Religion in Scotland

Religion in Scotland includes all forms of religious organisation and practice. Christianity is the largest faith in Scotland. In the 2011 census, 53.8% of the Scottish population identified as Christian (declining from 65.1% in 2001) when asked: "What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?". The Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian denomination often known as The Kirk, is recognised in law as the national church of Scotland. It is not an established church and is independent of state control. However, it is the largest religious grouping in Scotland, with 27.8% of the population, or 1.5 million adherents, in 2014.[1] The other major Christian church is the Roman Catholic Church, the form of Christianity in Scotland prior to the Reformation, which accounted for 15.9% of the population and is especially important in West Central Scotland and the Highlands. "Scotland's third largest church" is the Scottish Episcopal Church.[2]

In recent years other religions have established a presence in Scotland, mainly through immigration and higher birth rates among ethnic minorities, with a small number of converts. Those with the most adherents in the 2011 census are Islam (1.4%, mainly among immigrants from South Asia), Hinduism (0.3%), Buddhism (0.2%) and Sikhism (0.2%). Other minority faiths include the Bahá'í Faith and small Neopagan groups. There are also various organisations which actively promote humanism and secularism, included within the 43.6% who either indicated no religion or did not state a religion in the 2011 census. In April 2016, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 52% of Scots identified themselves as non-religious, compared to 40% in 1999.[3]


The statistics from the 2011 census and the 2001 census are set out below.

Religion in Scotland (2011)[4]

  Non-religious (36.7%)
  Church of Scotland (32.4%)
  Catholic Church (15.9%)
  Other Christian (5.5%)
  Islam (1.4%)
  Other religions (1.2%)
  Not stated (7.0%)
Current religion 2001[5]2011[4][6]
Number % Number %
Church of Scotland2,146,25142.41,717,87132.4
Roman Catholic803,73215.9841,05315.9
Other Christian344,5626.8291,2755.5
Total Christian3,294,54565.12,850,19953.8
Other religion26,9740.515,1960.3
No religion1,394,46027.61,941,11636.7
Religion not stated278,0615.5368,0397.0
No religion/Not stated total1,672,52133.02,309,15543.6
Total population5,062,011100.05,295,403100.0


The ninth century St Martin's Cross, in front of Iona Abbey, the site of one of the most important religious centres in Scotland

Christianity was probably introduced to what is now southern Scotland during the Roman occupation of Britain.[7][8] It was mainly spread by missionaries from Ireland from the 5th century and is associated with St Ninian, St Kentigern and St Columba.[9] The Christianity that developed in Ireland and Scotland differed from that led by Rome, particularly over the method of calculating Easter and the form of tonsure, until the Celtic church accepted Roman practices in the mid-7th century.[10] Christianity in Scotland was strongly influenced by monasticism, with abbots being more significant than bishops.[11] In the Norman period, there were a series of reforms resulting in a clearer parochial structure based around local churches; and large numbers of new monastic foundations, which followed continental forms of reformed monasticism, began to predominate.[11] The Scottish church also established its independence from England, developing a clear diocesan structure and becoming a "special daughter of the see of Rome", but continued to lack Scottish leadership in the form of archbishops.[12] In the late Middle Ages the Crown was able to gain greater influence over senior appointments, and two archbishoprics had been established by the end of the 15th century.[13] There was a decline in traditional monastic life, but the mendicant orders of friars grew, particularly in the expanding burghs.[13][14] New saints and cults of devotion also proliferated.[12][15] Despite problems over the number and quality of clergy after the Black Death in the 14th century, and evidence of heresy in the 15th century, the Church in Scotland remained stable.[16]

John Knox, a key figure in the Scottish Reformation

During the 16th century, Scotland underwent a Protestant Reformation that created a predominately Calvinist national kirk, which was strongly Presbyterian in outlook. A confession of faith, rejecting papal jurisdiction and the mass, was adopted by Parliament in 1560.[17] The kirk found it difficult to penetrate the Highlands and Islands, but began a gradual process of conversion and consolidation that, compared with reformations elsewhere, was conducted with relatively little persecution.[18] James VI of Scotland favoured doctrinal Calvinism but supported the bishops.[19] Charles I of England brought in reforms seen by some as a return to papal practice. The result was the Bishop's Wars in 1639–40, ending in virtual independence for Scotland and the establishment of a fully Presbyterian system by the dominant Covenanters.[20] After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Scotland regained its kirk, but also the bishops.[21] Particularly in the south-west many of the people began to attend illegal field conventicles. Suppression of these assemblies in the 1680s was known as "the Killing Time". After the "Glorious Revolution" in 1688, Presbyterianism was restored.[22]

