OXFORD is the agnostic capital of the UK and one third of the city has no religion at all.
Census figures yesterday revealed Oxford has the highest percentage of non-believers per population in the country.
The city, which has a population of 151,906 according to last year’s Census, also has the third highest percentage of atheists in the UK.
The new data also showed that a third of people – 44,239 – currently living in Oxford were born abroad, a sign of the city’s blossoming multi-culturalism.
The city’s Muslim population has nearly doubled in the last decade, from 5,309 to 10,320, and is the second most popular religion.
Christianity is the biggest loser in terms of faith, echoing a national drop of four million people in England and Wales.
In 2001, 60 per cent of the city’s 134,248 residents were Christian – about 81,000.
However, that number has dropped to 72,924 and as a percentage of the population stands at 48 per cent. That is a drop of one-fifth.
The number listing their religion as agnostic was 243 or 0.2 per cent, while 237, again about 0.2 per cent, said they were atheist.
Jason Huffadine, leader of West Witney Community Church, said the drop in numbers would make Christian leaders sit up and listen.
He said: “It will provide a wake-up call for many churches that they will have to go out into the community and do what Jesus did; help people and provide support in many different ways.
“We are involved a lot more in community support, helping people by giving them debt advice as well as our food banks and things like that.”
According to the 2001 statistics, 32,075 people in Oxford declared they had no religion, but that number has soared to 50,274; a third of those who filled in the 2011 Census.
Oxford University Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion Richard Swinburn said: “Academic, and in general highly-educated people are often sceptical about religion, honestly, but – in my view – mistakenly so.
“But, although these statistics will not reveal this, I suspect that those who do consider themselves Christians in Oxford are more likely to have thought about that commitment, and so to be more likely to have a church connection than are Christians in many other places.”
Rev Charlotte Bannister Parker, associate vicar at University Church of St Mary the Virgin in High Street, Oxford, said it did not make pleasant reading at first glance but would need further analysis.
She said: “A lot of the changes can come down to people having more to do on Sunday mornings, a lot of sporting activities take place and families have decided to give them priority. We have to be more flexible and look at fresher ways of covering wider areas; that is the challenge ahead.
Revd Andrew Wingfield Digby of St Andrew’s Church in north Oxford said the Christian church had to be bolder.
He said: “Where things are a bit more traditional and wishy-washy it is dying out. There is a need to not be afraid of being controversial on certain issues.”
According to the figures 709 people in Oxford listed their religion as Jedi Knight, the eighth highest number in the south east.
- FORMER Green city and county councillor Deborah Glass Woodin has been fined for failing to fill in the 2011 Census. She appeared before Reading magistrates in December last year after deciding on principle that she would not fill in the Census form, a legal obligation. She was one of two people in Oxford who were prosecuted, among 204 in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics, which compiles the Census. Ms Glass Woodin, who works at a printing cooperative and lives in South Oxford, said she denied the offence but was found guilty, fined £150, and ordered to pay £150 court costs. She paid in July.She said: “I think the Census is a very costly exercise and there will probably not be another paper Census.”