Religion in the United Kingdom

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Religion in the United Kingdom (Philby & Charlotte, 2012)[1]

  Christianity (59.5%)
  No religion (25.7%)
  Islam (4.4%)
  Hinduism (1.3%)
  Judaism (0.4%)
  Other religions (1.5%)
  Not stated (7.2%)

Religion in the United Kingdom and in the countries that preceded it has been dominated, for over 1,400 years, by various forms of Christianity. Religious affiliations of United Kingdom citizens are recorded by regular surveys, the four major ones being the national decennial census, the Labour Force Survey, the British Social Attitudes survey and the European Social Survey. According to the 2011 Census, Christianity is the major religion, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in terms of number of adherents. Among Christians, Anglicans are the most common denomination, followed by the Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. This, and the relatively large number of individuals with nominal or no religious affiliations, has led commentators to variously describe the United Kingdom as a multi-faith and secularised society.

The United Kingdom was formed by the union of previously independent countries in 1707, and consequently most of the largest religious groups do not have UK-wide organisational structures. While some groups have separate structures for the individual countries of the United Kingdom, others have a single structure covering England and Wales or Great Britain. Similarly, due to the relatively recent creation of Northern Ireland in 1921, most major religious groups in Northern Ireland are organised on an all-Ireland basis.

While the United Kingdom as a whole lacks an official religion, the Church of England remains the state church of its largest constituent country, England. The Monarch of the United Kingdom is the Supreme Governor of the Church, and accordingly, only a Protestant may inherit the British throne.


Fourth century Chi-Rho fresco from Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent, which contains the only known Christian paintings from the Roman era in Britain.[2]

Pre-Roman forms of religion in Britain included various forms of ancestor worship and paganism.[3] Little is known about the details of such religions (see British paganism). Forms of Christianity have dominated religious life in what is now the United Kingdom for over 1,400 years. It was introduced by the Romans to what is now England, Wales, and Southern Scotland. The doctrine of Pelagianism, declared heretical in the Council of Carthage (418), originated with a British-born ascetic, Pelagius.

The Anglo-Saxon invasions briefly re-introduced paganism in the 5th and 6th centuries; Christianity was again brought to Great Britain by Catholic Church and Irish-Scottish missionaries in the course of the 7th century (see Anglo-Saxon Christianity).[4] Insular Christianity as it stood between the 6th and 8th centuries retained some idiosyncrasies in terms of liturgy and calendar, but it had been nominally united with Roman Christianity since at least the Synod of Whitby of 664. Still in the Anglo-Saxon period, the archbishops of Canterbury established a tradition of receiving their pallium from Rome to symbolize the authority of the Pope.

The Catholic Church remained the dominant form of Western Christianity in Britain throughout the Middle Ages, but the (Anglican) Church of England became the independent established church in England and Wales in 1534 as a result of the English Reformation.[5] It retains a representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is its Supreme Governor.[6]

In Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, established in a separate Scottish Reformation in the sixteenth century, is recognized as the national church. It is not subject to state control and the British monarch is an ordinary member, required to swear an oath to "maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government" upon his or her accession.[7][8]

The adherence to the Catholic Church continued at various levels in different parts of Britain, especially among recusants and in the north of England,[9] but most strongly in Ireland. This would expand in Great Britain, partly due to Irish immigration in the nineteenth century,[10] the Catholic emancipation and the Restoration of the English hierarchy.

Particularly from the mid-seventeenth century, forms of Protestant nonconformity, including Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers and, later, Methodists, grew outside of the established church.[11] The (Anglican) Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920 and, as the (Anglican) Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1870 before the partition of Ireland, there is no established church in Northern Ireland.[12]

The Jews in England were expelled in 1290 and only emancipated in the 19th century. British Jews had numbered fewer than 10,000 in 1800 but around 120,000 after 1881 when Russian Jews settled permanently in Britain.[13]

The substantial immigration to the United Kingdom since the 1920s has contributed to the growth of foreign faiths, especially of Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism,[14] Buddhism in the United Kingdom experienced growth partly due to immigration and partly due to conversion (especially when including Secular Buddhism).[15]

As elsewhere in the western world, religious demographics have become part of the discourse on multiculturalism, with Britain variously described as a post-Christian society,[16] as "multi-faith",[17] or as secularised.[18] Scholars have suggested multiple possible reasons for the decline, but have not agreed on their relative importance. Martin Wellings lays out the "classical model" of secularisation, while noting that it has been challenged by some scholars.

The familiar starting-point, a classical model of secularisation, argues that religious faith becomes less plausible and religious practice more difficult in advanced industrial and urbanized societies. The breakdown or disruption of traditional communities and norms of behavior; the spread of a scientific world-view diminishing the scope of the supernatural and the role of God; increasing material affluence promoting self-reliance and this-worldly optimism; and greater awareness and toleration of different creeds and ideas, encouraging religious pluralism and eviscerating commitment to a particular faith, all form components of the case for secularisation. Applied to the British churches in general by Steve Bruce and to Methodism in particular by Robert Currie, this model traces decline back to the Victorian era and charts in the twentieth century a steady ebbing of the sea of faith.[19][20][21]


The statistics for current religion (not religion of upbringing where also asked) from the 2011 census and the corresponding statistics from the 2001 census are set out in the tables below.

