Roman Catholics in Britain: Faith, Society and Politics.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Politics

Abstract

In recent decades, the religious profile of British society has changed significantly, with a marked increase in 'religious nones', declining proportions identifying as Anglican or with a particular Non-Conformist tradition, an increase in non-denominational Christians, and the spread of non-Christian faiths. Within this wider context, Roman Catholics have remained broadly stable as a proportion of the adult population and represent the second largest Christian denomination in Britain, after Anglicans. However, there have been significant internal and external developments which have affected the institutional church and wider Roman Catholic community in Britain, and which could have shaped how Catholics' think about and engage with their faith and how it impacts their daily lives. Recent years have seen demographic change through significant inflows of Catholic migrants coming from Eastern Europe, the papal visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain in autumn 2010 (the first since 1982), Pope Francis's pontificate from 2013 onwards, Catholic leaders' political interventions against 'aggressive secularism' and in other policy debates, and internal crises and debates impacting on the perceived authority of the Catholic Church.
The last major academic investigation of the Catholic community (and only in England and Wales) was undertaken in the late 1970s (Hornsby-Smith and Lee 1979; Hornsby-Smith 1987, 1991). It found that the 'distinctive subculture' of the Catholic community in the post-war period was evolving and dissolving in complex ways due to processes of social change and developments within the wider faith, such as the Second Vatican Council (Hornsby-Smith 1987, 1991). It also demonstrated growing internal heterogeneity in Catholics' religious beliefs, practices and social attitudes (Hornsby-Smith 1987, 1991).
However, while there has been some recent scholarship on particular topics relating to Catholics and Catholicism in Britain, using both general social surveys and limited one-off denomination-specific opinion polls (Clements 2014a, 2014b; 2016; Bullivant 2016a, 2016b), there has been no systematic academic inquiry into the Roman Catholic population in Britain. In comparison, an academic-led survey series has profiled the Catholic population in the United States on five occasions between 1987 and 2011, with other large-scale surveys carried out in recent years by organisations such as the Pew Research Center.
Most existing research into the waning of religious belief, practice, and affiliation in Britain has focused either on the very large, macro level or on the very small, micro level. While both are important and necessary, largely missing has been sustained sociological attention on how secularising trends have affected - and are being mediated within - individual religious communities.
This project would undertake such a task for Roman Catholics in Britain, by conducting a large-scale, thematically wide-ranging and nationally representative survey. It would provide a detailed study of personal faith, social attitudes and political engagement within a significant religious minority with distinctive historical roots and in which 'tribal' feelings of belonging have been strong.
The core topics would consist of personal faith, religiosity and associational involvement in parish life; attitudes towards leadership and governance within the institutional church; attitudes on social and moral issues; and political attitudes and engagement. It would be thematically wide-ranging and analytically rich, providing a detailed portrait of contemporary social, religious and attitudinal heterogeneity amongst Catholics.
By undertaking this large-scale and wide-ranging survey, an important and distinctive contribution would be made to the sociology of religion in Britain in general and to the study of its Catholic population in particular.

Planned Impact

Securing the maximum potential for impact beyond the academic community will be a core element of the proposed research. Several distinct user groups will benefit from the research, which will encompass a wide range of topics pertaining to Catholics and Catholicism. Users will benefit from a clear programme for disseminating information and findings.

Who will benefit from the research
Firstly, the project will produce data and findings of practical and pastoral use for the wider Catholic Community and related civil society organisations. The general demographic findings on the Catholic population in Britain and those on specific topics would be of considerable interest and use to key beneficiaries, such as the Catholic Bishops Conferences of (i) England and Wales and (ii) Scotland, to individual dioceses, and a range of Catholic charities and campaign groups. Secondly, the data and findings would be of interest for think-tanks that specifically focus on religion in British society, such as Theos and Ekklesia, and researchers at other think-tanks whose work focuses on the intersection of religion and policy issues. Thirdly, the findings from the research are likely to be of significant interest to both the religious media - including the main weekly Catholic publications, The Tablet and The Catholic Herald - and mainstream media, nationally and internationally. Fourthly, the findings would benefit parliamentarians with an interest in religious issues and also those who belong to particular 'all party groups' (including but not limited to, the Christians in Parliament, Faith and Society, and the Holy See APPGs).

