Shaping debate on religion in public life.

A virtual Festival of Public Theology

24 Apr 2024

Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr Katya Braginskaia, our Digital Education Lead, the William Temple Foundation is holding a virtual Festival of Public Theology this summer. We look forward to welcoming you, via Zoom, to any or all of the sessions. 

Our Foundation’s roots are as a college in particular places, initially in Hawarden in north Wales and ultimately in Rugby, before becoming a Foundation working in partnership with the Manchester Business School, then the University of Chester, and now Goldsmiths College, University of London. The original plan for Temple College was for lay Anglican women to pursue studies in theology. This was seen as a fitting tribute to Archbishop William Temple who, like his own college friends R H Tawney and William Beveridge, was committed all his life to what they called workers’ education or extension courses and which we nowadays call lifelong learning. 

There were distinguished principals, teachers and students. E M ‘Mollie’ Barton, Professor Leonard Hodgson and Dr (later Bishop) David Jenkins each served as principal, for instance, with Leonard Hodgson doing so in Rugby while he was also a professor of theology in Oxford. If only the technology had existed then, you can imagine that a virtual Festival of Public Theology with William Temple, Mollie Barton, Leonard Hodgson and David Jenkins would have been inspirational. We will do our best to create opportunities for reflection in that spirit. 

William Temple had not been a student of theology himself but he ranged broadly across many disciplines and animated the public square in a faith-filled way. As a pioneer of Jewish-Christian relations, Temple would, I am sure, now welcome the natural evolution into multi-faith lifelong learning and partnerships.  He was always prepared to embrace new developments in communication. His radio broadcasts were especially effective. He would have loved this kind of virtual Festival.  

In and after lockdown, of course, all colleges have become virtual or hybrid so perhaps there is a way to recover that original intention of a Temple College without having to build, or buy, property and so tether ourselves to a particular part of the country.  We are not against materialising in different locations for specific purposes but there are now plenty of colleges, universities, churches and other faith communities with their own buildings, so we intend to build partnerships rather than build yet another edifice. 

In this spirit, we have followed Temple’s career path in holding meetings in places where he served as Bishop of Manchester, then Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury. Since lockdown was lifted, we have held our annual meetings in Manchester Cathedral, in the Leeds Church Institute and in Derby Cathedral. This summer we will be at Liverpool Hope University, as we are later this week with an afternoon conference on radical hope. In partnerships, we have also held conferences at Canterbury Cathedral with the University of Kent, in William Temple’s old college, Balliol, in Oxford, and with Hope in Blackburn Cathedral, as Temple created the Diocese of Blackburn, then in 2024, Val Barron and Chris Baker have written about our partnerships in the North-East.   

A virtual festival complements those developments and gives access to anyone anywhere. With this in mind, I have been asked why a festival appeals to me? When I was working at Queen’s University Belfast during the Troubles in the 1990s, arts organisations across the Irish Sea were understandably reluctant to visit but there was an annual Belfast Festival at Queen’s, a little like the Edinburgh Festival although in the autumn. It was an oasis of celebration. In my next job, at Liverpool Hope University College in the late 1990s – early 2000s, we developed a graduation festival atmosphere while staff and students created a festival for the creative and performing arts in the campus we developed at Everton, and we took learning opportunities out in partnership across the North West with our Network of Hope. In my next role at Leeds Metropolitan University, I introduced a staff development festival for a week at the start of each September for all three thousand staff, and we created partnerships with cultural and sporting organisations which led the governing body to approve the description of us as ‘a university of festivals and partnerships’. This theme has continued through recent contributions within academe in Cambridge, the Open University and now Aston. My experience of literary festivals, when I have spoken at Edinburgh, Dartington and Cheltenham, has always been stimulating. 

I look forward to the same from our inaugural Temple festival! The programme looks exciting, including our guest lecture from Prof James Walters from the London School of Economics. While my own contribution will give me the chance to explore the differences and similarities between law and morality, including how those campaigning to change the law have sometimes made it worse. Having been studying this for some 50 years, I have enjoyed most recently reflecting on why William Temple and his friends a hundred years ago sometimes sought changes in the law, sometimes thought law reform was not the right way forward, and sometimes changed their minds.   

Every festival starts with an event, an experiment, a sample, a one-off; some soar, some need to be revised but we believe that this festival could become an annual feature of our Foundation’s life. In announcing this inaugural Festival of Public Theology, therefore, our Foundation is inviting you both to participate in on-line sessions which appeal to you and to engage Katya in conversation about future possibilities via the internet &/or in person. These include whether you would like a micro-credential, for example, to be the sequel to a particular seminar or about some other topic that you would like to see discussed on future occasions.  It may be that you have a partnership in mind, which we would welcome. It may be that you think we could return to our roots with the radical idea of a virtual Temple College. Trustees will be meeting the month after the festival for our AGM and annual away-day with our small staff team and our community of research fellows, when we will explore all suggestions and feedback.

Thank you for engaging with us.  

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