Religion (2011) England[22] Wales[22] England and Wales[22] Scotland[23] Great Britain Northern Ireland[24][25] United Kingdom
Number % Number % Number % Number % Number % Number % Number %
Christianity 31,479,876 59.4 1,763,299 57.6 33,243,175 59.3 2,850,199 53.8 36,093,374 58.8 1,490,588 82.3 37,583,962 59.5
Islam 2,660,116 5.0 45,950 1.5 2,706,066 4.8 76,737 1.4 2,782,803 4.5 3,832 0.21 2,786,635 4.4
Hinduism 806,199 1.5 10,434 0.34 816,633 1.5 16,379 0.3 833,012 1.4 2,382 0.13 835,394 1.3
Sikhism 420,196 0.8 2,962 0.1 423,158 0.8 9,055 0.2 432,213 0.7 216 0.01 432,429 0.7
Judaism 261,282 0.5 2,064 0.1 263,346 0.5 5,887 0.1 269,233 0.4 335 0.02 269,568 0.4
Buddhism 238,626 0.5 9,117 0.3 247,743 0.4 12,795 0.2 260,538 0.4 1,046 0.06 261,584 0.4
Other religion 227,825 0.4 12,705 0.4 240,530 0.4 15,196 0.3 255,726 0.4 7,048 0.39 262,774 0.4
Total non-Christian religion 4,614,244 8.7 83,232 2.7 4,697,476 8.4 136,049 2.6 4,833,525 7.9 14,859 0.8 4,848,384 7.7
No religion 13,114,232 24.7 982,997 32.1 14,097,229 25.1 1,941,116 36.7 16,038,345 26.1 183,164 10.1 16,221,509 25.7
Religion not stated 3,804,104 7.2 233,928 7.6 4,038,032 7.2 368,039 7.0 4,406,071 7.2 122,252 6.8 4,528,323 7.2
No religion and Religion not stated 16,918,336 31.9 1,216,925 39.7 18,135,261 32.3 2,309,155 43.6 20,444,416 33.3 305,416 16.9 20,749,832 32.8
Total population 53,012,456 100.0 3,063,456 100.0 56,075,912 100.0 5,295,403 100.0 61,371,315 100.0 1,810,863 100.0 63,182,178 100.0
Percentage of respondents in the 2011 census in the UK who said they were Christian.


Religious affiliations of UK citizens are recorded by regular surveys, the four major ones being the UK Census,[30] the Labour Force Survey,[31] the British Social Attitudes survey[32] and the European Social Survey.[33] The different questions asked by these surveys produced different results:

  • The census for England and Wales asked the question "What is your religion?".[34] In 2001 14.81%[35] and in 2011 around a quarter (25.1%) of the population said they had "none" and 59.5% stated they were Christian.[36]
  • The census for Scotland asked the question "What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?".[34] In 2001 27.55%[37] and in 2011 36.7% selected 'none' and 53.8% stated they were Christian.[23]
  • The Labour Force Survey asked the question "What is your religion even if you are not currently practising?" with a response of 15.7% selecting 'no religion' in 2004 and 22.4% selecting 'no religion' in 2010.[38]
  • The British Social Attitudes survey asked the question "Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?" with 53% selecting 'no religion' in 2016.[39]
  • The European Social Survey asked the question "Which religion or denomination do you belong to at present?" with 50.54% of respondents selecting 'no religion' in 2002 and 52.68% selecting 'no religion' in 2008.[40]
  • The Pew Research Center's Western Europe Survey held between April and August 2017 asked the question "What is your present religion, if any?", with 17% of respondents selecting 'Catholicism', 54% selecting 'Protestantism', and 24% selecting 'Unaffiliated'.[41]

The wording of the question affects the outcome of polls as is apparent when comparing the results of the Scottish census with that of the English and Welsh census.[35][37][42][43] An ICM poll for The Guardian in 2006 asked the question "Which religion do you yourself belong to?" with a response of 64 percent stating 'Christian' and 26% stating 'None'. In the same survey, 63% claimed they are not religious with just 33% claiming they are.[44] This suggests that the religious UK population identify themselves as having Christian beliefs, but maybe not as active 'church-goers'.[45]

The British Social Attitudes surveys and the European Social Surveys are fielded to adult individuals.[39][40] In contrast, the United Kingdom Census and the Labour Force Surveys are household surveys; the respondent completes the questionnaire on behalf of each member of the household,[42][43][46] including children,[38] as well as for themselves. The 2010 Labour Force Survey claimed that 54% of children aged from birth to four years were Christian, rising to 59% for children aged between 5 and 9 and 65% for children aged between 10 and 14.[38] The inclusion of children with adult-imposed religions influences the results of the polls.[45][47]

Other major polls agree with the British Social Attitudes surveys and the European Social Surveys, with a YouGov survey fielded in February 2012 indicating that 43% of respondents claimed to belong to a religion and 76% claimed they were not very religious or not religious at all.[48] An Ipsos MORI survey fielded in August 2003 indicated that 18% of respondents claimed to be "a practising member of an organised religion" and 25% claimed "I am a non-practising member of an organised religion".[49]

Detailed 2015 BSA survey on religion in the UK[50][51]
Affiliation % of UK population
Christian 42 42
Church of England 17 17
Other Christian[52] 17 17
Catholic 8 8
Unaffiliated 49 49
Non-Christian faiths 8 8
Muslim 5 5
Other Non-Christian faiths 3 3
Don't know/refused answer 1 1
Total 100 100

A 2015 study estimated some 25,000 believers in Christ from a Muslim background, most of whom belong to an evangelical or Pentecostal community.[53]

Religious affiliations

Religions in Great Britain – BSA 2009
Religion/Denomination Percent
No religion 50.7
Church of England 19.9
Catholic 8.6
Presbyterian/Church of Scotland 2.2
Methodist 1.3
Other Protestant 1.2
Christian (no denomination) 9.3
Other Christian 0.4
Muslim 2.4
Hindu 0.9
Sikh 0.8
Judaism 0.4
Other religions 0.3
Refused / NA 0.4
Time series from the British Social Attitudes Survey showing the religion to which people consider themselves to belong.[54]

Source: BSA Survey 2009.[55][56]

In the 2011 census, Christianity was the largest religion, stated as their affiliation by 59.5% of respondents.[22][23][25] This figure was found to be 53% in the 2007 Tearfund survey,[57] 42.9 percent in the 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey[54] and 42.98 percent in the EU-funded European Social Survey published in April 2009[40] for those identifying as Christian.