How they will benefit from the research
User groups beyond the academic community will be able to use and benefit from the research because of its rigorous methodology, the range of topics to be covered pertaining to the Catholic population in Britain, and a clear and planned programme for timely dissemination of information and findings.
Firstly, all of the potential user groups set out above would benefit given the rigour of the proposed research methodology, which would be based on a national-representative sample of adult Catholics in Britain. Secondly, it would provide detailed and up-to-date information on a range of topics relating to Catholics' social lives, how they engage with their faith, and their social and political attitudes.
Thirdly, through the timely and continued dissemination of project updates and findings to these user groups through a range of activities. A clear digital presence involving a project website, a project Twitter account, and blog posts on scholarly websites - these are a popular resource with non-academic audiences, being widely read by journalists and practitioners. The project's Twitter feed would follow key organisations and media outlets pertaining to the Roman Catholic community in particular and religious affairs in general. During the project's duration, the website will be used to post preliminary findings, conference papers, enabling groups to obtain access to accessible summaries, visual illustration and explanation of findings. After the project has finished, the website would be maintained, ensuring its long-term sustainability as a digital resource for the benefit of use by groups outside the academic community.
Dissemination for non-academic users will also take place through writing articles for publications, as well as through issuing news releases for specific religious news websites and the general media through the media relations offices at the universities of Leicester and St Mary's. Also, by staging an event to disseminate preliminary findings from the project to users and beneficiaries outside the academic community. Those invited to the event would encompass the types of users and beneficiaries outlined above.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Article for the Catholic Herald 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article written for the Catholic Herald ('How Catholics are likely to vote in the General Election'), during the 2019 general election campaign. Date: 11th December.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://catholicherald.co.uk/exclusive-data-how-catholics-are-likely-to-vote-in-the-general-election...
 
Description Contribution of findings to newspaper article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Providing survey findings on British Catholics' view of Pope Francis in response to an enquiry from a journalist working for the US media organisation NBC News.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Post for project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Post for project website: 'Catholics and church attendance in Britain'. To discuss the long-term context of church attendance amongst Catholics in Britain, and to present and discuss survey evidence in a clear and accessible way. Provides relevant content and analysis for the findings from the new survey which will be reported on the website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://catholicsinbritain.le.ac.uk/resources/catholics-and-church-attendance-in-britain/#.XlpNwKj7Q...
 
Description Post for project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Post for project website: 'Catholics' attitudes towards social issues: Same sex relations, abortion and euthanasia.'
To provide a long-term perspective on changes in Catholics' views on key social issues of particular relevance to Roman Catholicism and its teachings, and to present and discuss survey evidence in a clear and accessible way. Provides relevant content and analysis for the findings from the new survey which will be reported on the website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://catholicsinbritain.le.ac.uk/resources/catholics-attitudes-towards-social-issues-same-sex-rel...
 
Description Post for project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Post for project website: 'Catholics and religious affiliation in Britain'. To discuss the long-term context of religious affiliation in Britain, comparing levels of identification as Catholics and with other traditions, and to present and discuss survey evidence in a clear and accessible way. Provides relevant content and analysis for the findings from the new survey which will be reported on the website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://catholicsinbritain.le.ac.uk/resources/catholics-and-religious-affiliation-in-britain/#.XlpOi...
 
Description Post for project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A post on 'Catholics' attitudes towards religious authority in Britain', using recurrent survey data to compare the view of Catholics and other religious groups on issues such as trust in religious institutions, the power of religious organisation, and the exercise of religious authority in the political process. The post provides a discussion and presentation of long-term evidence, setting the context for findings from the new survey.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://catholicsinbritain.le.ac.uk/resources/catholics-attitudes-towards-religious-authority-in-bri...
 
Description Short report 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Short report published, presenting findings from the new surveys relating British Catholics' views of Pope Francis ('Everybody Loves Francis? British Catholics' 'job approval' ratings of the Pope').
Made available on the project website.
Circulated to religious affairs correspondents in national newspapers and to journalists working on Catholic publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://catholicsinbritain.le.ac.uk/