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Religion in the British Universities. The findings of some recent surveys - article ; n°1 ; vol.18, pg 71-82


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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1964 - Volume 18 - Numéro 1 - Pages 71-82
12 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Published 01 January 1964
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Joan B. Brothers
Religion in the British Universities. The findings of some recent
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 18, 1964. pp. 71-82.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Brothers Joan B. Religion in the British Universities. The findings of some recent surveys. In: Archives des sciences sociales
des religions. N. 18, 1964. pp. 71-82.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1964.1771
The Findings of Some Recent Surveys
Special gious factual journals social of current inquiries tain some are partly STUDENTS and be Students completed one several expected so behaviour With kind to general beliefs scientists partly many perhaps aspect information discover interest or have it or new the tins simply have is to investigations and another outlines no of received rapid proposed universities have because analysis take what in university doubt others always behaviour circulated the upon occupied development place which they some attention because religious of in administered been to student no in the life tell at describe some emerge in carried amongst Britain popular way their theoretical us 3) special they life from period of about aims them out the of analyses 2) are subjects by themselves there place students variety to of findings by religion readily there existing out interest be intellectual are psychologists in exhaustive for of being has of the and therefore print available in of research angles universities By of and been the analyses some concerned the no and while published means and diverse but changes recent or growth to in numerous social others the other investigators religious rather and all perhaps In surveys social approaches development in of which the include professional view are Since to surveys interest their attitudes sciences indicate building not with in of might there reli own Bri and yet the in of
See for instance the articles on students of various nationalities which appeared in
Archives de Sociologie des Religions 12 1961 articles in Nouvelle Revue Théologique such as
GOUYON La foi des lycéens catholiquesen France LXXII 10 1950) 1028-1049
FRAGA IBIBARNE and TENA ARTIGAS Una encuestas los estudiantes universitarios de
Madrid Revista Internacional de Sociolog VIII 1950) 313-351 GOLDSCHMIDT Kon
servative Avantgard Ansätze 32 19-20 etc
Cf FORD Creating the New Universities The Sunday Times June 17th and June
24th 1962
As for example Durham survey Moos LAING A.J ODB P.A BROMHEAD
Newspaper Reacting by University Students Durham 1954
variety of statements has been made about the religion and morality of
British university students today Some people assert that promiscuity is rife
amongst the young in general and that the influence of religious beliefs is negli
gible others consider that there are signs of religious revival in the universities
Amongst the plethora of unrelated facts and opinions on the topic the citation
of student marriages due to premarital conception and of suicides in the univer
sities 4) on the one hand and on the other references to the proportion of
students active in religious societies or concerned with voluntary service in one
form or another it is hard to discover balanced picture of the religious attitudes
and behaviour of university students Although no comprehensive survey has
been carried out there are reports from the complex institution of London
university from the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge from the small
collegiate university at Durham and from several of the large Redbrick
provincial universities It seems worthwhile therefore considering the findings
of recent inquiries especially as some especially those carried out by students
themselves are not generally known or accessible to indicate how much is already
known of the religious life of the British university student 6)
study of four colleges in the university of London Imperial College of
Science and Technology Queen Mary College the School of Economics
and Political Science L.S.E.) and University College was carried out recently
by members of the Sociological Society at L.S.E This is one of the most
interesting of the surveys carried out by students 8) and includes material on
education grants politics religion newspaper reading and future careers The
information on religion shows that 32 of the respondents were members
of the Church of England belonged to other Protestant bodies another
were non-denominational Christians were Roman Catholics and were
Jewish 17 described themselves as atheists humanists or rationalists
Interestingly there were more agnostics or in L.S.E 40 than in
the colleges as whole There were differences in church attendance between
women 28 going to services at least once week and men 20 falling into
the same category as many as 50 of the men reported that they never attended
See for instance Suicide and the Student an article in the Cardiff students newspaper
Broadsheet 14th March 1963
Details collected from British universities of chaplains services and the like are given
in recent publication of the Student Christian Movement Survey of Christianity in the
In view of the complexity which would be involved in referring to the findings of
inquiries carried out in other countries comparisons will not be made the reader will find that
where the individual surveys have been conducted with serious attention to methodological
detail such comparisons have been made by the writers themselves Anyone interested in tracing
the surveys cited here will find that some of those carried out by students themselves including
that at Cambridge are now out of print the others can probably be obtained from the editors
of the journals but with the rise and fall of student publications it cannot be guaranteed that
