Survey – What the British think of religion and Muslims

(1) How religious are people?
(2) Is religious diversity good for Britain?
(3) What people think of Muslims

NatCen, the UK’s largest independent social policy research organisation, has published (10 January, 2010) the findings of its 26th annual British Social Attitudes survey concerning religion.

They immediately generated news headlines such as:

Britain divided by Islam, survey finds
Islam divides us, say the majority of Britons
Britons suspicious of Islam, survey reveals
New survey highlights growing UK public concern about Islam and Muslims

We summarise below the key figures supporting these headlines. Theories abound regarding the integration or otherwise of British Muslims and what the public think. Now we have an authoritative measure of the extent of the problem.

NatCen itself says “…. the adverse reaction to Muslims deserves to be the focus of policy on social cohesion, because no other group elicits so much disquiet”.

The full survey, British Social Attitudes, 26th Report, 2010, is available from SAGE, price £50.00.

The two sections concerning religion, Part 4 – Religion in Britain and the United States (this part includes the questions and statistics mentioned in this post), and, Part 5 – Religious faith and contemporary attitudes, can be purchased separately (£8.22 including VAT each) and downloaded from here.

In total Part 4 covers 25 questions organised under: Religious identity, belief and practice; Personal faith and religious authority; Religion and social division, and Religion and freedom of expression. Click the topic to see full list of questions asked.

(1) How religious are people?

The survey uses the answers to the questions on, religious identity (affiliation), belief in God, and practice (attendance at religious services) to classify people into one of three groups:

‘Religious’ if they identify with a religion, believe (however tentatively) in God, and attend services (even if less than once a year);

‘Unreligious’ if they do not regard themselves as belonging to a religion, do not believe and never attend;

‘fuzzy faithful’ (Voas, 2009): they identify with a religion, believe in God or attend services, but not all three. [Source Table 4.6 – p71]

Religious typology – % Who are:
Country Unreligious Fuzzy Religious
Britain 31 36 26
United States 4 24 70

(2) Is religious diversity good for Britain?

Q. How much do you agree or disagree with the statement “religious diversity has been good for Britain”. [Source Table 4.10 – p76]

Religious diversity has been good for Britain – % Saying:
Religiosity Agree Disagree
Strongly Somewhat Somewhat Strongly
Unreligious 8 35 22 32
Fuzzy 7 45 33 10
Religious 13 48 26 9
All 9 43 31 14

Q. Do you agree or disagree that “Britain is deeply divided along religious lines”. [Source – p76]

Britain is deeply divided along religious grounds – % Who:
Agree Nieither agree
or disagree
Disagree
52 28 16

This shows that around half the British public are concerned about divisions caused by religion. Judging from the answers to the following questions Islam has a lot to do with this.

(3) What people think of Muslims

Q. I’d like to get your feelings towards a number of different ethnic and religious groups.

I’ll read the name of a group and I’d like you to rate that group using something we call the feeling thermometer. Ratings between 50 degrees and 100 degrees mean that you feel favourable and warm toward the group.

Ratings between 0 degrees and 50 degrees mean that you don’t feel favourable and don’t care too much for that group. You would rate the group at the 50-degree mark if you don’t feel particularly warm or cold towards the group. Feel free to use the entire extent of the scale. [Source Table 4.13 – p79]

Feelings towards different religious groups in Britain – % Who rate:
Religious group Cool (0-49) Neutral (50) Warm (51-100)
No religion 8 49 40
Protestants 6 44 47
Catholics 9 43 45
Jews 13 47 36
Buddhists 15 45 35
Deeply religious 29 41 27
Muslims 34 40 23

At least a third (34%) of the British public are negative about Muslims, not much more are neutral, and barely a quarter have positive feelings. This is in stark contrast to the low level of any negative feelings (6% – 15%) and much higher positive feelings about other religious groups, apart from the deeply religious.

The answers to two more questions underlined this result.

Q. Suppose some Muslims wanted to build a large Muslim mosque in your community. Would this bother you a lot, bother you a little, not bother you, or be something you welcome?

The other half of respondents were asked:

Suppose some Christians wanted to build a large Christian church in your community. Would this bother you a lot, bother you a little, not bother you, or be something you welcome? [Source – p79]

Reaction to the building of a large mosque or church – % Who are:
Building Bothered Not bothered
Mosque 55 45
Church 15 85

Q. Do you agree or disagree with the statement “nearly all Muslims living in Britain really want to fit in. [Source – p80]

Nearly all Muslims living in Britain want to fit in – % Who:
Agree Disagree
38 39

NatCen itself says in regard to these findings:

Education has a clear impact on attitudes towards Muslims; 44 per cent of respondents with no qualifications have negative feelings, as against 23 per cent of those with degrees.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the importance of education, there are no sharp age differences, although 18–24 year olds are less likely than people aged 65 and over to have negative feelings (34 and 41 per cent respectively).

Religiosity makes little difference to the prevalence of negative feelings towards Muslims, but the religious are almost twice as likely as the unreligious (31 per cent versus 17 per cent) to express feelings that are positive rather than neutral.

…. the adverse reaction to Muslims deserves to be the focus of policy on social cohesion, because no other group elicits so much disquiet.

