In the land of Knox, religion isn’t what it was

Key points
• Only 67% of Scots identified themselves with a religion, less than rest of UK
• Ageing membership leaves future uncertain for established churches
• Muslim faith has youngest population with 31% aged 16 and under

Key quote
“We have to celebrate Scotland as a diverse religious society – including those who have no religion. At the same time we have to take particular concern for the minority groups and the problems they face in larger society” – Professor William Storrar, Edinburgh University

Story in full
Scotland has a weaker sense of religious identity than the rest of the UK, according to a new report that shows the changing face of religion in modern Scotland.

Despite a strong Christian past, just 67 per cent of Scots identified with a religion in 2001, compared to 86 per cent in Northern Ireland and 77 per cent in England and Wales.

The breakdown of the first national census to show religious leanings – published yesterday by the Scottish Executive – showed important social information about the different religious communities in Scotland.

It found that about two in five Sikhs and Muslims aged between 16 and 74 have no qualifications, compared to about a third of all people in Scotland of the same age group.

The Muslim population showed the youngest age profile, with 31 per cent aged under 16. Forty five per cent of those who aligned themselves with the Church of Scotland were aged over 50.

But commentators insisted that despite the figures Scotland is still a spiritual country, and called on the Executive to use the information to help the minority religious groups to thrive in society.

Christianity remains the largest religious group in Scotland at 65 per cent. Of those Christian groups, 42 per cent are Church of Scotland, 16 per cent Roman Catholic and 7 per cent other Christian groups.

But the Christian population is ageing, with more than a quarter of the Church of Scotland and 17 per cent of Roman Catholics over pensionable age.

The Office of National Statistics admit the figures for England and Wales are more likely to reflect people’s religion of upbringing because that was the only question asked, whereas in Scotland people were also asked if they are currently practising any faith.

The Rev Dr Marjory MacLean, the depute clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said the statistics reflected the number of people who associate with the Church rather than active worshippers and therefore the comparison with the UK failed to show the real picture.

She said: “In other parts of the UK notional adherence may be expressed differently, but it is certainly not the same thing as active Christian practice and therefore I do not think these statistics are helpful or meaningful.”

Dr MacLean insisted the Church of Scotland has a strong active congregation in comparison with England and pointed out that a population of more than 55 per cent aged under 50 showed a bright future.

Young people are still much more likely to say they have no religion compared to those in older age groups. A quarter of those under 16 said they did not associate themselves with any religion.

But David Jasper, a priest with the Scottish Episcopal Church and theologian at Glasgow University, said Scotland is still a very spiritual country, with young people finding other ways to express their spirituality, for example through the arts.

“There are a lot of people who would still say they are fundamentally Christian in their perspective, but the church does not give them the space if you are homosexual or different in any kind of way.

“I think to a certain degree the Church has been inflexible but there are other ways of looking for what you are looking for.”

The Catholic Church was also upbeat about the future, pointing to the Church’s own census in 2002 that showed 11.2 per cent go to church on Sundays compared to 7.5 per cent in England.

Nevertheless, the figures make sobering reading for the Catholic Church with 7 per cent of Roman Catholics divorced, the same figure as the Church of Scotland.

Also, couples involving one Roman Catholic come second only to Buddhists as the most likely to co-habit. But spokesman Peter Kearney said the figures reflected those with a Catholic upbringing rather than practising Catholics.

And he welcomed the statistics showing Catholics are just as likely to marry other religions and follow social trends as proof that Catholic schools do not segregate people.

Some 42 per cent of Roman Catholics married another Roman Catholic and 11 per cent married someone from the Church of Scotland.

After Christianity, Islam was the most common faith in Scotland with 42,600 people, followed by Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism and Hinduism – though together these religions make up just 2 per cent of the population.

These minority religious groups tend to be concentrated in the large urban cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Of the 6,400 Jews in Scotland more than half live in East Renfrewshire.

Hindus have by far the highest proportion of people with degree-level qualifications, at 58 per cent, followed by Buddhists, at 40 per cent, and Jews at 37 per cent.

The Church of Scotland and Roman Catholics include just 16 per cent educated to degree level compared to 22 per cent of Muslims.

But Osama Saeed, of the Muslim Association of Britain, said high levels of unemployment – 13 per cent compared to a Scottish average of 7 per cent – and standards of living, could make the future difficult for young Muslims.

“We have a ticking timebomb here. Half the community is under-25 and that is going to have huge implications if these social problems continue into the next generation.”

Mr Saeed said the Scottish Executive and local authorities, particularly in Glasgow where the largest number of Muslims live, have failed to tackle the problem.

“It is a manifestation of Islamaphobia. If you look at society and see that the worse performing group is Muslim there is something wrong somewhere. I am not pointing any fingers but there has to be an examination of why, and dialogue between groups and that is not happening at the moment.”

Almost all people whose religious affiliation is Church of Scotland were born in the UK.

Two thirds of Muslims consider themselves to be of Pakistani origin, 86 per cent of Sikhs and 82 per cent of Hindus consider themselves of Indian origin.

The most ethnically diverse group is Buddhism.

Malcolm Chisholm, the communities minister, said the social breakdown of different religions would help the Executive to support different groups.

“We have a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society in which a variety of religious beliefs are able to flourish,” he said.

“Understanding the make-up of the religious communities in Scotland is essential for us all to develop policies which meet the needs of those communities.”

Professor William Storrar, of Edinburgh University school of divinity, was not surprised to see a growing secular society in Scotland. He predicted a pluralistic society for the future where churches were able to thrive alongside other religions and atheism.

“We have to celebrate Scotland as a diverse religious society – including those who have no religion. At the same time we have to take particular concern for the minority groups and the problems they face in larger society.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Scotsman, UK
Mar. 1, 2005
Louise Gray
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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 2, 2005.
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