Census 2011 – Christianity in Decline?Tucked away under a headline on The Rise of Foreign Born Residents, you might have noticed that the 2011 census statistics on religion have been published today, and they appear to show a marked decline in the Christian population of England and Wales.
Christianity remains the largest religion, with 33.2 million people (59.3 per cent of the population), but this represents a marked drop compared to the previous census, in which 71.7% of the population of England and Wales self-identified as Christian.
A quarter of the population (25.1%) now self-identify as having no religion, compared to 14.8% of the population in 2001.Non-Christian religious groups have grown, most likely due to a rise in immigration since the last census. Islam remains the largest non-Christian religious group, the 2.7 million Muslims now making up 4.8% of the population, compared to 3% in 2001
No doubt the findings will be taken up by proponents of secularism and secularisation as evidence that religion is of declining importance in the UK, while I daresay some Daily Mail columnist or other will be wringing their hands about the growth of Islam in tomorrow's paper.As with all statistics on religion, the findings need to be interpreted with some caution. The census is measuring religious self-identification, not belief in God, active religious participation in religion, or any other measure that might give us a clearer understanding of the changing place of religion in modern Britain.
For example, I wonder whether the decline in the Christian population reflects a substantive change in the past decade, or whether there is more going on behind the figures. In a post 9/11 world, where religion is frequently portrayed as a cause of war or terrorism, perhaps some people are reluctant to self-identify as religion, or at least no longer feel a moral obligation to declare an affiliation with a religion they do not practice?
The British Humanist Association also ran a series of adverts calling for people to tick "No Religion" in the census, so the rise in the non-religious population may reflect the success of that campaign.Interestingly, Norwich turns out to be a hotbed of godlessness with 42.5 % of the city’s population reporting that they have no religion – the highest proportion in the country.