Although there was no UK-wide data in the 2001 or the 2011 census on adherence to individual Christian denominations,[58] Ceri Peach estimated in 2005 that 62% of Christians were Anglican, 13.5% Catholic, 6% Presbyterian and 3.4% Methodist, with small numbers in other Protestant denominations and the Orthodox church.[59] The 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey, which covers Great Britain but not Northern Ireland, indicated that over 50 percent would self-classify as not religious at all, 19.9 percent were part of the Church of England, 9.3% non-denominational Christian, 8.6% Catholic, 2.2% Presbyterian/Church of Scotland, 1.3% Methodist, 0.53% Baptist, 1.17% other Protestant, 0.23% United Reformed Church/Congregational, 0.06% Free Presbyterian, 0.03% Brethren Christian and 0.41% other Christian.[54]

In a 2016 survey conducted by BSA (British Social Attitudes) on religious affiliation; 53% of respondents indicated 'no religion' and 41% indicated they were Christians, while 6% affiliated with non-Christian religions (Islam, Hinduism, Judaism etc.)[39]

  • The Pew Research Center's Western Europe Survey held between April and August 2017 asked the question "What is your present religion, if any?" with 17% of respondents selecting 'Catholicism', 54% selecting 'Protestantism', and 24% selecting 'Unaffiliated'.[60]

Religions other than Christianity, such as Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism, have established a presence in the United Kingdom, both through immigration and by attracting converts. Others that have done so include the Bahá'í Faith, the Rastafari movement and Neopaganism.


Society in the United Kingdom is markedly more secular than it was in the past and the number of churchgoers fell over the second half of the 20th century.[61] The Ipsos MORI poll in 2003 reported that 18% were "a practising member of an organised religion".[49] The Tearfund Survey in 2007 found that only 7% of the population considered themselves as practising Christians. Some 10% attended church weekly and two-thirds had not gone to church in the past year.[57][62] The Tearfund Survey also found that two-thirds of UK adults (66%) or 32.2 million people had no connection with the Church at present (nor with another religion). These people were evenly divided between those who have been in the past but have since left (16 million) and those who have never been in their lives (16.2 million).

A survey in 2002 found Christmas attendance at Anglican churches in England varied between 10.19% of the population in the diocese of Hereford, down to just 2.16% in Manchester.[63] Church attendance at Christmas in some dioceses was up to three times the average for the rest of the year. Overall church attendance at Christmas has been steadily increasing in recent years; a 2005 poll found that 43 per cent expected to attend a church service over the Christmas period, in comparison with 39% and 33% for corresponding polls taken in 2003 and 2001 respectively.[64]

A December 2007 report by Christian Research showed that the services of the Catholic Church had become the best-attended services of Christian denominations in England, with average attendance at Sunday Mass of 861,000, compared to 852,000 attending Anglican services. Attendance at Anglican services had declined by 20% between 2000 and 2006, while attendance at Catholic services, boosted by large-scale immigration from Poland and Lithuania, had declined by only 13%. In Scotland, attendance at Church of Scotland services declined by 19% and attendance at Catholic services fell by 25%.[65] British Social Attitudes Surveys have shown the proportion of those in Great Britain who consider they "belong to" Christianity to have fallen from 66% in 1983 to 43% in 2009.[54]

In 2012 about 6% of the population of the United Kingdom regularly attended church, with the average age of attendees being 51; in contrast, in 1980, 11% had regularly attended, with an average age of 37. It is predicted that by 2020 attendance will be around 4%, with an average age of 56.[61] This decline in church attendance has forced many churches to close down across the United Kingdom, with the Church of England alone closing 1,500 churches between 1969 and 2002. Their fates include dereliction, demolition, and residential, artistic and commercial conversion.[66] In October 2014 weekly attendance at Church of England services dropped below 1 million for the first time. At Christmas 2014, 2.4 million attended. For that year baptisms were 130,000, down 12% since 2004; marriages were 50,000, down 19%; and funerals 146,000, down 29%. The Church estimated that about 1% of churchgoers were lost to death each year; the Church's age profile suggested that attendances would continue to decline.[67]

One study showed that in 2004 at least 930,000 Muslims attended a mosque at least once a week, just outnumbering the 916,000 regular churchgoers in the Church of England.[68] Muslim sources claim the number of practising Muslims is underestimated as nearly all of them pray at home.[69]


European Social Survey (UK)

"Do you consider yourself as belonging to any particular religion or denomination?"

