There may be as many as 46,000 ‘converts’ to Buddhism from Roman Catholic and Anglican backgrounds in the UK. This estimate is based on figures obtained from the British Religion in Numbers website, managed by David Voas and other members of the British Religion and Society project.
However, it is estimated that 82% of Buddhists in the UK were brought up by Buddhist parents, suggesting that the strongest indicator of Buddhist identity and affiliation is ethnicity.
In the 2001 Census, 144,453 people in England and Wales, 6,830 people in Scotland, and 533 in Northern Ireland ticked the Buddhist box. Most of these were born in the UK (66,522) with 56,040 describing themselves as ‘white’, 34,304 as ‘Chinese’, 13,919 as ‘Asian’, 1,507 ‘Black’, plus 38,683 ‘mixed’ or ‘other’.
Buddhism is the fifth-largest religion in the UK behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. The first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published in 1927 whilst the 1935 reprint contained a commentary from Carl Jung. The Buddhist Society was founded in London in 1924.
Peter Brierley estimated in 2007, based on the 2001 Census figures, that half of those who self-described as ‘Buddhist’ can be considered active members of the Buddhist community. His projections for 2010, based on this assumption, estimate the active Buddhist community as 87,600. This would imply that the total number of those likely to self-describe as Buddhist in 2010 would be 175,200.
David Voas and others suggest, on the British Religion in Numbers Website (http://www.brin.ac.uk/figures) that between 0.3-0.4% of the British population is Buddhist. The UK population was estimated by ONS at 61,972,000 in mid 2009 and this suggests an estimated figure of between 186,000 and 245,000, with 93,000 to 122,500 considered as ‘active’.
Other Buddhist data gleaned from the BRIN data:
- 59% of Buddhists in the UK do not attend a place of worship.
- 33% of Buddhists in the UK see Buddhist writings as myth and not literal history.
- 18.8% of Buddhists in the UK can be described as ‘religious’ (but mainly due to the fact that one indicator of religious is ‘belief in God’. He describes the remainder of UK Buddhists as ‘fuzzily faithful’.
- Buddhists in the UK are most likely to be aged between 35-44.
On the 16th October, the Faith to Faith Forum of Global Connections is hosting a day exploring Christian witness to Buddhists, including input from a former Buddhist nun who is now a Christian. You can visit their website for further details – just click here.