14 December 2012

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