the themselves will still exist
Survey on London Students Clare Market Review Journal of the L.S.E Students
Union) Winter 1962-63 Questionnaires were sent to all women and every other man in their
third year at four colleges total sample of 1048 823 legible replies were received
In investigations carried out by students themselves the questions on religion tend to
be similar and to be very simple ones concerned with religious affiliation frequency of church
attendance few include couple of questions on beliefs or on attendance at religious groups
WBIOHT and WITTMAN Politics and Religion pp 36-39
services at all while only 87 of the women never did so It appeared that
women students were less willing to break away entirely from religious beliefs
wishing to be described as agnostics rather than atheists more often than the
The differences which are revealed between colleges are of particular
interest 10 L.S.E is cosmopolitan trenchantly anti-conservative though
not providing Labour majority It is also strong in agnosticism and atheism
but not as major belief The figures from university College appear to
show strong minorities at both ends of the political and religious spectra Queen
Mary students were found to lie very close to the average in most respects
Imperial College finally seemed to contain extremists 11)
The findings of detailed inquiry carried out by students are described in
the student journal Cambridge Opinion 12) and amongst the comments religion
is included 13 Some impressionistic material is given on religious life in Cam
bridge residential university with chapel in every college where stress is
placed upon the role of chaplains The statistical information reveals that nearly
half of the respondents owed allegiance to the Church of England the next
largest proportion 21 being agnostics of some kind 11 were Nonconfor
mists and only and Roman Catholics and Jews respectively Half of
the students went to church regularly those who attended most often were
Roman Catholics 90 ) while 65 and 61 of the Anglicans and Noncon
formists respectively reported regular attendance Some interesting information
on the relationship between religious profession and education is given the
Public schools produced higher proportion of professing Christians than the
grammar 14 In terms of social class Religion is more powerful among
those who come from the upper and lower middle classes than among the children
of manual workers Agnosticism is stronger among the children of the latter
than among the offspring of the former As many as one third of the under
graduates belonged to religious society in Cambridge The special aspects
of the Cambridge situation some of them incidentally shared by Oxford Durham
and Trinity College Dublin are of interest and the writer concludes that the
appropriate slogan for Cambridge is not Come to Christ but Keep the
As in several other surveys carried out by students religious affiliation is
10 Some valuable research comparing the outlook of students in the physical and social
sciences is being carried out by L.F Douglas graduate student in the Psychology Department
at L.S.E. with special reference to their views and expectations of university education and
the society in which they live the study includes interesting questions on religion
11 Cf LINSTEAD BAKNARD and 1800 Students of Science and
Technology Survey of the Imperial College Universities Quarterly December 1961 36-54
12 A.M REES Undergraduate Survey Cambridge Opinion 16 1959 8-14 20
sample of 1.504 people in an undergraduate population of 7.521 was used the response was 68
Comparisons are made with an earlier survey carried out in Cambridge in 1958
13 R.W EVANS Religion in Cambridge 18-22
14 Public school typically an independent boarding school of good academic standards
to which boys are admitted at 13 partly on grounds of academic ability but mostly because of
parents ability to pay high fees Grammar school typically publicly provided free
secondary day school with an academic curriculum to which pupils are admitted on the strength
of their performance in an examination at the age of 11
also correlated with political voting intentions 15 Almost three quarters of
the Anglicans intended voting for the Conservative party while 65 of the
Roman Catholics expressed the same view In fact the predominant trend in
Cambridge was to Conservatism the highest tendency 22 towards the
Labour party being amongst agnostics atheists and the like
survey appearing in Isis describes various aspects of Oxford students
backgrounds and views 16 The information with regard to religion however
is extremely scanty 17 little more is noted than that 39 described themselves
as members of the Church of England as Roman Catholics 23 as agnostics
while atheists humanists and rationalists added another 11 28 of the res
pondents went to church at least once week while another 22 attended at
least once month figure which caused surprize it seems to those conducting
the survey
An earlier study compiled material on men in their third year at both Oxford
and Cambridge using questions of the kind usually associated with poll studies
and including several on religion 18 Students were asked about their
religious background whether or not they believed in the divinity of Christ
58 from Oxford said they did 48 from Cambridge) if they thought the
clergy should express independent views on public affairs and their views on
private homosexual acts The comments are unfortunately few and even such
necessary details as individual denomination or allegiance are omitted while
home backgrounds are classified according to the highly subjective and inade
quate criterion of active non-active religious In spite of the general interest
of the questions asked the findings of this inquiry are of considerably less value
than the majority of surveys carried out by students themselves
Further material on Oxford students comparing their attitudes with those
of students at Manchester University north west England) is contained in
recent book The Student in the Age of Anxiety 19 The methodological basis
of little the inquiry space is is given open here to grave to this criticism study partly but the because findings it is are exceptionally interesting difficult Only
