An online centre for British data on religion

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Social Sciences

Abstract

The British religious landscape has changed dramatically in the past four hundred years. Nor is the pace of change slowing: during recent decades, a combination of secularisation and growth of non-Christian and alternative religions has transformed public culture. As yet there is no consensus over how far Britain remains a religious society, and how far religiosity or secularity conditions socio-political behaviours.

Studying these changes (and their implications for public policy) calls on the combined skills of historians and social scientists. It also requires a firm evidence base about religious involvement, past and present. We propose to create an online centre for British data on religion to make a rich store of statistical records and up-to-date commentaries available to historians and sociologists, policy-makers, religious leaders, journalists and the public.

Britain has a wealth of religious data, including church records on births, marriages and deaths going back centuries but also ad hoc surveys from the 1603 ecclesiastical census to the 2001 population census and the 2005 English Church Census. An enormous amount of new statistical material has been produced during recent decades from opinion polls, local and national surveys, and record-keeping by religious organisations. Most of these datasets are underused, being known to very few scholars. They have also often been poorly archived, with significant data loss.

We will not be conducting original surveys: rather, we will make the enormous body of religious statistics in Britain from the last four centuries accessible to ordinary researchers and research users. The project has three central objectives. We will:

1) identify and catalogue the full range of British statistics on religion. We will describe the nature and limitations of each source, with clear directions about where to find the data.

2) assemble a reasonably comprehensive set of statistical time series. These figures / drawn from faith, official and independent sources / will be immediately available to all researchers.

3) produce thematic commentaries on changing religious practice, identity and belief, illustrated with tables, charts and maps. These analytical summaries will be accessible to ordinary research users.

The first objective will largely be realised by updating and rearranging an existing statistical review. For all principal religions and alternative belief systems in the country, the catalogue will cover data on identification, membership, belief, practice, rites of passage, and opinion at the level of individuals and details of buildings and personnel at the level of organisations. Coverage will be from the seventeenth century (the time of the earliest ecclesiastical censuses) to the present.

The second objective, construction of time-series data, will concentrate on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For much of this period we can offer statistics on membership, rites of passage, places of worship and ministry. We will provide figures by age, gender and geographical area whenever possible.

The third objective, preparation of thematic commentaries, is planned with two kinds of users in mind. For people interested in religion and religious change but with limited ability or inclination to analyse the data, these short overviews will describe trends and summarise how scholars have interpreted them. Users who want to do further research will find pointers to current controversies and areas of uncertainty, with supporting references.

Publication on the web is ideal for material of this kind that requires complex cross-referencing. Moreover, the high-quality maps and cartograms, and full-colour charts and graphs, produced using contemporary technology, would be too expensive to publish in hard copy but can easily be displayed on a website.

Publications

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Title British Religion in Numbers 
Description British Religion in Numbers (BRIN) is an online centre for British data on religion.  BRIN provides hard empirical evidence to underpin research into and intellectual debate about the key issues and trends affecting religion in Britain, past and present. It has four central features: a catalogue of British statistics on religion; a set of statistical time series; thematic commentaries on religious practice, identity and belief; and an up-to-date review and analysis of newly released reports and statistics.  All of the digests, charts and commentaries are freely available to researchers and research users, including policy-makers, religious leaders, journalists and the public. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Widely used by policy-makers, religious leaders, journalists and the public. 
URL http://www.brin.ac.uk/