The Church of Scotland that had been created in the Reformation, but the late 18th century saw the beginnings of its fragmentation around issues of government and patronage, but also reflecting a wider division between the Evangelicals and the Moderate Party.[23] In 1733 the First Secession led to the creation of a series of secessionist churches and the second in 1761 to the foundation of the independent Relief Church.[23] These churches gained strength in the Evangelical Revival of the later 18th century.[24] Penetration of the Highlands and Islands remained limited. The efforts of the Kirk were supplemented by missionaries of the SSPCK.[25] Episcopalianism retained supporters, but declined because of its associations with Jacobitism.[23] Beginning in 1834 the "Ten Years' Conflict" ended in a schism from the church, led by Dr Thomas Chalmers, known as the Great Disruption of 1843. Roughly a third of the clergy, mainly from the North and Highlands, formed the separate Free Church of Scotland. The evangelical Free Churches grew rapidly in the Highlands and Islands.[25] In the late 19th century, major debates, between fundamentalist Calvinists and theological liberals, resulted in a further split in the Free Church as the rigid Calvinists broke away to form the Free Presbyterian Church in 1893.[23]

The Disruption Assembly, painted by David Octavius Hill

From this point there were moves towards reunion, and most of the Free Church rejoined the Church of Scotland in 1929. The schisms left small denominations including the Free Presbyterians and a remnant that had not merged in 1900 as the Free Church.[23] Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the influx of large numbers of Irish immigrants led to an expansion of Catholicism, with the restoration of the Church hierarchy in 1878. Episcopalianism also revived in the 19th century; the Episcopal Church in Scotland was organised as an autonomous body in communion with the Church of England in 1804.[23] Other denominations included Baptists, Congregationalists and Methodists.[23] In the twentieth century, existing Christian denominations were joined by the Brethren and Pentecostal churches. Although some denominations thrived, after World War II there was a steady overall decline in church attendance and resulting church closures in most denominations.[24]


Church of Scotland

Main article: Church of Scotland
Stained glass showing the burning bush and the motto "nec tamen consumebatur", St. Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow.

The British Parliament passed the Church of Scotland Act 1921, recognising the full independence of the Church in matters spiritual, and as a result of this, and passage of the Church of Scotland (Property and Endowments) Act, 1925, which settled the issue of patronage in the Church, the Church of Scotland was able to unite with the United Free Church of Scotland in 1929. The United Free Church of Scotland was itself the product of the union of the former United Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the majority of the Free Church of Scotland in 1900.[23] The 1921 Act recognised the kirk as the national church and the monarch became an ordinary member of the Church of Scotland, represented at the General Assembly by their Lord High Commissioner.[26][27]

In the second half of the twentieth century the Church was particularly affected by the general decline in church attendance. Between 1966 and 2006 numbers of communicants in the Church of Scotland dropped from over 1,230,000 to 504,000.[28] Formal membership reduced from 446,000 in 2010 to 398,389 or 7.5% of the total population by yearend 2013.[29] In the twenty-first century the Church faced a financial issues, with a £5.7 million deficit in 2010. In response the church adopted a "prune to grow" policy, cutting 100 posts, introducing job-shares and unpaid ordained staff.[30]


During much of the 20th centuy and beyond, significant numbers of Catholics emigrated to Scotland from Italy, Lithuania[31] and Poland.[32] However, the church has been affected by the general decline in churchgoing. Between 1994 and 2002 Roman Catholic attendance in Scotland declined 19%, to just over 200,000.[33] By 2008, The Bishops' Conference of Scotland estimated that 184,283 attended mass regularly in that year: 3.6% of Scotland's population.[34] According to the 2011 census, Catholics comprise 16% of the overall population.[35] In 2011, Catholics outnumbered adherents of the Church of Scotland in several council areas, including North Lanarkshire, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire and the most populous one: Glasgow City.[36]

Percentage claiming to be Roman Catholic in the 2011 census in Scotland

In early 2013, Cardinal O'Brien resigned as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh after allegations of sexual misconduct against him.[37] Subsequently, there were several other cases of alleged sexual misconduct involving other priests.[38] O'Brien was replaced as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh by Leo Cushley.

