British Census: Declining Jedi and the Other Religions

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 12, 2012 — 22 Comments

Yesterday I laid out the initial 2011 British Census religion numbers, which showed a big jump in Pagan numbers from 2001, which of course means that the British press wants to talk about the Jedi.

Jedi knight Obe Wan Kenob 007

“I was also very good in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.’”

“The new figures reveal that the lightsabre-wielding disciples are only behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in the popularity stakes, excluding non-religious people and people who did not answer. Following a nationwide campaign, Jedi made it onto the 2001 census, with 390,127 people identifying themselves a decade ago as followers of the fictional Star Wars creed. Although the number of Jedis has dropped by more than 50 per cent over the past 10 years, they are still the most selected “alternative” faith on the Census, and constitute 0.31% of all people’s stated religious affiliation in England and Wales.”

The Huffington Post’s UK branch also couldn’t resist leading with the Jedi.

“The Sith Lord has been hard at work in England and Wales since the rise of the Jedis in 2001, with the Jedi population declining by more than half in the last decade.”

Also a popular topic of conversation: Metal Hammer’s campaign to get people to list “Heavy Metal” as their religion, which over 6000 people did.


“A further 65 people declared their religion as “heavy metal” – making Norwich the heavy metal religion hotspot of England and Wales.”

Metal Hammer would go on to brag that “it turns out that more people put Heavy Metal down as their religion of choice than Scientology, Druidism, Shamanism, and a shit-ton of others we haven’t heard of.” 

As much as I sympathize with newspaper editors who know that leading with “data on religion reveals Jedi Knights are in decline” is Google page-views gold I believe there’s some serious religion-beat malpractice going on here. While I have absolutely no doubt that there are sincere believers in a faith based around the Star Wars Jedi mythos, everyone also knows that this census phenomenon, like the Metal Hammer campaign, is something of a laugh for most, a fandom-generated prank on the governments who ask questions about religion on their census. So when a reporter says that Jedi “are still the largest “other religion” by far named by participants in the 2011 census” there needs to be a giant asterisk next to that statement. Otherwise, you are playing into the prank, and burying the actual “other religions” lede, which is that modern Pagan faiths have grown, and that they are, in fact (and still), the 7th largest faith grouping in the UK behind Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

Indeed, modern Paganism has not only held on to 7th place (if you disqualify Jediism), but has grown considerably in the official census count, and will no doubt gain in numbers when the results for Scotland and Northern Ireland are released. If you lump the Pagan faiths together, you’re around, or over, 80,000 adherents (depending on who you include or don’t include). This is significant because Pagan faiths in the UK are still waging battles for equal treatment, and organizations like the Pagan Federation are still working on getting charity status. If the headlines had all read: Paganism growing, remains 7th largest faith, it could have had a positive effect on our treatment. It could have given Pagan leaders in the UK a new moment to establish themselves as an integral part of British society.

As for the declining Jedi, it wasn’t the Sith, it was the atheists and humanists, who launched a campaign to increase the number of people who checked “no religion,” and it seems to have worked.

sctrfigure1 tcm77 290493

“The British Humanist Association spoke of a “significant cultural shift” in a society where “[r]eligious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in decline… and non-religious identities are on the rise”. The number of people with no religion at all  in the UK has doubled since 2001.”

So here’s hoping for some better coverage of all the “other religions” in Britain in the weeks ahead, and maybe some better attention paid to the growth of Pagan faiths, and if these numbers are (still) only a fraction of our true presence in the UK.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I believe there’s some serious religion-beat malpractice going on here.
    If it’s important that UK news media carry the Pagan numbers the way Pagans would like to see them carried, the canonical method is to issue a press release. Is there an equivalent of COG across the Pond?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      COG is Wiccan based, is it not? The Pagan Federation is non denominational, representing the wider umbrella of Paganism. They are the ones trying to get charitable status at the moment (and apparently stumbling on the religion point.)

      • Deborah Bender

        CoG and the Pagan Federation are different sorts of organizations. CoG is more specialized.

        Membership in CoG is open only to witches and Wiccans and to covens composed of same. In order to be considered for membership, a coven or individual must get two letters of recommendation from witches who are known to CoG. This is how CoG bypasses defining in words what a witch (or a Wiccan) is. People and groups that do not self-identify as either witches or wiccans are not eligible for membership.

        CoG’s membership criteria are intended to generate a group of people who have enough in common to work together. It’s a grassroots service organization, not a pay-your-dues-to-support-a-professional-staff sort of organization. The latter, IMHO, is what you usually need to get much done if an organization is more than local and anyone can join. Both kinds of organizations are useful but they serve different purposes.

