A new report by the UK think-tank the Henry Jackson Society analyses religious contributions to public life over the last decade. With the findings from the UK census, as well as the Christmas period in many people’s minds, this report highlights interesting and informative trends about the roles of religion, religious actors and key issues in the United Kingdom.
‘Faith in the Public Sphere’, downloadable here, catalogues reported instances of religious requests and responses to public issues across three major UK newspapers (the Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph). The report provides a unique and comprehensive data-set of faith-based claims in the public sphere.
The authors, Hannah Stuart and Houriya Ahmed, examine the contributions to national discussions made by the five major religions in the UK, the religious actors involved, issues of particular concern as well trends in the reporting of religious requests by the different papers.
- 3,945 religious claims were identified involving faith groups or leaders – an average of seven a week across all three papers.
- The most prolific spokespeople over the last decade were the Muslim Council of Britain. This group made more interventions in the national discussion than any other faith group or leader, including even the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who – as current and former across the decade – came a close second.
- 72% of the “top ten” religious actors were Christian.
- Christianity was by far the most represented religion, with leaders involved in two thirds of all religious claims.
- Islam followed, with spokespeople participating in almost a third.
- Two-thirds of Muslim claims came between 2004-07, partly due to the 7/7 bombings
- Religious representatives made up less than one in ten Muslim actors – the rest were community representatives and individuals
- Jewish, Sikh and Hindu representation was much smaller, with each religion being involved in less than one in ten claims.
- Judaism is the only religion in which representatives were more likely to be involved in multi-faith claims
- Sikhism is the only religion for which individuals rather than community representatives or religious actors form the biggest number of actors
- Nearly one third of Hindu claims related to agriculture and rural affairs, with the protection of sacred animals being their largest issue of concern
- The overwhelming majority of claims were single-faith. Less than one in ten involved actors from multiple religions.
- Two thirds of all multi-faith claims involve combinations of Abrahamic faiths exclusively
Issues of concern
- The most recurring issues related to public life, education, employment, public policy and pro-life.
- The role of religion in public life or standards in public life was the most common issue. Religious leaders – particularly Christian and Muslim – criticised the perceived marginalisation of Christianity in public life and commented frequently throughout the decade when they felt the behaviour of elected politicians or the public broadcaster the BBC fell below expected standards of public life.
- Regarding education, the role and autonomy of faith schools was a priority – particularly for Catholics and Jews – as was concern over the perceived promotion or otherwise of homosexuality.
Reporting of religious claims
- The Daily Mail reported the most claims overall, as well as the most multi-faith claims.
- As a proportion of the paper’s output, the Guardian reported the most minority faith claims.
- Of the claims reported in comment pieces and editorials, the Guardian was the least supportive of religious requests, supporting just 31%. The other papers supported all multi-faith claims, especially when in support of their own campaigns.
- All data relates to religious claims reported in the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2010.