Britons follow more than 170 different faiths or belief systems, according to newly-published official figures which suggest that spirituality is thriving.
The huge range of belief, much of it exotic or New Age, has been revealed by the raw statistics collated during the 2001 census, the first national count of religious affiliation.
The headline findings released last year showed that the overwhelming majority in England and Wales – 71.1 per cent – still regards itself as Christian, with Muslims making up the second largest religious group.
But the complete figures, which have now been published on the Office of National Statistics’s website, show that spiritualism and paganism is thriving, and that beliefs range from vodun (voodoo) to the Native American Church, whose worship is based around the peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus.
The South-East emerged as the capital of fringe faiths and sects, with London and the South-West not far behind.
The census found that spiritualism, the belief that the dead can be contacted through mediums, was the eighth largest faith group, with 32,404 people claiming allegiance. The first spiritualist church was established in England at Keighley in Yorkshire in 1853.
Just behind them were the pagans, with 30,569 supporters, although their numbers rise to nearly 40,000 if wiccans (witches) and druids are included.
Suzanne Evans, a writer on paganism, said the figures confirmed that it is one of the fastest growing religions in the country.
She said it was environmentally friendly, treated God as both male and female and regarded sexuality as something to be celebrated.
The list contains dozens of subsets of Christianity, from the mainstream denominations to less well known groups, such as the Brethren, the Independent Methodists and the Christadelphians, a Bible-based church dating from the mid-1800s with 2,368 members.
Baha’i, which emerged from Islam in the 19th century, has a following of 4,645 and there are 15,132 Jains, the ancient Indian faith.
Many of the faiths reflect the multi-cultural society that Britain has become.
The census found that Rastafarians number at least 4,692, the Greek Orthodox has 24,176 followers, the Zoroastrians have 3,738, and even the Amish, best known from the film Witness, starring Harrison Ford, claimed 24 adherents.
Grace Davie, the professor of sociology at Exeter University, said the most significant feature of the census remained its findings about Christianity. “Whatever you mean by it, the residual attachment to Christianity is huge, and much larger than people had thought,” she said.
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