to summarize the kind of material presented but chiefly because unlike many
of the other studies referred to here it is easily available Zweig included in his
interview schedule which aimed at conversational flow the following headings
Religion Believer agnostic atheist Personal or organized religion Sympathy
for other religions apart from his own experiences Belief in prayer
miracles revelation What does he reject what does he value most in religion
value of fellowship self-transcendence confession worship Does he equate
religion with morals Interest spiritualism and extra-sensory perception
15 BOOKER ..And Politics in Cambridge pp 28-27
16 Isis Survey 4th March 1961 This study of men students in their final year used
questionnaire with sample of one in five giving response of 88
17 On the grounds that survey devoted to religion is being carried out by another journal
which seems to have since disappeared
18 GiLLMORE and SINCLAIR Gemini Poll Gemini The Oxford and Cambridge
Magazine Winter 1957 58 100 individuals of each university all male and their third
year and having done their National Service were interviewed
19 ZwEio London 1968 The author 205 students in their final year and
postgraduates at the two universities
The results are analysed crudely numbers not percentages and the
results are useful for the light they throw upon the ways in which students speak
about religion rather than for any statistical validity The author finally says
of Manchester students
The comparison with Oxford is difficult because of the différent breakdown
of religious denominations but in all denominations we have at Manchester
much higher percentage of students practising their religion and believing in
the Anglican Church more than double The ratio of atheists is third and of
agnostics half of that in Oxford Agnosticism was strong force in Oxford
while in Manchester it played minor role What call groping and searching
was much more prevalent in Oxford than in Manchester while the conventional
and conformist element in religious attitudes was more to the fore in Man
An early study of interest designed to provide material on students parti
cipation in the life of provincial university is that carried out in 1951-52 by
Doris Thoday in Birmingham Midlands 20 This inquiry using
interviews found that quarter of the men students and half the women students
had attended place of worship at least once during the weekend before they
were interviewed high proportion of them going regularly Not only was there
difference in the attendance of men and women but there was also one between
arts and science students including notable decrease in church attendance
amongst men after their first year Unfortunately this account which
gives only brief summary of material collected does not include denominational
differences though distinction is made in the analysis in terms of membership
of university religious societies between students in residence and those
lodgings or at home very few differences emerging 21)
Several surveys indicate the high rate of church attendance amongst Roman
Catholic students and this is confirmed in an inquiry carried out at Liverpool
University north west 22) where the proportion of Catholic students is higher
than elsewhere in the country 23 The findings only discuss church attendance
revealing that 63 of the Catholics reported attending more than once week
while the remainder attended once week figure which must be regarded
with some suspicion The survey had better representation of Jews than some
of the other student investigations and nearly half 43 of the Jewish students
reported attending synagogue once week while at the other extreme 14
20 THODAY Halis of Residence Universities Quarterly XII 1957) 45-56
random stratified sample of 503 students was used
21 Cf ISAACS BEATTY ALLAN Religion in the University in Birmingham
student journal Mermaid Spring 1964 26-29
22 HADLEY This is Your Life Sphinx Summer 1960 Tilis inquiry carried out by
students of the Social Science and Psychology Departments consisted of systematic random
sample drawn from the records of the Guild of Undergraduates total of 441 questionnaires
were sent out and 809 were returned the response rate varying between the faculties
23 Detailed national statistics on Catholic students are collected by the Newman Demo-
graphicSurvey London See Catholics in the Universities 1960 1962
did not attend at all The overall figure of church attendance at Liverpool was
high nearly half the sample reported attending at least once week It appeared
that religious affiliation did not vary much amongst the faculties but there were
considerably more agnostics or atheists the engineering students than
the sample as whole Only 18 said they never went to church at all Not
many details on religion are given in this article but it is worth noting that
quarter of the sample belonged to religious societies 24) although only said
they took an active part in them while read religious journals
LIVERPOOL Roman Catholics)
The finding that as education improves so the standard of religious practice
amongst Roman Catholics rises has become so well known among those working
in socio-religious research that it is now treated as commonplace 25 some
further light is thrown upon the psychological aspects underlying these wider
rends by the findings of research carried out by the present writer from 1959
to 1961 amongst section of young Catholics in Liverpool 26 The investigation
which was concerned to discover how educational developments in Britain are
changing the social structure and as consequence the social organization of
Catholicism paid particular attention to Catholics at university In describing
their own reactions to religion since leaving school it was noticeable that there
were few references to any dramatic changes in religious affiliation but that
on leaving the environment of Catholic homes and schools many young people
were confronted personally for the first time with other religious ideas an expe
rience which led to re-examination of their own faith sometimes period of
doubting resulting for most of them in stronger conviction than before as to
