The rise of 'no religion' in Britain: The emergence of a new cultural majority

by Linda Woodhead

08 Dec 2016
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Full text posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 4, pp. 245-261.

Abstract: This paper reviews new and existing evidence which shows that ‘no religion’ has risen steadily to rival ‘Christian’ as the preferred self-designation of British people. Drawing on recent survey research by the author, it probes the category of ‘no religion’ and offers a characterisation of the ‘nones’ which reveals, amongst other things, that most are not straightforwardly secular. It compares the British situation with that of comparable countries, asking why Britain has become one of the few no-religion countries in the world today. An explanation is offered that highlights the importance not only of cultural pluralisation and ethical liberalisation in Britain, but of the churches’ opposite direction of travel. The paper ends by reflecting on the extent to which ‘no religion’ has become the new cultural norm, showing why Britain is most accurately described as between Christian and ‘no religion’.

Keywords: religion, no religion, identity, secular, culture, ethics, liberalism, pluralism, Christianity

The British Academy Lecture, read 19 January 2016 (video recording)

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