A NEW book has uncovered an astonishing rise in the number of alternative spiritual groups in Kendal, reports Michaela Robinson-Tate.

The pioneering book, which is predicted to put Kendal on the international map, reveals that 250 people took part in yoga in the town during a typical week, compared to 195 who attended Kendal Parish Church on a Sunday during the same period.

In fact, researchers found there were more people involved in a yoga group in Kendal in a week than in any denomination except the Anglican, Roman Catholic or Methodist.

However, the authors said that a "spiritual revolution" in which new forms of spirituality overtake traditional churches and chapels had not taken place.

The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality, by Lancaster University academics Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead, was written following the Kendal Project which involved research in the town between 2000 and 2002.

It includes a headcount of every person entering a place of worship in Kendal on a typical Sunday, and the researchers believe it is the first time that such an exercise has been carried out in Britain for 100 years.

Many townspeople contributed to the work, which should make Kendal a benchmark for researchers looking at the state of religion in Britain.

Dr Woodhead and Prof Heelas found that attendance at churches and chapels in Kendal had declined, in line with national figures, since the 1960s.

At the same time, "alternative spirituality" including Alexander technique; Buddhist groups; herbalism; reiki; tarot card reading and yoga, had grown hugely from a starting point of no such groups in 1970.

The researchers found that during a typical week, there were 126 such spiritual activities in Kendal; 95 practitioners offering such services; and 600 people taking part in those activities.

This compared with Sunday attendances of 674 Anglicans; 531 Roman Catholics; 285 Methodists; and 160 Jehovah's Witnesses.

Only groups which the practitioner said had a spiritual significance were included, so, for example, yoga classes held merely for exercise were not counted.

However, the researchers believe that new forms of spirituality will not overtake traditional churches and chapels, predicting that the numbers of people involved in each will even out in around 40 years.

Linda Woodhead said members of congregations in Kendal should not feel that they had done something wrong if their numbers reduced, because the changes were part of a larger national shift.

"The project is a huge success and that's down to the people of Kendal who were incredibly welcoming. We were very struck with the loyalty of people to their own congregations and groups.

"The book will be referred to for evermore in the academic study of religion and so Kendal will become a landmark."

n The book will be published on October 25 and will be available from Ottakar's in Kendal. For more information: www.kendalproject.org.uk