Year Yes No
2008 47.32% 52.64%
2006 48.45% 51.34%
2004 50.55% 49.24%
2002 49.46% 50.49%

Source: European social survey 2002–2010[70]

There is a disparity between the figures for those identifying themselves with a particular religion and for those proclaiming a belief in a God:

  • In a 2011 YouGov poll, 34% of UK citizens said they believed in a God or gods.[71]
  • A Eurobarometer opinion poll in 2010 reported that 37% of UK citizens "believed there is a God", 33% believe there is "some sort of spirit or life force" and 25% answered "I don't believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force".[72]
  • The 2008 European Social Survey suggested that 46.94% of UK citizens never prayed and 18.96% prayed daily.[40]
  • A survey in 2007 suggested that 42% of adults resident in the United Kingdom prayed, with one in six praying daily.[73]

Jedi census phenomenon

In the 2001 census, 390,127 individuals (0.7 percent of total respondents) in England and Wales self-identified as followers of the Jedi faith. This Jedi census phenomenon followed an internet campaign that stated, correctly, that the Jedi belief system would receive official government recognition as a religion if it received enough support in the census.[74] An email in support of the campaign, quoted by BBC News, invited people to "do it because you love Star Wars ... or just to annoy people".[75] The Office for National Statistics revealed the total figure in a press release entitled "390,000 Jedi there are".[76]


The United Kingdom was formed by the union of previously independent states in 1707,[77][78][79] and consequently most of the largest religious groups do not have UK-wide organisational structures. While some groups have separate structures for the individual countries of the United Kingdom, others have a single structure covering England and Wales or Great Britain. Similarly, due to the relatively recent creation of Northern Ireland in 1921, most major religious groups in Northern Ireland are organised on an all-Ireland basis.


The Church of England is the established church in England.[5] Its most senior bishops sit in the national parliament and the Queen is its supreme governor. It is also the "mother church" of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Church of England separated from the Catholic Church in 1534 and became the established church by an Act of Parliament in the Act of Supremacy, beginning a series of events known as the English Reformation.[80] Historically it has been the predominant Christian denomination in England and Wales, in terms of both influence and number of adherents.

The Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion (but not a "daughter church" of the Church of England),[81] dates from the final establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in 1690, when it split from the Church of Scotland. In the 1920s, the Church in Wales became disestablished and independent from the Church of England, but remains in the Anglican Communion.[82]

During the years 2012 to 2014 the number of members of the Church of England dropped by around 1.7 million.[83][84][85]

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has separate national organisations for England, Wales, and Scotland, which means there is no single hierarchy for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom. Catholicism is the second largest denomination in England and Wales, with around five million members, mainly in England.[86] There is, however, a single apostolic nuncio to Great Britain, presently Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams. Catholicism is Scotland's second largest Christian denomination, representing a sixth of the population.[87] The apostolic nuncio to the whole of Ireland (both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) is Charles Brown. Eastern Rite Catholics in the United Kingdom are served by their own clergy and do not belong to the Latin Church dioceses but are still in full communion with the Bishop of Rome.

Presbyterianism, Congregationalism and other Reformed

In Scotland, the Church of Scotland (informally known by its Scots language name, "the Kirk"), is recognised as the national church.[88] It is not subject to state control and the British monarch is an ordinary member, required to swear an oath to "maintain and preserve the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government" upon his or her accession.[89] Splits in the Church of Scotland, especially in the 19th century, led to the creation of various other Presbyterian churches in Scotland, including the Free Church of Scotland, which claims to be the constitutional continuator of the Church in Scotland and was founded in 1843. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was formed in 1893 by some who left the Free Church over alleged weakening of her position and likewise claims to be the spiritual descendant of the Scottish Reformation. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales was founded in the late 1980s and organized themselves as a presbytery in 1996. As of 2016 they had 15 churches in the UK.[90]

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is the largest Protestant denomination and second largest church in Northern Ireland. The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster was founded on 17 March 1951 by the cleric and politician Ian Paisley. It has about 60 churches in Northern Ireland. The Presbyterian Church of Wales seceded from the Church of England in 1811 and formally formed itself into a separate body in 1823. The Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland has 31 congregations in Northern Ireland,[91] with the first Presbytery being formed in Antrim in 1725.[92]

The United Reformed Church (URC), a union of Presbyterian and Congregational churches, consists of about 1,500 congregations[93] in England, Scotland and Wales. There are about 600 Congregational churches in the United Kingdom. In England there are three main groups, the Congregational Federation, the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, and about 100 Congregational churches that are loosely federated with other congregations in the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, or are unaffiliated. In Scotland the churches are mostly member of the Congregational Federation and in Wales which traditionally has a larger number of Congregationalists, most are members of the Union of Welsh Independents.


The Methodist church at Haroldswick is the most northerly church in the United Kingdom

The Methodist movement traces its origin to the evangelical awakening in the 18th century. The British Methodist Church, which has congregations throughout Great Britain, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Malta and Gibraltar, has around 290,000 members,[94] and 5,900 churches,[94] though only around 3,000 members in 50 congregations are in Scotland. In the 1960s, it made ecumenical overtures to the Church of England, aimed at church unity. Formally, these failed when they were rejected by the Church of England's General Synod in 1972. However, conversations and co-operation continued, leading on 1 November 2003 to the signing of a covenant between the two churches.[95]

The Methodist Church in Ireland covers the whole of the island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland where it is the fourth-largest denomination.

Other Methodist denominations in Britain include the Salvation Army, founded in 1865;[96] the Free Methodist Church, a holiness church; and the Church of the Nazarene.


A Baptist church in Birmingham, West Midlands.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, despite its name, covers just England and Wales.[97] There is a separate Baptist Union of Scotland and the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland is an all-Ireland organisation.[98] Other Baptist associations also exist in England, such as the Grace Baptist association and the Gospel Standard Baptists.

Charismatics and Pentecostalism

Assemblies of God in Great Britain are part of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship with over 600 churches in Great Britain.[99] Assemblies of God Ireland cover the whole of the island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland. The Apostolic Church commenced in the early part of the 20th century in South Wales and now has over 110 churches across the United Kingdom. Elim Pentecostal Church as of 2013 had over 500 churches across the United Kingdom.[99]

There is also a growing number of independent, charismatic churches that encourage Pentecostal practices as part of their worship. These are broadly grouped together as the British New Church Movement and could number up to 400,000 members. The phenomenon of immigrant churches and congregations that began with the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush from the West Indies in 1948 stands as a unique trend. West Indian congregations that started from this time include the Church of God, New Testament Assembly and New Testament Church of God.

