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Britain is neither Christian nor secular, but religiously plural

11th December 2012

Britain is neither Christian nor secular, but religiously plural, says Theos

New Census figures released today demonstrate that religiosity in England and Wales is increasingly diverse and complex.

Statistics from the 2011 Census show that 59.3% (33 million) of people say they are Christian, down from 72% in 2001. 25% (14.1 million) said they had no religion, up from 15.5% in 2001. The Muslim population had increased to 5%. Other religions in total made up nearly 8.4%.

A question on religion was included in the Census for the first time in 2001. It is the only optional question on the Census. The census offers us the only truly national survey of religious identity. It is seen as so significant that the British Humanist Association even campaigned in order get people to tick the no religion box rather than leave the optional question unanswered.

The Census measures a sense of belonging rather than belief. By contrast, recent Theos/ ComRes research shows that many of those who say that they are not religious still believe in things like heaven, life after death or the resurrection of Jesus.

The report, Post-religious Britain?: The faith of the faithless isolated those who are clearly non-religious – who never attend a religious service, or call themselves atheists, or place themselves in the ‘non-religious’ category – and then examined what they actually did believe. It found that even amongst atheists - the most sceptical group in the population - nearly a quarter (23%) believe in the human soul, 15% in life after death, and 14% in reincarnation.

Theos’ Research Director Nick Spencer, said:

“Religion is difficult to define and difficult to measure. The census measures religious identification, not beliefs or practice. It’s about what people call themselves, and which ‘group’ they wish to identify with.”

“These figures show that we have a plural religious landscape, but that doesn’t mean we’re atheists. Digging deeper, we see that even those who say they have no religion often have a variety of spiritual beliefs, but they don’t want to associate these to religious institutions.”


1. Theos is a religion and society think tank which offers research and commentary on issues of religion, ethics and society. It was launched in November 2006 with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the then Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

2. A PDF of the Post-religious Britain?: The faith of the faithless report is available to download here.

      3. Press enquiries should be directed to the Theos Press Office.

77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ
T. 0207 828 7777
M. 07914 723839 (out of hours)