Sunday, 18 December 2016

Trends in Religion, and Dialogue

In November Jeremy Rodell, Dialogue Officer at the BHA,
delivered a talk to the Manchester group on trends in religious affiliation in the UK.

According to the British Social Attitudes Survey 1983-2015, the proportion of people who consider themselves to be non-religious increased from just over 30% to just under 50% though Jeremy questioned whether people are less religious or whether it is more socially acceptable to say that you are non-religious.  The other major changes over this period were a fall in affiliation with the Church of England from 40% to under 20% and a rise in the non-Christian religious from 2% to 8% of the population.  The proportion of Catholics has not changed and remains at around 10%: the reduction in the number of UK Catholic followers has been offset by a steady stream of immigration of Catholic people.  The number of people following Islam is increasing and by 2050 the percentage of the population is predicted to be 10%.  Islam is the most diverse of the religious groups and comprises a number of different sects along a spectrum from liberals to Jihadis.

Jeremy made an interesting comparison of the non-religious proportions of the population as captured by the 2011 Census and the British Social Attitudes Survey 2011.  The Census shows a much lower non-religious proportion of 25% because it asks ‘What is your religion?’ rather than the question asked in the British Social Attitudes Survey ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to a particular religion?’ which rendered a 46% non-religious proportion.

Jeremy pointed out that according to the 2011 Census Greater Manchester has a very diverse religious population with a relatively high proportion of Muslims and Jews.  Jeremy also outlined some interesting findings on the expression that religion takes for different groups as outlined in a 2013 You Gov survey.  Muslims engage in prayer and attend services more than Christians.  Double the number of men than women are non believers.  The majority of Christian followers are over age 55 and Muslim followers have the youngest age profile. Further information on the above statistics and trends is available on the BHA website.  Jeremy summarised that there is more diversity of religions in the UK today than previously and talked about the challenges that the BHA have correspondingly identified.  These are:

  • Increasing polarisation of belief systems and a lack of cohesion.
  • Uninformed generalisations about other religions 
  • Increases in faith based prejudices
  • A reduction in institutional privileges
  • An increase in conflicting values

Jeremy outlined three ways in which the BHA and Humanists can respond.  The first is to explain and promote secularism which means the state being neutral in religious matters, the universality of human rights, freedom of thought, the equal application of the law, and non-religious privilege.  The second way is through education about religious and non-religious beliefs, seeking an end to state funded schools and faith based admissions to state funded schools, and encouraging a broader preparation for life in a pluralistic society through education on sex, relationships, values and citizenship.  Finally, Humanists can engage in dialogue with other faith groups.  Meaningful dialogue is where one sees the human before the person’s religion, avoids generalisations, and recognises areas of disagreement and areas of commonality.  As the BHA Dialogue Officer, Jeremy talked further on his role and stressed that effective dialogue requires each party to engage with and listen to the other person’s viewpoint.  From this stance, the other person will be more likely to consider the Humanist viewpoint. 

Jeremy saw dialogue as a means of furthering the BHA strategy: “We want a world where everyone lives cooperatively on the basis of shared human values, respect for human rights, and concern for future generations.”  It can complement campaigning by making a positive Humanist contribution to building a peaceful, plural, secular society and by improving others’ understanding of Humanism.  Finally, Jeremy described three types of useful dialogue.  The first is interfaith dialogue which involves representatives from a number of faiths in dialogue with each other.  The second is public events which can allow for representatives from different faiths to reach common ground on issues.   The third is private bilateral/ multilateral dialogue and this is where Humanists can enter into dialogue with specific faith groups on specific issues.

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