Africans began to arrive in the early 1980s and established their own congregations. Foremost among these are Matthew Ashimolowo from Nigeria and his Kingsway International Christian Centre in London that may be the largest church in Western Europe.[100]


The Britain Yearly Meeting is the umbrella body for the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Great Britain, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man. It has 14,260 adult members.[101] Northern Ireland comes under the umbrella of the Ireland Yearly Meeting.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Cathedral of the Dormition of the Most-Holy Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), in Gunnersbury

The Russian Orthodox Church has a Diocese of Sourozh, which covers Great Britain and Ireland,[102] and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia also has a diocese in the same territory.[103] The Ecumenical Patriarchate has established the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, led by Archbishop Gregorios,[104] that covers England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as Malta. The Patriarchate of Antioch has 15 parishes and 7 missions within the Deanery of the United Kingdom and Ireland.[105] The Serbian Orthodox Church has nine parishes in the United Kingdom and missions in Dublin and Malta, under the Serbian Orthodox Eparchy of Britain and Scandinavia.[106] Other Eastern Orthodox Churches represented in the United Kingdom include the Georgian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Oriental Orthodoxy

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria has two regional Dioceses in the United Kingdom: the Diocese of Ireland, Scotland, North East England and its Affiliated Areas is led by Bishop Antony of Newcastle and the Diocese of the Midlands and its Affiliated Areas is led by Bishop Missael of Birmingham. There is also (part of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate until 2015) the British Orthodox Church, (covering the British Isles) which is led by Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury. In addition, there is one General Bishop in Stevenage, Bishop Angaelos. There are many Coptic Orthodox Churches in the United Kingdom that are directly the responsibility of Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. Other Oriental Orthodox Churches represented in the United Kingdom include the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Other Trinitarian denominations

Other denominations and groups include the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Seventh Day Baptists, the Plymouth Brethren,[107] and Newfrontiers.[108]

Non-Trinitarian denominations

Latter-day Saints

The first missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to proselytise in the British Isles arrived in 1837. By 1900 as many as 100,000 converts had joined the faith, but most of these early members soon emigrated to the United States to join the main body of the church. From the 1950s emigration to the United States began to be discouraged and local congregations grew more rapidly. Today the church claims just over 186,000 members across the United Kingdom, in over 330 local congregations, known as 'wards' or 'branches'. The church also maintains two temples in England, the first opening in the London area in 1958, and the second completed in 1998 in Preston and known as the Preston England Temple. Preston is also the site of the first preaching by LDS missionaries in 1837, and is home to the oldest continually existing Latter Day Saint congregation anywhere in the world.[109][110] Restored 1994–2000, the Gadfield Elm Chapel in Worcestershire is the oldest extant chapel of the LDS Church.[111]

Other Non-Trinitarian denominations

Jehovah's Witnesses had 137,631 "publishers" (a term referring to members actively involved in preaching) in the United Kingdom in 2015.[112] The Church of Christ, Scientist is also represented in the UK. The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches is the umbrella organisation for Unitarian, Free Christian and other liberal religious congregations in the United Kingdom. The Unitarian Christian Association was formed in 1991. There are an estimated 18,000 Christadelphians in the UK.

Other faiths


Shah Jahan Mosque is the oldest purpose-built mosque in the United Kingdom.

Estimates in 2009 suggested a total of about 2.4 million Muslims over all the United Kingdom.[113][114] According to Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number of Muslims in Britain could be up to 3 million.[115] The vast majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom live in England and Wales: of 1,591,126 Muslims recorded at the 2001 Census, 1,546,626 were living in England and Wales, where they form 3 per cent of the population; 42,557 were living in Scotland, forming 0.8 per cent of the population;[116] and 1,943 were living in Northern Ireland.[117] Between 2001 and 2009 the Muslim population increased roughly 10 times faster than the rest of society.[118]

Most Muslim immigrants to the United Kingdom came from former colonies. The biggest groups of Muslims are of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian and Arab origins,[119] with the remainder coming from Muslim-dominated areas such as Southwest Asia, Somalia, Malaysia, and Indonesia.[120] During the 18th century, lascars (sailors) who worked for the British East India Company settled in port towns with local wives.[121] These numbered only 24,037 in 1891 but 51,616 on the eve of World War I.[122] Naval cooks, including Sake Dean Mahomet, also came from what is now the Sylhet Division of Bangladesh.[123] From the 1950s onwards, the growing Muslim population has led to a number of notable Mosques being established, including East London Mosque, London Central Mosque, Manchester Central Mosque, London Markaz, and the Baitul Futuh of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. According to Kevin Brice, a researcher at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, thousands convert to Islam annually and there are approximately 100,000 converts to Islam in Britain, where they run two mosques.[124]

According to a Labour Force Survey estimate, the total number of Muslims in Great Britain in 2008 was 2,422,000, around 4 per cent of the total population.[125] Between 2004 and 2008, the Muslim population grew by more than 500,000.[125] In 2010, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimated 2,869,000 Muslims in Great Britain.[126] The largest age-bracket within the British Muslim population were those under the age of 4, at 301,000 in September 2008.[125] The Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Forum of Europe are the umbrellas organisations for many local, regional and specialist Islamic organisations in the United Kingdom, although it is disputed how representative this organisation is of British Muslims as a whole.

