The creative space of uncertainty

Between the 31st of May and the 2nd of June 2024, The Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life commissioned Whitestone Insight to conduct an online poll of 2,396 UK adults. The survey was part of a broader project designed through regular tracking to show how faith and religion influence life in the UK over time.

The June survey introduced two new measures. It specified that respondents’ answers related to experiences within the last four weeks and distinguished between those who saw their faith as the one true religion (Exclusivists) and those who did not (Non-Exclusivists). While the June report shared some findings with the May survey, there were important distinctions.

The survey reported a lower impact of faith on people’s lives and the sense of purpose it had offered within the last four weeks. Only 33% in June compared to 52% in May agreed that their faith had significantly impacted their life and only 37% compared to 53% agreed that their faith had given them a sense of purpose. The importance attributed by faith groups to knowing about the world’s major religions also declined. There was an 8% rise in agreement by faith groups that knowledge of the world’s religions is unimportant and only 24% stated that their faith would shape the way they vote in the general election.    

These findings did not, however, correspond to a reduced openness to religion in public life. All measures of this scale increased or remained stable. This was especially the case for people without faith. Support increased across all groups for people speaking about their faith in the workplace, and for British politicians consulting with faith leaders and speaking publicly about their faith. Interestingly, people without faith were more supportive than those with faith on the last two issues. The non-faith group were twice as likely than the faith group to support consultation with faith leaders and seven times more likely to support politicians speaking publicly about their faith.   

However, the most significant differences between the May and June reports were in responses to religious media coverage. All groups showed significantly higher uncertainty regarding media reporting in the four weeks leading up to the survey – they were more reluctant to make definitive judgements on the media. This tendency was greater for people without faith than those with faith.

There was a significant increase from the May report in people stating they were unsure whether religious media coverage had been generally balanced in the four weeks leading up to the survey, with a 26% increase in the non-faith group and 16% in the faith group. A similar pattern appeared in responses to media bias. The data showed a 27% rise in the non-faith group and 20% in the faith group of people reporting uncertainty about whether the media had been biased in the last four weeks. People were also more unsure whether the press had been generally negative in its religious coverage, with results showing a 28% rise among people without faith and an 18% rise for those with faith.

However, this uncertainty around media coverage did not translate to an increased resistance to religious reporting. Faith groups wanted more religious coverage (25% increase), while the non-faith group remained the same at 7%.    

In reflecting on what these findings might mean, it is important to state that many results between the May and June surveys remained the same. There was no significant difference in whether people considered their faith bound to cultural heritage or in the perceived role of faith in shaping moral values. There was no change in beliefs within faith groups that theirs was the one true faith, that faith and religion are a force for good in society or that faith has significantly influenced Western beliefs about values like equality and compassion. 

In exploring possible reasons for these findings, it is important to acknowledge the local, national, and global uncertainties people are presently navigating. We are experiencing changes on multiple levels, many of which are unsettling, and during such times the “flight or fight” response comes into force. This may explain, at least in part, the increased ambiguity surrounding media reporting. Growing uncertainty can lead to polarisation – to an increased, exclusive, and rigid commitment to a particular group. But it can also lead people to retreat into a period of discernment and re-evaluation where they can develop a greater awareness of human limitations, an appreciation of the complex and intricate ties which bind us all, and the wisdom and compassion to take concrete steps towards positive change in the world.     

Methodology: Whitestone Insight interviewed 2,064 UK adults online between 31st May and 2nd June 2024. Data were weighted to be representative of all UK adults.

Whitestone Insight is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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