Saturday, January 24, 2009

Observations on EHRC report: some data on partnerships between Christians and non-Christians

The Equality and Human Rights Commission published on Monday some research carried out By Essex University into UK ethnicity. The report by Lucinda Platt is entitled Ethnicity and Family: Relationships within and between ethnic groups: An analysis using the Labour Force Survey at the Institute for Social & Economic Research and featured quite prominently in an article on the BBC News Web site.

What the title and the BBC article doesn't make explicit is that this survey contained religious-related data. Since the beginning of this decade, the UK Government has been more active in including religion in demographic analyses - most notably including for the first time in the 2001 National Census a question about religious affiliation. Here, data is drawn from the Labour Force Survey, which is a quarterly longitudinal survey that involves about 60,000 households selected according to postcode - it's a good size, certainly good enough for considering Christian identity. For reference, you can take a look at some details about basic specification highlighting the questions on ethnicity and much more comprehensive treatment in the User Guide

As with the census, some attention is given to religion and in recent years there have been two questions. Using as a guide the [software] specification of the form used in 2008, the question is put as follows:


What is your religion even if you are not currently practising?

  1. Christian
  2. Buddhist
  3. Hindu
  4. Jewish
  5. Muslim
  6. Sikh
  7. Any other religion
  8. Or no religion at all

There are of course many other religions - MultiFaithNet, for example, adds Baha'i, Jainism and Zoroastrianism - but I guess the six listed are considered the most numerous. Also it is useful to distinguish between identity and practice, which is sometimes catered for in another question: Do you consider that you are actively practising your religion? However, it appears to have been only sporadically incorporated.

Why my interest? As part of my course in religious studies I'm intending to write an essay concerning the Catholic Church's attitudes, responses etc to Catholics marrying non-Catholics (such was the case of my parents) and am seeking to gain some idea of general trends to support my contention that this is an issue that needs addressing!

So what are the findings? First, I make a disclaimer that I'm not a statistician!

Tables 23 to 30 report on partnership patterns according to religious affiliation. If we concentrate on those who designated themselves as Christians, the pattern of data is as follows:

Percentage of Christian with no partner | Percentage of Christian-Christian partnerships | Percentage of Christian with a partner from a different religion.

Tables 25-30 are particularly interesting because they show figures by age bands, which can give some indication of trends. To keep things simple, I'll just confine our attention to percentage figures for Christian men who are in a couple [defined as cohabitees and legally married]:

Cohort aged 16-29:
88 (same religion) 12 (different religion)

Cohort aged 30-59:
95 (same religion) 5 (different religion)

Cohort aged 60+: 98 (same religion) 2 (different religion)

(Note that the sample sizes for 16-29 are much smaller than the other two, but still run into thousands.)

The demographic pattern seems pretty clear to me - for each successive generation, more and more of the couples where one partner is Christian are in partnerships with someone who is not baptised. As far as I know, there are only figures for denomination for Northern Ireland, so we can't find out from the original data any indication of what proportion of Christians here are Catholics, but given that the proportion of those in partnerships with those of another religion or none goes up several hundred percent when comparing the oldest to youngest cohort, it appears very significant and meriting attention of any large Christian denomination.

I expect that in future there'll be a lot more research delving into the UK's plural religious landscape!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Waltzing around the libraries

It's Week 0, bringing very quickly the prospect of another term. I realize I've hardly posted anything at all about my course, so before I feel deluged with reading and essays, I'll offer a glimpse of what a day is like on my course (the M.St. in the Study of Religion). The main theme will be libraries.

This is a taught course, so I have tutorials, especially on the Nature of Religion. We've already received in advance a reading list for all the tutorial sessions this term, arranged week by week. Typically they consist of books and conference papers and the first port of call is the online library catalogue - the entrance is through SOLO, which is a kind of portal offering a number of services. The two that I use most are OLIS and Oxford e-Journals. OLIS has a remarkably high proportion of the millions of (physical) items catalogued; and with the e-Journals service, the University has subscriptions to many electronic editions of journals, all of which are now conveniently available through single sign-on.

So you can plan beforehand where you need to go to find X, Y and Z. (I think it would make a nice project in operational research / mobile learning to develop a tool where you could feed in a reading list, your travel preferences (foot, bike etc) and then out pops your itinerary... actually just these kinds of ideas have been bounced around in the Erewhon project ...)

There are some grand and elegant library spaces, but for myself, I prefer to borrow books to read in the comfort of my home, with a cup of tea. So on Monday, equipped with a reading list, scribbled with libraries and shelf numbers, I descended on the town, arriving first in the Social and Cultural Anthropology library (aka Tylor Library). It's a departmental library that sprawls across several rooms and a couple of floors - fairly typical arrangement. Like many (most?) departmental libraries, it opens its doors to graduate students from around the University. It has a photocopier, but its own card system - the Bodleian photocopy card doesn't work here.

After some copying and a book loan (concerning Hindu diaspora), I jogged down the Banbury Road to OUCS to join the meditation group there just before they got started. I'm very happy that they keep this going and allow me to join after I left the department. :-)

Then lunch in college (St. Cross), a bit of e-mail in the common room, and on into town. I tried to collect lecture lists for this term from OUP, but they were closed: a sign indicated "stock taking." Hmmm.. Subsequently I popped into Blackwells, made my way upstairs to the 2nd hand department and bought a copy of 'Teresa of Avila' ('Outstanding Christian Thinkers' series) by Rowan Williams, now Archbishop of Canterbury. Now I can find out a bit more about the way he thinks.

Then on to the Social Sciences Library, which is in a modern building, with large rectangular floor areas. I found their photocopiers do accept Bodleian photocopy cards and so I copied an article from a journal on diaspora, this one focusing on Muslims in Ethiopia and Canada. Afterwards, coming across the science area, I made my final call at the Radcliffe Science Library and bumped into a neighbour from the Close, who has been doing research there for many years. We exchanged a few words about aspects of healing - I'm hoping to write an essay that will focus on this in the Medieval period in relation to the translation of St. Frideswide's purported relics. More large rectangular floor spaces. I had a reference to 'BP..' (Dewey Classifications system) but initially all I could find were letters near the end of the alphabet - plenty of familiar QAs (Mathematics). Eventually found 'Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe' right towards one corner.

Curious to see the spread of libraries, I've looked at the loans record for last term and come up with the following figures (apologies for the poor formatting, but I don't find it easy to control the styling in blogger):



Social and
Cultural Anthro.

Oriental Institute

Social Sciences

Radcliffe Science

Balfour (Pitt Rivers)

Harris Manc. College

Subject Area

Nature of Religion 213 72 1
Buddhism315  12
5 14 5 7 2 1 3

Maybe a little surprising... Anyway, I hope to repeat this exercise at the end of this term.