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The changing picture of religion and belief

Watch Humanists UK’s Richy Thompson describe the significant changes seen in religious affiliation in the UK over the past thirty or so years.
Over the last 30-40 years the UK has become a much less religious country. The Church of England and the Church of Scotland in particular have very much seen a decline in affiliation with much of their support base transferring to those of no religion. More generally we actually become a more diverse society with many new forms of Christianity coming to prominence and many other non-Christian religions also growing due to changes brought about due to immigration.
In fact, the biggest demographic shift that is happening the UK today is that swing from the more long established Christian groups, the Church of England in particular, to no religion so for example over the last 35 years the British Social Attitudes Survey has shown the Church of England go from two thirds to one third of the population as a whole, while the non-religious has gone from making about a third to making a majority. And that’s particularly stark if you look at the break down by age. So amongst those aged 18-24 you find that 71% of young people say they belong to no religion, and just 3% say they’re Church of England, which points to further demographic changes to come.
I think there are three main reasons why we see the demographic shifts that have been going on recently. First of all many religious groups nowadays find themselves out of step with accepted ethical norms, against LGBT right, against same sex marriage, against a woman’s right to chose on abortion, against assisted dying when the public are overwhelmingly in favour. The second reason is that as science has developed a more and more complete explanation of how we came to be that has left religion with a smaller and smaller space to occupy in offering an explanation we otherwise don’t have.
And the final reason is that if you look at the long history of this and many other countries, religious groups often had an important role to play in providing community and providing support for people when things go wrong for people for example. But, As societies have changed and the welfare state has come about in the UK that is a role that religious groups are no longer needed to play because a much more comprehensive, for example universal healthcare system such as the National Health Service, has meant everybody is able to get the care they need through an alternative route.
Those three trends together have left a smaller and smaller space for religious groups in people’s lives and being an active part of an organised religious body is no longer as important to most people today. Another aspect to this is the question of what is acceptable to society, so in years gone by just as it wasn’t acceptable to be LGBT, it simply wasn’t acceptable to be non-religious. But nowadays, as the non religious has grown that is becoming increasingly acceptable. There are many people in the past who might have ticked on a survey for example that they are a Christian because of their cultural heritage or some loose affiliation who nowadays would be much less likely to do that.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy, Richy Thompson, describes the significant changes we have seen in religious affiliation in the UK over the past thirty to forty years.

Question: Using what you have learned in this and the previous step, do you think the world will be more or less religious in thirty years time? What might influence the outcome?

If you can find any data on religious affiliation in your own country and how it might have changed over the past thirty years, please share it with other learners in the comments.

This article is from the free online

Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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