Scottish Episcopal Church

The Scottish Episcopal Church is the member church of the Anglican Communion in Scotland. It is made up of seven dioceses, each with their own bishop.[39] It dates from the Glorious Revolution in 1689 when the national church was defined as presbyterian instead of episcopal in government. The bishops and those that followed them became the Scottish Episcopal Church.[40]

For 2013, the Scottish Episcopal Church reported its numbers as 34,119 members (all ages).[41] On the 2011 Census it was not listed as a separate option on the religion question, but the written answers which would be Anglican included Scottish Episcopal Church (8,048), Episcopalian (21,289), Anglican (4,490), Church of England (66,717), Church of Ireland (2,020), and Church in Wales (453).[6]

Other Presbyterian denominations

After the reunification of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church, some independent Scottish Presbyterian denominations still remained. These included the Free Church of Scotland (formed of those congregations which refused to unite with the United Presbyterian Church in 1900), the United Free Church of Scotland (formed of congregations which refused to unite with the Church of Scotland in 1929), the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (which broke from the Free Church of Scotland in 1893), the Associated Presbyterian Churches (which emerged as a result of a split in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland in the 1980s) and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) (which emerged from a split in the Free Church of Scotland in 2000).[42]

At the 2011 census, 3,553 people responded as Other Christian, Presbyterian (i.e. not Church of Scotland) and 1,197 as Other Christian, Free Presbyterian and as few as 12 people as Other Christian, Scottish Presbyterianism. Those identifying with a particular Presbyterian denomination other than the Church of Scotland were:[6]

Denomination People identifying
(2011 census)[6]
Free Church of Scotland 10,896
United Free Church of Scotland 1,514
Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland 132
Reformed Presbyterian Church 57
Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster 14
Presbyterian Church in Ireland 11

Free Church of Scotland

The second largest Presbyterian denomination in Scotland is the Free Church of Scotland with 10,896 people identifying as being of that church at the 2011 census.[6] As of 2016 there were 102 Free Church congregations, organized into six presbyteries.[43] A significant proportion of Free Church activity is to be found in the Highlands and Islands.[44]

Other non-Presbyterian denominations

Non-Presbyterian denominations that had entered Scotland, usually from England, before the 20th century included the Quakers, Baptists, Methodists and Brethren. By 1907 the Open Brethren had 196 meetings and by 1960 it was 350, with perhaps 25,000 people. The smaller Exclusive Brethren had perhaps another 3,000. Both were geographically and socially diverse, but particularly recruited in fishing communities in the Islands and East.[42] In the 2011 census 5,583 identified themselves as Brethren, 10,979 as Methodist, 1,339 as Quaker, 26,224 as Baptist and 13,229 as Evangelical.[6]

The Pentecostal churches were present from 1908; and by the 1920s there were three streams: Elim, Assemblies of God and the Apostolic Church. A Holiness movement, inspired by Methodism, emerged in 1909 and by 1915 was part of the American Church of the Nazarene. The 2011 census lists 12,357 Pentecostals and 785 Church of the Nazarene.[6][45]

The various branches of Orthodox Christianity (including Russian, Greek, and Coptic) had around 8,900 respondents at the 2011 census.[6]

Other denominations include the Jehovah's Witnesses with 8,543 and the Scottish Mormons with 4,651.[6] However, the Mormons claim a much higher number of followers with their own 2009 numbers listing 26,536 followers (in 27 wards and 14 branches).[46]


An Orange Order march in Glasgow

Sectarianism became a serious problem in the twentieth century. In the interwar period religious and ethnic tensions between Protestants and Catholics were exacerbated by economic depression. Tensions were heightened by the leaders of the Church of Scotland who orchestrated a racist campaign against the Catholic Irish in Scotland.[47] Key figures leading the campaign were George Malcolm Thomson and Andrew Dewar Gibb. This focused on the threat to the "Scottish race" based on spurious statistics that continued to have influence despite being discredited by official figures in the early 1930s. This created a climate of intolerance that led to calls for jobs to be preserved for Protestants.[48] After the Second World War the Church became increasingly liberal in attitude and moved away from hostile attitudes. Sectarian attitudes continued to manifest themselves in football rivalries between predominately Protestant and Catholic teams. This was most marked in Glasgow in the traditionally Roman Catholic team, Celtic, and the traditionally Protestant team, Rangers. Celtic employed Protestant players and managers, but Rangers have had a tradition of not recruiting Catholics.[49][50] This is not a hard and fast rule, however, as evidenced by Rangers signing of the Catholic player Mo Johnston (born 1963) in 1989 and in 1999 their first Catholic captain, Lorenzo Amoruso.[51][52]

