EXPERTS have warned of a new sectarianism after a study showed a gap appears to be ­opening between religious and non-religious people.

The Edinburgh University ­findings showed widely varying views among people on religion and secularism in Scotland.

It found most people believe Muslims should be able to pray at work, two-thirds believe in the soul and more people believe in heaven than hell.

The report also warned of the danger of what it called new sectarianism.

Issues such as Religious ­Observance in schools have divided faith groups and secularists.

Experts recommend setting up a national advisory board to address areas of concern over how religious and belief needs are met in society.

Dr Anthony Allison, the project's lead researcher, said further study was needed on the new divide. He added: "The study revealed a relationship between polarised social attitudes and poor understanding, which raises some fundamental questions about the current nature of public discourse.

"This report found that ­attitudes regarding the place of religion in society amongst people who identify with the 'religion' category and those who identify with the 'belief' category are becoming increasingly polarised.

"This runs the potential risk of a 'new sectarianism' developing. There is a clear need for dialogue between members of these groups so that a mutual understanding can be built. Further research needs to be carried out to better understand this."

The report added: "In relation to secularism, a number of those consulted also expressed the view that secularism was a political philosophy and not a belief system."

The University of Edinburgh report, Faith and Belief in ­Scotland, was commissioned by the Scottish Government to help councils provide services for people with a range of beliefs.

More than 1400 people from across the country were asked questions relating to current ­ethical issues.

The major faith groups and the philosophical belief systems of secularism and humanism were represented.

More than half of respondents characterised Scotland as being a nation of many religions and beliefs but said that some were more favoured than others.

By contrast, only one in 10 considered Scotland to be a Christian nation and fewer considered it to be a secular nation.

Two-thirds felt where they lived was accepting of diverse religions and beliefs and 72 per cent felt comfortable manifesting their religion or belief where they lived.

Professor Mona Siddiqui, from the University of Edinburgh's School of Divinity, said: "The issues around religion in public life are creating a new tension and dynamic in Scotland and it is important that we minimise unnecessary division for the sake of a more inclusive Scotland."