Relaymedia

Christianity Remains Dominant Religion

Feb 15, 2003 01:06 PM EST

BRITAIN remains an overwhelmingly Christian country, with more than seven out of ten people stating this as their religion on their census form.

Islam was the second most popular religion after Christianity, with more than 1.5 million Muslims in England and Wales, or 3.1 per cent of the population.

Almost 400,000 people, or 0.7 per cent, of the population, claimed to be “Jedis”, from the Star Wars films. This was more than the number who registered their faith as Jewish, Buddhist or Sikh. Most were concentrated in university towns and cities. Brighton and Hove is the Jedi capital of the UK with 6,480 or 2.6 per cent of its population claiming to be Jedi.

The highest proportion of Christians was in the North East, with more than eight out of ten people describing themselves so. The most Christian district in England and Wales was St Helens, Merseyside, where almost nine out of ten people, or 86.9 per cent of the population, ticked the “Christian” box.

Tower Hamlets in East London had the highest proportion of Muslims, with Islam claiming almost four out of ten, or 36.4 per cent, of the population. Westminster had the most Buddhists, Harrow the most Hindus, Barnet the most Jewish people and Slough the most Sikhs. The religion question was optional and Haringey in London had the highest proportion of people who chose not to tick the box.

Christianity was the biggest faith with 71.7 per cent of the population of England and Wales, or 37.3 million people. Throughout the UK, 42,558,000 people described themselves as Christian.

Islam was the second largest faith with 1,547,000 people in England and Wales and 1,591,207 throughout the UK.

There were 558,746 Hindus, 336,040 Sikhs, 267,711 Jewish people, 149,237 Buddhists and 157,000 from other religions throughout the UK. The Jedis were counted in with the 8,197,221 who ticked the “no religion” box. More than 4.4 million refused to answer the optional question.

The Church of England welcomed the figures. The Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Rev Keith Sutton, said: “These figures prove as a lie claims that England is no longer a Christian country. Clergy in my diocese baptise some 23 per cent of all babies before they are one year old. The Christian faith is still relevant to many, many people.

“But welcome as they are, the statistics are a wake-up call to all of us in Christian leadership. While the Christian faith remains relevant to the vast majority of society, the Church is clearly no longer seen as important.”

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the findings were a landmark event and social history in the making. He said: “Up to now, Muslims have been statistically invisible, and thus easily marginalised. The census output is a strong signal to central and local government, social services and employers in particular that the needs of all sections of Britain’s multicultural society must be fairly and equitably addressed.”

In a joint statement, Professor Barry Kosmin and Professor Stanley Waterman, of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, said that they thought the number of Jewish people had been undercounted: “Nationally, 15.5 per cent of the population stated that they had no religion and 7.3 per cent did not answer the question. In other words, almost a quarter of the population did not provide a specific religious preference.

“This alone suggests that the number of Jews is undercounted. This was not unexpected and, in fact, there are grounds for suggesting that Jews may be more reluctant than others to answer a voluntary question on religion in the census. For historical reasons, many older Jews of Central and Eastern European background are reluctant to cooperate with government-sponsored counts of Jews.”

By Ruth Gledhill and Richard Ford, Times Britain