Muslims are by far the poorest religious or non religious community in the UK. For comparison, the median net wealth for Jews stands at £422 000, Sikhs at £229 000, Christians at £223 000 and Hindus at £ 206 000 while for Muslims the figure stands at £42 000.[127]

Muslims also happen to be the most disproportionately represented religious group facing arrest, trial and imprisonment, with 13.1% of prisoners being Muslims while the community represents 4% of those aged 15 years or older within the general population.[128]


The Jewish Naturalisation Act, enacted in 1753, permitted the naturalisation of foreign Jews, but was repealed the next year. The first graduate from the University of Glasgow who was openly known to be Jewish was in 1787. Unlike their English contemporaries, Scottish students were not required to take a religious oath. In 1841 Isaac Lyon Goldsmid was made baronet, the first Jew to receive a hereditary title. The first Jewish Lord Mayor of the City of London, Sir David Salomons, was elected in 1855, followed by the 1858 emancipation of the Jews. On 26 July 1858, Lionel de Rothschild was finally allowed to sit in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom when the law restricting the oath of office to Christians was changed. (Benjamin Disraeli, a baptised, teenage convert to Christianity of Jewish parentage, was already an MP at this time and rose to become Prime Minister in 1874.) In 1884 Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild became the first Jewish member of the British House of Lords; again Disraeli was already a member.

British Jews number around 300,000 with the United Kingdom having the fifth largest Jewish community worldwide.[129] However, this figure did not include Jews who identified 'by ethnicity only' in England and Wales or Scottish Jews who identified as Jewish by upbringing but held no current religion. A report in August 2007 by University of Manchester historian Dr Yaakov Wise stated that 75 per cent of all births in the Jewish community were to ultra-orthodox, Haredi parents, and that the increase of ultra-orthodox Jewry has led to a significant rise in the proportion of British Jews who are ultra-orthodox.[130]

However various studies suggest that within some Jewish communities and particularly in some strictly Orthodox areas, many residents ignored the voluntary question on religion following the advice of their religious leaders resulting in a serious undercount, therefore it is impossible to give an accurate number on the total UK Jewish population. It may be even more than double the official estimates, heavily powered by the very high birth rate of orthodox families and British people who are Jewish by origin but not religion; as it currently stands, the Jewish as ethnicity section is not documented on the census.[citation needed]

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith in the United Kingdom has a historical connection with the earliest phases of the Bahá'í Faith starting in 1845 and has had a major effect on the development of communities of the religion in far flung nations around the world. It is estimated that between 1951 and 1993, Bahá'ís from the United Kingdom settled in 138 countries.[131]

Asian religions


The earliest Buddhist influence on Britain came through its imperial connections with Southeast Asia, and as a result the early connections were with the Theravada traditions of Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. The tradition of study resulted in the foundation of the Pali Text Society, which undertook the task of translating the Pali Canon of Buddhist texts into English. Buddhism as a path of practise was pioneered by the Theosophists, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, and in 1880 they became the first Westerners to receive the refuges and precepts, the ceremony by which one traditionally becomes a Buddhist.

In 1924 London's Buddhist Society was founded, and in 1926 the Theravadin London Buddhist Vihara. The rate of growth was slow but steady through the century, and the 1950s saw the development of interest in Zen Buddhism. In 1967 Kagyu Samyé Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre, now the largest Tibetan Buddhist centre in Western Europe, was founded in Scotland. The first home-grown Buddhist movement was also founded in 1967, the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (now the Triratna Buddhist Community). There are some Soka Gakkai groups in the United Kingdom.


The Neasden Temple is the second largest temple of Hinduism in Europe.

Hinduism was the religion of 558,810 people in Great Britain according to the 2001 census[132] but an estimate in a British newspaper in 2007 has put the figure as high as 1.5 million.[133] One Non-governmental organisation estimated as of 2007 that there are 800,000 Hindus in the United Kingdom.[134] Although most British Hindus live in England, with half living in London alone,[135] small but growing Hindu communities also exist in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.


As of 2006, there are around 25,000 Jains in the United Kingdom.[136]

One of the first Jain settlers, Champat Rai Jain, was in England during 1892–1897 to study law. He established the Rishabh Jain Lending Library in 1930. Later, he translated several Jain texts into English.[137]

Leicester houses one of the world's few Jain temples outside of India.[138] There is an Institute of Jainology at Greenford, London.[139]


Sikhism was recorded as the religion of 336,149 people in the United Kingdom at the time of the 2001 Census.[140] While England is home to the majority of Sikhs in the United Kingdom, small communities also exist in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The first recorded Sikh settler in the United Kingdom was Maharaja Duleep Singh, dethroned and exiled in 1849 at the age of 14, after the Anglo-Sikh wars. During the reign of King Edward VII the first Sikh society in the UK was founded in 1908, it was called The Khalsa Jatha. The first Sikh Gurdwara (temple) was established in 1911, in Shepherds Bush, Putney, London. The first wave of Sikh migration came in the 1940s, mostly of men from the Punjab seeking work in industries such as foundries and textiles. These new arrivals mostly settled in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, the Midlands and West Yorkshire. Thousands of Sikhs from East Africa followed later.


