Religion in the 20th and 21st centuries

The number of regular Christian worshipers began to decline in Britain in the 20th century.

British society became more liberal, secular and materialistic:

  • many people did not believe in God
  • many people – particularly amongst the immigrant communities – believed in religions other than Christianity
  • for many people, religion was increasingly irrelevant to their way of life
Billy Graham
Billy Graham

Christianity struggled to come to terms with modern social developments, including the ordination of women, contraception and abortion:

  • In the 1960s some Christians denied the miracles and said 'God is Dead'.
  • At the same time, 'born again' Christians preached the need to believe the Bible literally. In the 1950s and 1960s the American preacher Billy Graham ran a number of large 'Crusades' in Britain and 'Pentecostal' Christianity became popular after the 1970s.
  • Muslim faith was also changing, as some young Muslims became 'radicalised', choosing to reject, sometimes violently, a western way of life which they perceived as evil and against the teachings of the Qur'an. Instead, some Muslims wanted to bring a Muslim way of life and 'Sharia' law into Britain.
  • Issues such as forced marriage and whether British Muslim women should wear the niqab, which is the cloth that covers the face, became issues of debate within their faith community and in society in general.

Religion in 21st-century Britain

In the 2011 Census, 37.5 million people - that's 59.5 per cent of the population - gave their religion as 'Christian'. But there were also:

  • No religion: 16.2 million
  • Refused to say: 4.5 million
  • Islam: 2.7 million
  • Hindu: 835,934
  • Sikh: 432,429
  • Jewish: 269,568
  • 176,632 people declared themselves 'Jedi', the religion that features in the Star Wars films. Many people did this as a form of protest at having to answer the question, or as a joke.

Where next?

If you wish, you can study aspects of Britain's religious history in more detail by looking at Thomas Becket, the Crusades and the Reformation.

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