From the 1980s the UK government passed several acts that had provision concerning sectarian violence. These included the Public Order Act 1986, which introduced offences relating to the incitement of racial hatred, and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which introduced offences of pursuing a racially aggravated course of conduct that amounts to harassment of a person. The 1998 Act also requiring courts to take into account where offences are racially motivated, when determining sentence. In the twenty-first century the Scottish Parliament legislated against sectarianism. This included provision for religiously aggravated offences in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 strengthened statutory aggravations for racial and religiously motivated crimes. The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, criminalised behaviour which is threatening, hateful or otherwise offensive at a regulated football match including offensive singing or chanting. It also criminalised the communication of threats of serious violence and threats intended to incite religious hatred.[53]


Plaque on Scottish Church House, Dunblane, one of the major centres of the ecumenical movement in Scotland in the twentieth century

Relations between Scotland's churches steadily improved during the second half of the twentieth century and there were several initiatives for cooperation, recognition and union. The Scottish Council of Churches was formed as an ecumenical body in 1924.[54] The foundation of the ecumenical Iona Community in 1938, on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland, led to a highly influential form of music, which was used across Britain and the US. Leading musical figure John Bell (born 1949) adapted folk tunes or created tunes in a folk style to fit lyrics that often emerged from the spiritual experience of the community.[55] Proposals in 1957 for union with the Church of England were rejected over the issue of bishops and were severely attacked in the Scottish press. The Scottish Episcopal church opened the communion table up to all baptised and communicant members of all the trinitarian churches and church canons were altered to allow the interchangeability of ministers within specific local ecumenical partnerships.[56] The Dunblane consultations, informal meetings at the ecumenical Scottish Church House in Dunblane in 1961-69, attempted to produce modern hymns that retained theological integrity. They resulted in the British "Hymn Explosion" of the 1960s, which produced multiple collections of new hymns.[57] In 1990, the Scottish Churches' Council was dissolved and replaced by Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), which attempted to bring churches together to set up ecumenical teams in the areas of prisons, hospitals, higher education and social ministries and inner city projects.[58] At the end of the twentieth century the Scottish Churches Initiative for Union (SCIFU), between the Episcopal Church, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, put forward an initiative whereby there would have been mutual recognition of all ordinations and that subsequent ordinations would have satisfied episcopal requirements, but this was rejected by the General Assembly in 2003.[56]


Church attendance in all denominations declined after First World War. Reasons that have been suggested for this change include the growing power of the nation state, socialism and scientific rationalism, which provided alternatives to the social and intellectual aspects of religion. By the 1920s roughly half the population had a relationship with one of the Christian denominations. This level was maintained until the 1940s when it dipped to 40 per cent during Second World War, but it increased in the 1950s as a result of revivalist preaching campaigns, particularly the 1955 tour by Billy Graham, and returned to almost pre-war levels. From this point there was a steady decline that accelerated in the 1960s. By the 1980s it was just over 30 per cent. The decline was not even geographically, socially, or in terms of denominations. It most affected urban areas and the traditional skilled working classes and educated working classes, while participation stayed higher in the Catholic Church than the Protestant denominations.[48]

In the 2011 census roughly 54 per cent of the population identified with a form of Christianity and 36.7 per cent stated they had no religion.[4] 5.5 per cent did not state a religion. In 2001, there were a significantly lower 27.5 per cent who stated that they had no religion (which compares with 15.5 per cent in the UK overall).[5][59] A study carried out on behalf of the British Humanist Association at the same time as the 2011 census suggested that those not identifying with a denomination, or who see themselves as non-religious, may be much higher at between 42 and 56 per cent, depending on the form of question asked.[60] In 2016 the Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that 52 per cent of people said they are not religious, compared with 40 per cent in 1999 when the survey began. While Roman Catholic (15 per cent) and other Christian (11 per cent) affiliations have remained steady, the decline is most rapid in the Church of Scotland, from 35 per cent in 1999 to 20 per cent. Church attendance has also declined, with two-thirds of people living in Scotland saying they "never or practically never" attend services, compared with 49 per cent when the survey began.[61] Scotland has therefore been described as the fastest secularising nation in history.[62]

Other faiths


Main article: Islam in Scotland
Dundee Central Mosque, the first purpose built mosque in Scotland.