In the 2001 Census, a total of 42,262 people from England, Scotland, and Wales declared themselves to be pagans or adherents of Wicca. However, other surveys have led to estimates of around 250,000 or even higher.[141][142]


In the United Kingdom, census figures do not allow an accurate breakdown of traditions within the Pagan heading, as a campaign by the Pagan Federation before the 2001 Census encouraged Wiccans, Heathens, Druids and others all to use the same write-in term 'Pagan' in order to maximise the numbers reported. For the first time, respondents were able to write in an affiliation not covered by the checklist of common religions, and a total of 42,262 people from England, Scotland and Wales declared themselves to be Pagans by this method. These figures were not immediately analysed by the Office for National Statistics, but were released after an application by the Pagan Federation of Scotland.[143]


During the Iron Age, Celtic polytheism was the predominant religion in the area now known as England. Neo-Druidism grew out of the Celtic revival in 18th century Romanticism. A 2012 Druid analysis estimates that there are roughly 11,000 Druids in Britain.[144]

Religion and society

Religion and politics

Though the main political parties are secular, the formation of the Labour Party was influenced by Christian socialism and by leaders from a nonconformist background, such as Keir Hardie. On the other hand, the Church of England was once nicknamed "the Conservative Party at prayer", though this has changed since the 1980s as the Church has moved to the left of the Conservative Party on social and economic issues.[145]

Some minor parties are explicitly 'religious' in ideology: two 'Christian' parties – the Christian Party and the Christian Peoples Alliance, fielded joint candidates at the 2009 European Parliament elections and increased their share of the vote to come eighth, with 249,493 votes (1.6% of total votes cast), and in London, where the CPA had three councillors,[146] the Christian parties picked up 51,336 votes (2.9% of the vote), up slightly from the 45,038 gained in 2004.[147]

The Church of England is represented in the UK Parliament by 26 bishops (the Lords Spiritual) and the British monarch is a member of the church (required under Article 2 of the Treaty of Union) as well as its Supreme Governor.[148] The Lords Spiritual have seats in the House of Lords and debate government policies affecting the whole of the United Kingdom. The Church of England also has the right to draft legislative measures (related to religious administration) through the General Synod that can then be passed into law by Parliament.[149] The Prime Minister, regardless of personal beliefs, plays a key role in the appointment of Church of England bishops, although in July 2007 Gordon Brown proposed reforms of the Prime Minister's ability to affect Church of England appointments.[150]

Religion and education

Religious education and Collective Worship are compulsory in many state schools in England and Wales by virtue of clauses 69 and 70 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Clause 71 of the act gives parents the right to withdraw their children from Religious Education and Collective Worship[151] and parents should be informed of their right in accordance with guidelines published by the Department for Education; "a school should ensure parents or carers are informed of this right".[152] The content of the religious education is decided locally by the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education.

In England and Wales, a significant number of state funded schools are faith schools with the vast majority Christian (mainly either of Church of England or Catholic) though there are also Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith schools. Faith schools follow the same national curriculum as state schools, though with the added ethos of the host religion. Until 1944 there was no requirement for state schools to provide religious education or worship, although most did so. The Education Act 1944 introduced a requirement for a daily act of collective worship and for religious education but did not define what was allowable under these terms. The act contained provisions to allow parents to withdraw their children from these activities and for teachers to refuse to participate. The Education Reform Act 1988 introduced a further requirement that the majority of collective worship be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".[153] According to a 2003 report from the Office for Standards in Education, a "third of governing bodies do not fulfil their statutory duties adequately, sometimes because of a failure to pursue thoroughly enough such matters as arranging a daily act of collective worship".[154]

In Scotland, the majority of schools are non-denominational, but separate Catholic schools, with an element of control by the Catholic Church, are provided within the state system. The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 imposes a statutory duty on all local authorities to provide religious education and religious observance in Scottish schools. These are currently defined by the Scottish Government's Curriculum for Excellence (2005).[155]

Northern Ireland has a highly segregated education system. 95 per cent of pupils attend either maintained (Catholic) schools or controlled schools, which are open to children of all faiths and none, though in practise most pupils are from the Protestant community.[citation needed]

Religion and prison

Prisoners are given religious freedom and privileges while in prison. This includes access to a chaplain or religious advisor, authorised religious reading materials,[156] ability to change faith, as well as other privileges.[157] Several faith-based outreach programmes provide faith promoting guidance and counselling.[158][159][160]

Every three months, the Ministry of Justice collects data, including religious affiliation, of all UK prisoners and is published as the Offender Management Caseload Statistics.[161] This data is then compiled into reports and published in the House of Commons library.

On 31 March 2015 the prison population of England and Wales was recorded as 49% Christian, 14% Muslim, 2% Buddhist, 2% other religions and 31% no religion.[162]

Religion and the media

The Communications Act 2003 requires certain broadcasters in the United Kingdom to carry a "suitable quantity and range of programmes" dealing with religion and other beliefs, as part of their public service broadcasting.[163] Prominent examples of religious programming include the BBC television programme Songs of Praise, aired on a Sunday evening with an average weekly audience of 2.5 million,[164] and the Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4. Channels also offer documentaries on, or from the perspective of a criticism of organised religion. A significant example is Richard Dawkins' two-part Channel 4 documentary, The Root of all Evil?. Open disbelief of, or even mockery of organised religion, is not regarded as a taboo in the British media, though it has occasionally provoked controversy – for example, the movie Monty Python's Life of Brian,[165] the poem "The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name",[166] and the musical Jerry Springer: The Opera,[167] all of which involved characters based on Jesus, were subject to public outcry and blasphemy allegations, while The Satanic Verses, a novel by British Indian author Salman Rushdie which includes a fantasy sequence about Muhammed, caused global protests including several by British Muslims.[168] British comedy has a history of parody on the subject of religion.[citation needed]

Religion and social identity : Saints parts of the United Kingdom society.

