Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Significant Others

Officially, around 241,000 people in England and Wales listed their religion as "other" on last year's Census form, the results of which were released yesterday.  This doesn't include the 177,000 self-declared Jedi, who are counted separately (the Census people assume, for some reason, that it's not a proper religion).  In 2001 there were 390,000 Jedi Knights, who were put down as No Religion, as were people who called themselves atheists, humanists and even heathens.  This was problematic because many, perhaps most, "Heathens" are followers of Norse gods rather than atheists.  This year, following a campaign, Heathens were listed as "Other religion".  Otherwise, the figures were calculated in much the same way.

The total represents a big increase on the 151,00 Others in 2001 - even allowing for the misidentified Heathens.  It mirrors, almost exactly, the percentage increase in those of No Religion, which rose from under 15% to over 25%.  It's up by two thirds.  It's a smaller increase, in both absolute and percentage terms, than Buddhism has enjoyed - Buddhists leapfrogged Others to go from 144,000 to 248,000, an increase of 72%.  It also trails behind Islam, up 75%.  But Islam's increase can largely be attributed to immigration and birthrate.  It's dramatic when set against the huge fall in Christianity (down from 72% to 59%), the modest rise in numbers of Hindus and Sikhs and the flatlining Jews.

But Others is a hodgepodge sort of category.  The raw figures are here, with Jedi and various non-believers mixed in.  I've grouped them into categories to produce what I hope is a more easily assessed picture.

The largest group is the Pagans: more 56,000 using that term alone, to which I've added Wicca (11,766), Druid (4,189) and assorted Heathens, Pantheists, shamans and witches.  This gives a total of 78,675 for England and Wales.  Add another 251 if you think that "reconstructionist" refers to that type of Paganism that aims to recreate the ancient worship of pagan gods (devotees of Zeus and Athena, for example).  In the 2001 census there were approximately declared 40,000 pagans in England and Wales (as far as I can tell, this was the combined figure for all varieties of pagan nomenclature).  The figure for Scotland was around 2,000.  So at almost 80,000 Pagan numbers have almost doubled over the past ten years; at least it's the case that twice as many people are now willing to identify as such. 

The next group are people I call religious freelancers: people who make up their own beliefs, picking and choosing from various traditions, or who prefer to describe their religion in particular philosophical terms.  Linda Woodhead's research suggests that a high proportion of the population views religion in this personal way, perhaps combining vague Christian belief with New Age ideas, angels and the like.  But relatively few are sufficiently self-conscious about it to explain their beliefs in the Census.  A mere 698 put down "New Age", for example.  But combining them with those who put "mixed religion", "spiritual", "believe in God", "I have my own belief system", "deist" and the like I get a figure of 47,091.

Then come the Spiritualists.  There are more than 39,000 of those.

I wasn't sure what to do about the 1,893 Satanists, some of whom may well have been joking (in which case there's probably an overlap with the 6,242 adherents of the Church of Heavy Metal).  For comparison, there are just 502 Occultists and just 184 Thelemites (followers of Aleister Crowley).

If you lump all these categories together as "New Age, Paganism and alternative religion", you get a total of 166,000.  This may be an artificial exercise, however, given the wide variety of ideas and levels of structural and doctrinal coherence, ranging from independent thinkers to the highly organised Spirtualist Church.

The Category "Others" also includes well-established faiths, some of great antiquity, others just about long-enough established to count as "proper" religions.  These can be broken down as follows:

Minority Indian religions:

Jain: 20,288
Ravidassia: 11,058
Total: 31,346

Baha'i: 5,021

Traditional Chinese Religion:
Taoist: 4144
Chinese: 182
Confucian: 124
Total: 4450
(I suspect that the majority of UK Chinese put themselves down as Buddhists or Christians)

Zoroastrianism: 4,105
Shinto: 1075
Druze: 515
Traditional African, Voodoo, Animist: 1290
Native American Church: 127

The grand total of "minor faiths" is 47,929: well behind the number of pagans and very similar to that for the religious freelancers.  No Mormons are listed, incidentally.  I assume that all the Mormons described themselves as Christians.

Finally, New Religious Movements, some of which come under the rubric of cults.  By far the largest (and certainly no cult) is Rastafarianism, with 7,906 adherents, more than the Baha'i, Zoroastrianism or all the traditional Chinese faiths combined.  The others that make the list are: Scientology (2418), Moonies (452), Brahma Kumari (442), Eckankar (379).  This brings a total of 11,597, or just 3691 if you exclude the Rastafarians.

There are some notable omissions.  The Census may have had a cut-off below which religious affiliations were simply not recorded; or perhaps some religionists are just too shy to out themselves.  No UFO cultists are listed: no Raelians or Aetherians.  Nor do we find any adherents of the Church of All Worlds, the free love movement inspired by the writings of Robert A Heinlein.  No Heretics, either, which is a particular disappointment. And where, but where, are the Pastafarians?  His Supreme Noodliness is sure to be mightily offended.