MEASURING RELIGION

5 April 2007

The Christian organisation Tearfund has published research undertaken for it in February and March in 2006. Seven thousand adults (aged sixteen and over) in the UK were asked about their church attendance and belief.

53 percent said they were Christian (the question asked which religion they belonged to); 6 percent belonged to other religions; and 39 percent had no religion.

Tentatively applied to Cornwall these Tearfund figures suggest there are now about 160 000 non-religious adults in Cornwall and about 60 000 regular churchgoers.

The report draws attention to the difference between its data on claimed Christian belief and that of the 2001 census (53 percent–72 percent); the latter was presumably measuring undifferentiatedly both real belief (belonging to a religion) and nominal association with Christianity. The Tearfund survey notes the findings similar to its own of the British social attitudes survey of 2004 (BSAS). Both the Tearfund and BSAS data give much larger proportions for the non-religious than the 2001 census which gave a figure of sixteen percent.

I think that there is an issue here for the office for national statistics (ONS). What are the religion figures in the census intended to represent? How is that best elicited from respondents? The data thrown up by the census seems to maximise any connection, however insubstantial or ambiguous, with Christianity. What figures about religion should national policies be based on?

The Tearfund report is here.

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