Other Religions in the 2021 England and Wales Census

This morning (29/11/22) the data set about religion and belief in England and Wales was released. The headlines focussed on the changes in the numbers of the ‘big six’ (see Holt, 2019) as well as an increase in the numbers of those answering ‘no religion’. The headlines form the Office for National Statistics (ONS) outlined:

For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian”, a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 59.3% (33.3 million) in 2011; despite this decrease, “Christian” remained the most common response to the religion question.

“No religion” was the second most common response, increasing by 12.0 percentage points to 37.2% (22.2 million) from 25.2% (14.1 million) in 2011.

There were increases in the number of people who described themselves as “Muslim” (3.9 million, 6.5% in 2021, up from 2.7 million, 4.9% in 2011) and “Hindu” (1.0 million, 1.7% in 2021, up from 818,000, 1.5% in 2011).

The changes are significant and have been reported widely– the comparison with 2011 is very interesting and has begun (or raised again) the debate about England and Wales as Christian countries. 

The headlines released by the ONS also highlighted those who wrote something else other than the big six or no religion:

Among the 405,000 (0.7% of the overall population in England and Wales) who chose to write-in a response through the “Any other religion” option were the following religions:

Pagan (74,000)

Alevi (26,000)

Jain (25,000)

Wicca (13,000)

Ravidassia (10,000)

Shamanism (8,000)

Rastafarian (6,000)

Zoroastrian (4,000)

As it stands at the moment, a person has to trawl the data to construct the actual numbers of the other religions. I noted that this list must be incomplete as for example, Baha’i and Druidism were not found. Using the date about religion in local areas I was able to compile the list below of write ins:

ReligionCensus Number
Believe in God2414
Brahma Kumari225
Chinese Religion112
Church of All Religion24
Native American82
New Age397
Own Beliefs2199
Traditional African661
Unification Church202

This list is interesting and has me searching for certain religions that have been noted. It also raises some questions in my mind.

  • In the compilation of the numbers for Christianity those who wrote in a specific denomination such as Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Latter-day Saint, Jehovah’s Witness and so on, were placed into the Christian category. For members of these groups that may be desirable and as a Latter-day Saint I have no problem with that. However, there seems to be a slight disparity. Take, for example, Paganism which as an umbrella term could include Druid, Shamanism, Wicca, Witchcraft and more which would take the number of Pagans to close to 100,000. Why is this difference drawn in smaller religions?
  • The second point is along a similar line. In 2011 there was a drive for Ravidassia to be a separate religion, whereas before it was part of the Sikh Panth (see Holt, 2023). This has continued in 2021 (though with a reduction of nearly 2,000). The issue is with the identification of Valmiki, who for some have been part of the Sikh Panth (see Kaur Takhar, 2016). If some of this group identified as Sikh, and others as Valmiki, this reduces the numbers of Valmiki compared to actuality. I don’t know this is the case but is something to consider when looking at the data- it does not tell the whole story.
  • A similar story could be reported with regard to Alevi- who have a significant presence. Could it be larger if some self-identified as Muslim? 
  • The diversity of the bigger six religions is not reflected in the data- that may be too big a job for the census but again reminds us to be careful with what we say about the data.
  • For a religious educator I am also interested that the representations of religions and worldviews is sometimes skewed according to the voice that people have. I do not deny that Baha’i should be taught within the classroom, but when compared with Paganism or Jainism (for example) it is much smaller but has a much larger place in our Agreed Syllabi.
  • Also some of the categories seem to cross over- did everyone who wrote Spiritual mean that, or did some mean Spiritualist? Or for some who wrote Heathen were they doing it as a positive form of self-identification, or some form of negative association against Christianity, for example?

The Census data is amazing and has kept me away from marking today, but as interesting it is we need to be careful of what we take from it. I also think the lack of exemplification of other might be a symptom of an overlooking of the ‘other’ or a reflection of some very overworked statisticians.


One thought on “Other Religions in the 2021 England and Wales Census

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s