(4) NatCen and the British Social Attitudes survey

NatCen (National Centre for Social Research) is Britain’s largest independent research organisation studying social policy. It was founded in 1969 and has a team of 350 permanent staff and a field force of 1200 freelance interviewers.

NatCen has conducted the British Social Attitudes survey annually since 1983. The 2008 survey consisted of 4,486 interviews with a representative, random sample of people in Britain.

The survey is funded by charitable and government sources. The questions in the 2008 survey were funded by the following government Departments: Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (now Business, Innovation and Skills); Children, Schools and Families; Health; Transport; and Work and Pensions.

Other funders came from: the Economic and Social Research Council; the Food Standards Agency; the Gatsby Charitable Foundation; the Hera Trust; the John Templeton Foundation; the Leverhulme Trust; and NORFACE.

The full survey, British Social Attitudes, 26th Report, 2010, is available from SAGE, price £50.00. It is edited by Alison Park, John Curtice, Katarina Thomson, Miranda Phillips, Elizabeth Clery and Sarah Butt.

The two sections concerning religion, Part 4 – Religion in Britain and the United States , and, Part 5 – Religious faith and contemporary attitudes, can be purchased separately (£8.22 including VAT each) and downloaded from here.

The questions asked and analysed in Part 4 are as follows.

Questions on religious identity, belief and practice

(1) Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion? Which one?

(2) Which statement comes closest to expressing what you believe about God.

… I don’t believe in God
… I don’t know whether there is a God and I don’t believe there is any way to find out
… I don’t believe in a personal God, but I do believe in a higher power of some kind
… I find myself believing in God some of the time, but not at others
… While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God
… I know God really exists and that I have no doubts about it

(3) Would you describe yourself as:

… extremely religious
… very religious
… somewhat religious
… neither religious or non-religious
… somewhat non-religious
… very non-religious, or
… extremely non-religious?

(4) Apart from such special occasions as weddings, funerals and baptisms, how often nowadays do you attend services or meetings connected with your religion?

Questions on personal faith and religious authority

(5) How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements:

Practising a religion helps people to:
… find inner peace and happiness
… make friends
… gain comfort in times of trouble or sorrow

(6) At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on British life or losing its influence?

(7) All in all, do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?

(8) Do you agree or disagree with the following statements:

… Religious leaders should not try to influence how people vote in Elections
… Religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions

(9) If many more of our elected officials were deeply religious, do you think that the laws and policy decisions they make would probably be better or would probably be worse?

(10) Which of these two statements comes closest to your views:

… In matters of right and wrong, some people say it is important to faithfully follow the leaders and teachings of one’s religion.
… Others say it is more important to follow one’s own conscience

(11) Which of these statements comes closest to your views:

Some say it is okay for religious people to try to convert other people to their faith, others say that everyone should leave everyone else alone

(12) Some schools are for children of a particular religion. Which of the statements on this card comes closest to your views about these schools?

… No religious group should have its own schools
… Some religious groups but not others should have their own schools
… Any religious group should be able to have its own schools

Questions on religion and social division

(13) How much do you agree or disagree with the statement “religious diversity has been good for Britain”.

(14) How much do you agree or disagree that “all religious groups in Britain should have equal rights”.

(15) Do you agree or disagree that “Britain is deeply divided along religious lines”.

(16) People have different religions and different religious views. Would you accept a person from a different religion or with a very different religious view from yours.

… marrying a relative of yours?
… being a candidate of the political party you prefer?

(17) I’d like to get your feelings towards a number of different ethnic and religious groups.

I’ll read the name of a group and I’d like you to rate that group using something we call the feeling thermometer. Ratings between 50 degrees and 100 degrees mean that you feel favourable and warm toward the group.

Ratings between 0 degrees and 50 degrees mean that you don’t feel favourable and don’t care too much for that group. You would rate the group at the 50-degree mark if you don’t feel particularly warm or cold towards the group. Feel free to use the entire extent of the scale

(18) Suppose some Muslims wanted to build a large Muslim mosque in your community. Would this bother you a lot, bother you a little, not bother you, or be something you welcome?

The other half of respondents were asked:

Suppose some Christians wanted to build a large Christian church in your community. Would this bother you a lot, bother you a little, not bother you, or be something you welcome?

(19) Do you agree or disagree with the statement “nearly all Muslims living in Britain really want to fit in.

Questions on religion and freedom of expression

(20) Consider religious extremists, people who believe that their religion is the only true faith and all other religions should be considered as enemies. Do you think such people should be allowed:

… to hold a public meeting to express their views?
… to publish books expressing their views?

(21) In Britain, respondents were invited to agree or disagree with the view that:

People have a perfect right to give a speech defending Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda

(22) Some books or films offend people who have strong religious beliefs. Should books and films that attack religions be banned by law or should they be allowed?

(23) A different question was asked in the United States, in view of the strong constitutional (and ideological) support for free speech.

There are always some people whose ideas are considered bad or dangerous by other people. For instance, somebody who is against all churches and religion … If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community against churches and religion, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

… If some people in your community suggested that a book he wrote against churches and religion should be taken out of your public library, would you favour removing this book, or not?

(24) Should people be allowed to dress in a way that shows their religious faith, by wearing veils, turbans or crucifixes?

(25) Should people who work with the general public be allowed to dress in a way that shows their religious faith, by wearing veils, turbans or crucifixes?

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