        I’m not familiar with the Pagan Federation’s structure and the above comments do not necessarily apply to them.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          The Pagan Fed is a pay-your-dues kind of organisation.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    The importance of Pagan numbers kind of confuses me. People go on and on about the numbers, yet many still think that ‘evangelising’ or indoctrinating (ones own children, for example) is against some Pagan ethic.

    I think that, if people want to see significant increase in numbers, they need to be more open about Paganism (in its myriad forms) and encouraging others to consider looking at it as a serious religious option.

    • Charles Cosimano

      I think it would be great fun to see pairs of Pagans going door to door passing out tracts.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Mixed pairs, obviously:

        *knock knock*
        Pagan 1: Can you spare a moment to talk about Woden?
        Incumbent: Umm… No.
        Pagan 2: How about Cernunnos?

        • Northern_Light_27

          Pagan 1: We have thousands of gods, I’m sure there are at least a couple to suit your needs! Can we come in and show you our catalog?

  • Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent

    The Jedi thing is interesting to me, as both a Brit and something of an aficionado of hyper-real religions – the way that avowedly fictional mythos can lead to actual belief systems (which, as something of a chaos-flavoured mage, I see as both positive and useful).

    Of course some may posit all religions start in this way…

    I talk about the Jedi & hyper-real faith in the context of the last census here here and here

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I registered as Jedi in 2001,

      Of course, everyone knows that you can’t be a full Jedi until you have made your own lightsabre. I never got past padawan grade…

      • Northern_Light_27

        I’d be miffed you can’t register as Sith. Jedi are kind of assholes.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Well, there was a box that allowed you to write your own choice in, which is how Jedi got so popular.

  • Marc Mielke

    Given the content of most Metal, especially British Heavy Metal, I’d say just go ahead and count the Heavy Metal guys as Pagan anyway.

    • Entdinglichung

      most White Metal (do they really exist? ;-)) fans would of course state “Christian” as their religion

    • Apuleius Platonicus

      More like “Pagan As Fuck”.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I don’t know. A lot of Heavy Metal isn’t particularly theistic one way or another. That said, the second wave of Black Metal is pretty satanic…

  • Christopher Wildbore

    The Atheist numbers are skewed. It offers a No-religion, but it doesn’t off no particular religion. There are many people who see themselves as believing in something religious but don’t identify with any one religion. Dollars to donuts many of them checked no-religion as being the closest answer to no particular religion. If that were accurately calculated I am willing to bet big money that the atheist jump would be only about 10% not 50.

  • Apuleius Platonicus

    To state the obvious: there is a huge and growing population of people who have clearly rejected Christianity, but who have not positively embraced any particular religious point of view as an alternative. And just to be clear – most of these people have also not embraced a clearly “anti-religious” point of view, and, as a matter of fact, most of them still hold to some kind of vaguely religious, or at least “spiritual but not religious” world-view.

    How do we reach these folks with the Good News About The Old Religion? Personally I think we need work on our “message”. We tend to place way too much emphasis on hyphenated, “identity” oriented Paganisms (Hellenes, Heathens, Celtic, Slavic, Egyptian, etc, etc, etc) without focusing on broader unifying themes. And when we do talk about broader unifying themes in Paganism three things happen: 1. It tends to get dumbed down until it comes out as vague new-agey blather, 2. It tends to get self-censored in order to not exclude or offend anyone until it becomes meaningless, 3. It tends to attacked by legions of “experts” who haven’t the faintest idea of what they are talking about (with the most egregious case-in-point being the decades long campain by Ronald Hutton and his fellow travelers to shout down anyone who affirms that Paganism is The Old Religion – and the second most egregious example being the chorus of Pagans-cum-Christian-apologists who raise a hue and cry anytime any Pagan dares to state the plain truth about the religion that people are leaving by the millions).

    • Luminous_Being

      I work in PR so I see the value in working on a message but seeing as we aren’t really a cohesive group that’s not likely to happen. For example, based on your post i assume you aren’t up for having Hutton work on the press release. The best we could probably do is send a message congratulating the Jedi as being another faith that encourages tolerance and compassion.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Trying to unify will make it vague, by necessity.

      • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

        Paganism was much easier to describe 20 years ago, it represented a tight package of beliefs, ethics and philosophical positions. Paganism now has become individualised to the point of meaninglessness. Were Pagan evangelicals to go doorstepping, what would they tell people, believe in what you like and if you want a ‘cool’ label no-one can say your not a Pagan?

        IMHO it is this tendency for Paganism to fly apart under the centrifugal force of egotistical individualism that is its greatest enemy to its own continued existence and to its acceptance by wider society.

  • Eran Rathan

    I blame the decline on the prequels (and Hayden Christensen).