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The piece is also reproduced below:
This week as part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science 2011, I will be hosting the event, “Faith in the City: communities, regeneration, interaction”. The event sets out to explore the way in which faith inspires and influences people to live, work and act in the diverse, vibrant urban space that is today’s Birmingham. Despite Alastair Campbell stating the British “don’t do God”, the event is interesting to many.
Faith – whether one has it or not – is more important and topical today than it has been for decades. As the theology think-tank Theos recently noted, “religious identity is a feature of national and international affairs today in a way that was unexpected, indeed unimaginable, just twenty years ago”.
This is not to suggest that faith and religion are any less contentious or emotive than they have ever been, on the contrary. But what it does show is the timeliness and relevance of faith to Britain, and British people, in the 21st century.
Subjectively referencing the 2001 Census, an overwhelming majority of British people identify themselves as Christian (71.6%). These figures can however be misleading as there is a disparity between identification and practice with only about 2% of the population regularly attending church. Grace Davie describes this as ‘believing without belonging’. For her, the majority of Britons are increasingly drifting away from traditional institutional forms of religion to more personal forms of faith and spirituality.
However, identification remains. Last month’s Integrated Household Survey reaffirms that three Britons identify themselves as Christian for every one that does not. Perhaps surprisingly, this is also true amongst the young: 59% of 16-24 year-olds and 60% of under-16s identify themselves as being Christian.
Maybe this accounts for the reason that, since the turn of the century, more new churches than Starbucks have opened across the UK, more Britons believe in heaven now than they did in 1970, and the number of adult Christian baptisms is rising year-on-year. And even though overall church attendance remains in decline, that decline is slowing. Today, a third of all churches are reporting growth.