the truth of their religion 27)
Another recent inquiry carried out by students in Nottingham north
Midlands under the auspices of the University Sociological Society aimed to
contribute material on the social life of students work which had already begun
in other British universities 28 The survey covered wide variety of topics
24 Further information with regard to attendance at religious societies this tune at
Keele can be found in A.H ILIFFE Student Societies in the University College of North
Staffordshire The Sociological Review N.S. IV 1956) 257-264
25 See for instance KELLY Catholics and the Practice of the Faith Washington 1946
LABBENS and DAILLE La Pratique Dominicale dans agglomération lyonnaise III Ins
truction La Ville et les Pratiquants Lyon 1956 PIN Pratique Religieuse et Classes Sociales
dans une paroisse urbaine St Pothin Lyon Paris 1956 Youth and Religion Special issue
of New Life XIV and etc ARGYLE Religious Behaviour London 1958 on the other
hand argues that in England there is some evidence that people who had secondary education
believe less than those with only elementary education he does not however cite any of this
26 The findings of this research of which only one aspect is referred to here are published
in Church and School Study of the Impact of Education on Religion Liverpool University
Press 1964 See also <i Grammar School versus Parish The Clergy Review N.S XLVIII
1963) 566-575
27 Interviews not postal questionnaires were used in this study as in the
Durham survey referred to below
28 Student Social Survey University of Nottingham Union 1962 This consisted of
sample of undergraduate students 666 out of 1.999 and was carried out in two stages firstly
for students in Halls of Residence where response rate of 98 was obtained while the second
stage for students in lodgings contact being made at lectures resulted in response of 82
including educational and parental background financial position newspaper
reading and political views With regard to religious affiliation the study reveals
that 742 of those interviewed were born or baptized into the Churches of
England or Scotland while only 454 still belonged to these denominations
the loss reveals considerable differences between men and women 44 of
the original adherents who were men had given up belief while only 30 of the
women had done so The Roman Catholics showed very little change 35
reported being baptized and 33 still belonged the Jewish section very small
and masculine only reveals the same tendency 07 bom in the Jewish
faith and 05 still subscribing The agnostics and atheists seemed to be most
on the increase 81 reported themselves as now coming into this category
with noticeable difference between the sexes 103 men and only 38 women
Interestingly this survey does not reveal that science students are less religiously
committed even bearing in mind that the proportion of women to men is much
less in Science than Arts In terms of years little difference is revealed first
year students being only slightly more religiously committed than third year
What however of religious activity Like the other studies carried out by
students the survey was not concerned with profound exploration and the only
measure taken was that of reported church attendance From this it emerged
that proportionately more women than men attend religious services but the
differences are not so great when it comes to attending five or more times in
month The distinctions between denominations are unsatisfactory again as
with other studies made by students for example 78 of the Roman Catholics
the highest figure by far as with all the investigations attended church ive or
more times month but this is misleading as comparative indication of reli
gious zeal it may well be that person whose denomination counsels weekly
attendance rather than requiring it shows more fervour than Catholic who
goes each week In general terms over one third of all students attended no
religious service during the period taken while nearly quarter at the other
extreme attended five or more times during the same period 29)
Like the Cambridge study the survey included an analysis of the relationship
between religious and political affiliation revealing the conventional link between
Anglicans and Conservatives and Protestants and Liberals but there is also
strong tie to Conservatism on the part of both Catholics and Protestants and once
again one must lament the failure to distinguish between Protestant denominations
The tie between atheists and Labour sympathisers is commented upon pheno
menon at Oxford noted and at Cambridge the After authors brief observe comparison somewhat with other prematurely student surveys on the
results presented that the importance of religious beliefs and observance on
the lives of the majority of students both here and at other universities is therefore
uncontestable In the final conclusions it is pointed out that future graduates
appear to be going to reinforce the existing patterns of belie politcal social
and religious and will not to any marked extent wish to alter them
29 An unfortunate time was picked for this inquiry since the period on which students
were reporting was from December 26th to January 21st which not only included Christian
festivals but was also time when parental and social pressures might be at their highest
behaviour in the context of the university might prove totally different
BRISTOL Students of Technology)
Comparisons with the Nottingham survey are made in investigation this
time not of university students but of those taking the Diploma in Technology
at the Bristol College of Science and Technology South west England 30
In the analysis which is only an outline of intensive research detailed information
on students backgrounds is given In considering religion it was found that
over half were members of the Church of England Scotland and Wales In
Bristol there were 22 who described themselves as agnostics atheists or huma
nists With regard to church attendance the highest percentage attending church
every Sunday were the Roman Catholics while 55 of the Nonconformists
stated that they went every week Only of the members of the Church of