Islam is the next religious viewpoint after Christianity and non-religious in Scotland. The first Muslim student in Scotland was Wazir Beg from Bombay (now Mumbai). He is recorded as being a medical student who studied at the University of Edinburgh between 1858 and 1859.[63] The production of goods and Glasgow's busy port meant that many lascars were employed there. Dundee was at the peak of importing jute; hence, sailors from Bengal were a feature at the port. Records from the Glasgow Sailors' Home show that, in 1903, nearly a third (5,500) of all boarders were Muslim lascars. Most immigration of Muslims to Scotland is relatively recent. The bulk of Muslims in Scotland come from families who immigrated during the late 20th century, with small numbers of converts.[64] In Scotland Muslims represent 1.4 per cent of the population (76,737). Two important mosques in Scotland are Edinburgh Central Mosque, which took more than six years to complete at a cost of £3.5m,[65] and has a main hall that can hold over one thousand worshippers,[66] and Glasgow Central Mosque.


Main article: Sikhism in Scotland

Maharajah Duleep Singh moved to Scotland in 1854, taking up residence at the Grandtully estate in Perthshire.[67] According to the Scottish Sikh Association, the first Sikhs settled in Glasgow in the early 1920s with the first Gurdwara established in South Portland Street.[68] However, the bulk of Sikhs in Scotland come from families who immigrated during the late 20th century. In the 2001 Census there were 6,572 Sikhs, predominantly in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also in Dundee and Aberdeen.


Garnethill Synagogue (built 1879) in Glasgow is the oldest synagogue in Scotland

Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was an influx of Jews, most from eastern Europe and escaping poverty and persecution. Many were skilled in the tailoring, furniture and fur trades and congregated in the working class districts of Lowland urban centres, like the Gorbals in Glasgow. The largest community in Glasgow had perhaps reached 5,000 by the end of the century.[42] A synagogue was built at Garnethill in 1879. Over 8,000 Jews were resident in Scotland in 1903.[69] Refugees from Nazism and the Second World War further augmented the Scottish Jewish community, which has been estimated to have reached 80,000 in the middle of the century.[70]

According to the 2001 census, approximately 6,400 Jews lived in Scotland, most of whom were in Glasgow (about 5,000) and the next largest community in Edinburgh (about 1,000).[5] By the 2011 census this had fallen to 5,887 persons.[4] Scotland's Jewish population continues to be predominantly urban, with 80 per cent resident in Glasgow.[71] As with Christianity, the practising Jewish population continues to fall, as many younger Jews either become secular, or intermarry with other faiths. Scottish Jews have also emigrated in large numbers to the USA, England and the Commonwealth for economic reasons, as other Scots have done.


Main article: Hinduism in Scotland

The bulk of Scottish Hindus settled there in the second half of the 20th century. At the 2001 Census, 5,600 people identified as Hindu, which equated to 0.1% of the Scottish population.[5] Most Scottish Hindus are of Indian origin, or at least from neighbouring countries, such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Many of these came after Idi Amin's expulsion from Uganda in the 1970s, and some also came from South Africa. There are also a few of Indonesian and Afghan origin. A temple in the West End of Glasgow, opened in 2006.[72] However, it was severely damaged by a fire in May 2010.[73] The ISKCON aka "Hare Krishna" also operates out of Lesmahagow in South Lanarkshire. There are also temples in Edinburgh and Dundee with plans announced in 2008 for a temple in Aberdeen.[74]

Bahá'í Faith

Scotland's Bahá'í history began around 1905 when European visitors, Scots among them, met `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, in Ottoman Palestine.[75] One of the first and most prominent Scots who became a Bahá'í was John Esslemont (1874–1925). Starting in the 1940s a process of moving to promulgate the religion called pioneering by Bahá'ís began for the purpose of teaching the religion.[76] These were joined by new converts and established local Spiritual Assemblies and eventually a Bahá'í Council for all Scotland was elected under the National Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom. According to the 2011 Census in Scotland, 459 people living there declared themselves to be Bahá'ís,[6] compared to a 2004 figure of approximately 5,000 Bahá'ís in the United Kingdom.[77]


Modern Neopagan religions, such as Wicca, Neo-druidism and Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism have their origins in academic interest and romantic revivalism, which emerged in new religious movements in the twentieth century.[78] Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant, founded modern Wicca. He cultivated his Scottish connections and initiated his first Scottish followers in the 1950s.[79] The Findhorn community, founded in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy, became a centre of a variety of new age beliefs that mixed beliefs that included occultism, animism and eastern religious beliefs.[80] The ancient architectural landscape of pre-Christian Britain, such as stone circles and dolmens, gives pagan beliefs an attraction, identity and nationalist legitimacy.[81] The rise of pan-Celticism may also have increased the attractiveness of Celtic neopaganism.[82] In the 2011 census 5,282 identified as Pagan or a related belief.[6]

Religious leaders

See also

Notes and references


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