  • Saint George is the regional saint for England.
  • Saint Andrew is the regional saint for Scotland.
  • Saint David is the regional saint for Wales.
  • Saint Patrick is the regional saint for Ireland.[169]

Interfaith dialogue, tolerance, religious discrimination and secularism

Interfaith dialogue
London neighbours, the Fieldgate Street Great Synagogue and the East London Mosque

The Interfaith Network for the United Kingdom encompasses the main faith organisations of the United Kingdom, either directly with denominational important representatives or through joint bodies for these denominations, promotes local interfaith cooperation, promotes understanding between faiths and convenes meetings and conferences where social and religious questions of concern to the different faith communities can be examined together, including meetings of the Network's ‘Faith Communities Consultative Forum’.[170]

Ecumenical friendship and cooperation has gradually developed between Christian denominations and where inter-sect prejudice exists this has via education and employment policy been made a pressing public matter in dealing with its two prominent examples – sectarianism in Glasgow and Northern Ireland – where segregation is declining.

Tolerance and Religious Discrimination

In the early 21st century, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 made it an offence in England and Wales to incite hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion. The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished with the coming into effect of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 on 8 July 2008.

2005–2010 polls have shown that public opinion in the United Kingdom generally tends towards a suspicion or outright disapproval of radical or evangelical religiosity, though moderate groups and individuals are rarely subject to less favourable treatment from society or employers.[171]

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of religion, in the supply of goods and services and selection for employment, subject to very limited exceptions (such as the right of schools and religious institutions to appoint paid ministers).


There is no strict separation of church and state in the United Kingdom. Accordingly, most public officials may display the most common identifiers of a major religion in the course of their duties – for example, rosary beads. Chaplains are provided in the armed forces (see Royal Army Chaplains' Department, RAF Chaplains Branch) and in prisons.

Although school uniform codes are generally drawn up flexibly enough to accommodate compulsory items of religious dress, some schools have banned wearing the crucifix in a necklace, arguing that to do so is not a requirement of Christianity where they prohibit all other necklaces. Post-adolescence, the wearing of a necklace is permitted in some F.E. colleges who permit religious insignia necklaces on a wider basis, which are without exception permitted at universities.[172]

Some churches have warned that the Equality Act 2010 could force them to go against their faith when hiring staff.[173]

In 2011 two judges of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales upheld previous statements in the country's jurisprudence that the (non-canon) laws of the United Kingdom 'do not include Christianity'. Therefore, a local authority was acting lawfully in denying a Christian married couple the right to foster care because of stated negative views on homosexuality. In terms of the rights recognised "in the case of fostering arrangements at least, the right of homosexuals to equality should take precedence over the right of Christians to manifest their beliefs and moral values".[174]

National and regional differences

Levels of affiliation vary between different part of the UK, particularly between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The percentages declaring themselves Christians in the 2011 Census are 59.4 in England, 57.6 in Wales and 53.8 in Scotland, which decreased by 12.3, 14.3, and 11.3 percentage points respectively from the census of 2001.[175][176][177][178] This is argued to make them the fastest secularising nations in history.[179] Northern Ireland remains one of the most religious nations in western Europe[citation needed] with 82.3% of the population claiming Christian affiliation, with a decline of only 3.5% by the 2011 census, while "other religions" have increased in membership.[175] Religion has been seen as both a product and a cause of political divisions in Northern Ireland.[180]

Main religious leaders

Lambeth Palace is the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London

Notable places of worship





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Further reading

  • Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Routledge, 2003)
  • Buchanan, Colin. Historical Dictionary of Anglicanism (2nd ed. 2015) excerpt
  • Chadwick, Owen, The Victorian Church: Vol 1 1829-1859 (1966); Victorian Church: Part two 1860-1901 (1979); a major scholarly survey
  • Davie, Grace. Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without belonging (Blackwell, 1994)
  • Davie, Grace. Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox (2014).
  • Davies, Rupert E. et al. A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain (3 vol. Wipf & Stock, 2017). online
  • Gilbert, Alan D. Religion and society in industrial England: church, chapel, and social change, 1740–1914 (1976).
  • Gilley, Sheridan, and W. J. Sheils. A History of Religion in Britain: Practice and Belief from Pre-Roman Times to the Present (1994) 608pp excerpt and text search
  • Hastings, Adrian. A History of English Christianity: 1920-1985 (1986) 720pp; a major scholarly survey
  • McLeod, Hugh. Religion and society in England, 1850–1914 (Macmillan, 1996).
  • Obelkevich, J. Religion and Rural Society (Oxford University Press, 1976)
  • Shaw, Duncan, edt al. "What is Religious History?" History Today (1985) 35#8 online, commentary by 8 scholars

Primary sources

  • Horace Mann (1854). Census of Great Britain, 1851: Religious Worship in England and Wales. 

External links


  • Eurel: sociological and legal data on religions in Europe
  • BBC What the World Thinks of God television programme
  • Kettell, Steven (2009). "On the Public Discourse of Religion: An Analysis of Christianity in the United Kingdom" (PDF). Politics and Religion. 2 (3): 420–443. doi:10.1017/s1755048309990204. 


  • Church of England
  • Church of Scotland
  • Presbyterian Church in Ireland
  • Church of Ireland (Anglican)
  • Church in Wales (Anglican)
  • Catholic Church in England and Wales
  • Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland
  • Catholic Church in Ireland
  • Assemblies of God of Great Britain
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales
  • Free Church of Scotland
  • Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
  • Ecumenical Patriarchate
    • Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain
    • Parishes in the British Isles under the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Paris Exarchate[1]
  • Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland – Diocese of Sourozh, Patriarchate of Moscow
  • Antiochian Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland
  • Romanian Orthodox Church, London


  • Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth (Orthodox)
  • Masorti Judaism
  • Movement for Reform Judaism
  • Liberal Judaism


  • Muslim Council of Great Britain


  • Hindu Council UK
  • Hindu Cultural Association of Wales UK


  • The Network of Sikh Organisations UK


  • The Buddhist Society

No religion

  • Humanists UK
  • The Freethinker - The voice of Atheism since 1881
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