England Scotland or Wales did as much while as many as 42 of those who
described themselves as members of the established churches attended services
hardly ever while 10 said they never went It was found that as many as
24 of those who were atheists or agnostics reported attending church occa
sionally although they were asked to exclude weddings and the like) one of
the surprizing findings emerging from this valuable study of students of techno
study which is of particular interest because of its attention to metho
dological techniques is that carried out recently by Poppleton and Pilkington
of Sheffield University Yorkshire 31) on the attitudes of students towards the
Christian religion non-christian students being excluded The investigators were
concerned to discover not only whether or not there was trend towards reli
gious revival in the universities but also to construct scale for measuring
religious attitudes which could be used in future inquiries 32 Analysing the
trends by faculty year of study denomination and sex the writers consider that
their findings can give no direct support to the general hypothesis that
university course of study of whatever kind causes an initial turning away from
previously held religious convictions but it was found that there was decline
in religious belief from the first to the second year in the faculties of Arts and
Pure Science There was too decline in scores over the years among students
in pure science Comparing their findings with those of Thoday in Birmingham
the authors comment that it may be that the much popularised science versus
religion conflict is still real one for many science students in the universities
In analysing the relationship between students religious beliefs and their
choice of career it seems that students taking jobs in pure or applied science
30 C.T SANDFORD M.E COUPE NICHOLAS Student Survey Bristol College of Science
and Technology 1962 98 of all the Diploma in Technology students at the college completed
questionnaire Unlike the Nottingham survey this study was not administered by students
81 P.K POPPLETON and G.W PILKINGTON The Measurement of Religious Attitudes in
University Population British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 1968) 20-86
82 The scale and full analysis and discussion of methodological details in relation to
other inquiries are included in the article and are of special interest to those working in similar
fields Using postal questionnaire with proportionate stratified random sample of the
whole student population of the university they obtained noticeably high response rate
92.6 The questionnaire has since been used in Durham University by D.R Moody the results
are not yet available where number of limitations have been revealed
research have relatively low religious scores while those entering the teaching
profession have relatively high scores Interestingly medical students in the last
two years of their course emerge as highly religious As for denominational
differences Catholic students rank higher than the other groups on various
indices of religious belief and activity while members of the small evangelical
sects score higher than those in other denominations The authors caution
against the customary grouping of Protestant together for this
can lead to inaccurate and misleading comparisons of religious fervour The
sex differences reveal that women are more religious than men finding that is
hardly surprizing in view of the results of other surveys
The general picture emerging from this investigation is one of the acceptance
of religious ideas by the majority of students as many as 74 held some form
of belief while nearly half reported attending church once or more
during the month Yet at the same time much smaller proportion were notably
active in the religious sphere 31 saying private prayers daily for instance
and 23 attending church four or more times during the month The authors
conclude more cautiously than the writers of the Nottingham survey that
these proportions would need to be much higher before it could plausibly be
claimed that religious ideas and practices are really important influence on the
lives of most university students
The findings of several of the student surveys cited indicate that there are
few startling changes in beliefs upon arrival in the university milieu Research
being carried out by the present writer at Durham University north east
England confirms this 33 there does not seem to be much evidence to suggest
that entrance into the university environment has violent repercussions in the
religious sphere 34 The few that change their affiliation appear to have thought
about the matter for some time previously making the decisive step when actually
coming to university where parental attitudes and pressures are more remote
For the most part students in Durham seem to continue in their religious alle
giance although church attendance may grow considerably less the only major
change being that some who doubted the credibility of their beliefs while at
school find that in the university atmosphere agnosticism and humanism are
Further material on Durham students will shortly be available this time
from the psychological angle Using the scale devised by Poppleton and Pilkington
for use in Sheffield D.R Moody carried out survey of religious attitudes using
sample from four colleges 35 The investigator comments
33 Only few cursory comments are given here since the investigation which is concerned
not primarily with religious influences but with student life in general within the social context
of the university and the relationships and structures which exist within it is not yet completed
34 Cf the points made on evangelism in the universities in two articles which are the
result of inquiries in Cambridge London Birmingham and Sheffield PUR-
LONG <i Religion in the Universities and <i Ritualists and Evangelicals The Sunday Times
llth June and 18fh June 1961
35 Since the results are not yet available the author is indebted to Mr Moody for access
to his findings which are not yet published and for permission to refer to them here Using
sample of 264 students in their first and third years from four colleges the response rate was