Believing in Belonging: a qualitative analysis of being Christian for the 2001 census Abby Day Religious Studies Lancaster University PhD Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Research context • UK 2001 Census: 72 % “Christian” • Less than 7% attend church regularly
Research problem • What do people believe in nowadays and how do we find out? • Implication= what do we understand about religious affiliation and its impacts on social, political and policy decisions?
Method • Avoid self-selection by religion or spirituality • Avoid overtly religious questions - about God, church, religion, ghosts. • In depth qualitative: tease out meaning
260 Informants • Aged 14 – 83 – bulge in the middle • Male/female • Socio-economic – majority middle/lower SEGs
Data gathering • 68 face-to-face interviews: recorded, transcribed verbatim • Participant observation • Group discussions
Multi-dimensional • Content –what do they believe in • Resource – where did they source them • Practice – what do they do with them • Salience – how and why is this important? • Function – what does this belief do and why?
Opening question 1. What do you believe in?
Jordan, 14 A: What do you believe in? J: Nowt. A: Sorry? J: I don’t believe in owt. I don’t believe in any religions. A: You don’t believe in any religions. J: No. I’m Christian but I don’t believe in owt.
Morality • What are rights and wrongs for you? Examples? • Have they changed for you? • How do you know those things? • How do you put that into practice? • Has there ever been an inspirational figure to you, real or fictional? • Are there any books, movies, TV programmes which have significance for you and influenced you?
Meaning & Transcendence • When are you happiest? • When are you must unhappy? • What happens to you after you die? • What frightens you? • What do you do to comfort you during those times? • What, or who, is most important to you in your life?
Influence and Control • How much influence or control do you think you have over your life? • Do you ever think about the purpose or meaning in life? If so, what? • No one can say for certain how it all began, but I wonder what your thoughts might be on how the universe came into being?
Believing in belonging: Affective, reciprocal human relationships the main site for sourcing and expressing meaning, morality and transcendence.
Us and others Young - rude, disrespectful, dangerous Not English – criminals, immoral, dangerous Non-traditional female – rude, disrespectful, bad mothers, dangerous.
Final question • Census: For the first time there was a question about people’s religion - none Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Buddhist or you could say other and write something different or you didn’t have to answer it. What did you say? [Or, a variation for students: do you know what you would have said?]
68 Interviews • 20: None • 2 Buddhists • 1 Muslim • 4: Other • 4: Don’t know • 37: Christian
Why Christian? • 37 Christians: • 18 Adherent • 19 Nominalists
Nominalist Christians (19) • Ethnic Christians • Natal Christians
Terry, 47 • “Well, I believe in fate, luck. We’re doing what we do and we are what we are randomly. If that makes sense. I don’t believe in one great deity who’s pulling strings up in sky.”
Why did he say Christian? • “Well, only because they asked us to, not because, we wouldn't have any qualms, but that’s the British way, isn’t it? If people are not religious, they’re C of E. Church of England. Weddings, funerals and christenings.”
Alien culture T: I mean, there’s a bit of anti-Muslim feeling as anywhere else. A: There is around here? T: Oh, aye. But that’s because they read bloody stupid newspapers like Sun and all that. Which stir it up, don’t they? I mean, I wouldn’t go shoot somebody just because he was a Muslim, but that is an alien culture to our culture, isn’t it? Or is it? Am I just taking the same fears up as other people?
May and Robert, 70s • M: Yeah, yeah, we would be Christian. Definitely. Yeah. • A: You would have ticked the box that said Christian? • M: Yeah. • A: And - • R: Was it on that census where you were British, you could be British but not English or something. Is that what they’re talking about bringing in?
Why did they say Christian? A: Do you think that’s different than other people’s outlooks who wouldn’t be Christian? R: In some cases, yes, yeah. I don’t want to bring racism into it, but it’s difficult not to in certain cases. But I’d class the treatment of females by the Muslims, and I’m afraid this is the Kilroy Silk situation coming out, but I think it’s always been my belief that the women are trodden into the ground in the Muslim world, entirely.
Chris, 42 A: What about other people who aren’t Christian? Don’t they have those beliefs? C: Well, I don’t know. I don’t really know any. I don’t have anything to do with, um, any other religion’s people. No doubt Pakistanis, and Hindus and Muslims and whatever have their own thoughts on it. Probably very nice people, I just think there’s too many of them in our country.
Not believing in owt but birthright J: No, I don’t, but my Grandma and Granddad do. They’re like Irish and really strong Christians. A: And so they believe in - ? J: The whole bible thing. A: And God, and Jesus? J: Yeah. A: So those people are Christians and they believe in all that stuff, and you’re a Christian but you don’t believe in that stuff. J: No.
Certified by Birth A: What makes you think or say, or describe yourself as Christian? J: Well, on my birth certificate it says I’m Christian, so.
Kathleen, 15, student • Christian. ‘Cos I definitely would never be, well, I’m definitely not Sikh or a Muslim or whatever, and I don’t think, I think being atheist is probably very close-minded, really. If you don’t believe in anything then that’s a bit sad, really, if you don’t have any beliefs, whatsoever at all. So I’d probably put Christian ‘cos that’s what my parents are and that’s, if I was anything, like I said before, I’d be Christian. That would be the thing that definitely, if I decided I believed in anything then I’d become Christian, like thoroughly.
Conclusion • Christian identity is important as a matter of immediate, engaged faith for some • As ethnic and natal identity for others
Further research • If half the Christians in my study are ‘in name only’, what does this tell us about the results of larger surveys? • Do we need to question implications of religious affiliation? • Are there better ways to find out what people really mean?