Shaping debate on religion in public life.

Author Archives: Charlotte Binns

2016: A Year in Review

Leave a Comment

A big thank you to all of readers in 2016. Communications Executive Charlotte Binns looks back on the Foundation’s year…

There will be many a blog post written about 2016, not just as the year draws to a close, but in the years to come it will continue to be cited as the year when the world seemed to shift beneath our feet. Undoubtedly, as the Foundation enters a new year, we will be regularly responding to the new global political landscape. But without needing to look further than the boundaries of our organisation, we face 2017 with a mix of trepidation, resolve and hope. This year we lost our great friend and colleague John Atherton, who has been an anchor to the Foundation for four decades.

We pay tribute to the life and work of John Atherton here >>

While 2016 certainly poised challenges, we also celebrated many successes.

The second series of Temple Tracts has been very well received and increasing cited, and covered topics ranging from religion and civil society, to LGBT Muslims, to ethical consumerism. Guest writer Professor Craig Calhoun’s contribution ‘Religion, Government and the Public Good’ has proved especially popular and influential in shaping some of the post-Brexit debates.

Find out more and download Temple Tracts here >>

Re-imagining Religion and Belief for Policy and Practice, a project co-convened by Our Director Chris Baker, together with Professor Adam Dinham, made three successful research trips to Montreal, Oslo and Melbourne, as well as holding a discussion day in the House of Lords. The Foundation also played an important role in the Faith in Work network this year, taking our work on spiritual capital to a new level.

Read reflections from the House of Lords discussion day >>

Meanwhile, our own Faith and Flourishing Neighbourhoods Network held two engaging meetings reflecting on case studies and concepts of community and brings to a close the series on this theme. Members decided that there is much more to discuss and develop so resounding themes will be considered at their next meeting in February (all welcome).

Join the Faith and Flourishing Neighbourhoods Network >>

This year’s annual lecture was hosted at Christ Church, Oxford and delivered by Bishop Libby Lane. Bishop Libby spoke to a 60-strong audience on the theme of gender and sustainable transformation, followed by a lively question and answer session.

Watch the full lecture online here >>

Another big event the Foundation helped to organise this year, in partnership with the University of Worcester, marked the 75th Anniversary of the Malvern Conference. Our Director Chris Baker offered a keynote address to the conference which was titled ‘Social Justice: building a fairer, more equal society’.

On the blog, some of our most popular posts came from fantastic guest bloggers such as Ruth Valerio on embracing the monastic tradition today, Alison Webster on the Church and sexuality and Chris Heinhold on the challenges of researching Islam in the UK.

All that’s left now is for me to extend a big thank you to everyone who has helped to make this year special, from our Associate Research Fellows, to all our guest bloggers, and to everyone we’ve worked with this year. Here’s to 2017!

If you believe in our mission to continue and to develop William Temple’s legacy of social, economic and political justice, would you consider supporting our important work in 2017?

Share this page:

2015: In Review

Leave a Comment

It has been another exciting year for William Temple Foundation. From publications to professorships, from new research to facilitating challenging discussions, we’ve been blessed to work with a diverse group of activists, clergy, and academics, as together we further the debate on religion and public life. Assistant Director Charlotte Dando reflects on 2015…

Out and About

From Chester to Birmingham, London to Leeds, starting in early 2015 we’ve been running our own events and speaking at others all across England, as we aim to open up important discussions on religion and public life to ever wider audiences. Hosted by Leeds Civic Hall, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu delivered our inaugural annual lecture, challenging the 130-strong audience with a message that we can all be catalysts for change. Keep an eye on our website for details of our 2016 annual lecture, coming soon.

In February, together with Church Urban Fund and the Joint Public Issues Team, we asked “What role can faith communities play in building a politics of hope?” at a pre-election conference in London. Vibrant discussion at this interactive event was sparked by a series of case studies, which were all recorded and ready to listen again on our YouTube channel.

As spring turned to summer, our Director of Research Chris Baker and I were invited to join the Archbishop of Canterbury at a garden party in the grounds of Lambeth Palace. Later in the summer, Chris Baker along with our Associate Research Fellow Eve Poole entertained the festival crowd at Greenbelt with their unique takes on religion, politics and capitalism. One Twitter critic described Eve’s presentation as “one of the great talks ever @greenbelt”.

Big Ideas

Responding to a request from clergy and academics, we are facilitating the Faith and Flourishing Neighbourhoods Network to create space for theological reflection and to bridge academic perspectives and practical experience. Our first meeting, held in Birmingham in June, gathered together an excellent group of academics and civil society leaders whose discussions ranged from the forces of globalisation to the narratives of nostalgia. Read more about joining the network and the next meeting in February 2016.

Continuing his work on the AHRC funded project Re-Imaging Religion and Belief for Public Policy and Practice, Chris Baker has been involved in conducting a number of high-profile interviews and co-running a residential programme at Gladstone’s Library. Transcripts of interviews with Steve Bruce, Talal Asad, Rowan Williams, Linda Woodhead et al can be found on the project’s website.

Everyone at the Foundation was delighted to congratulate Chris on his appointment as William Temple Professor of Religion and Public Life at the University of Chester. Professor Baker’s inaugural public lecture was a very special occasion, with a large audience engaging in a lively Q&A. The lecture can be watched in full on our YouTube channel.

This year we’ve been growing the seeds of a new project called the Spiritual Capital Development Company. We’re thrilled to have recently recruited Shanon Shah to help coordinate the developmental stages of the project, and he is already proving an asset to our small team.

Publications

One of the most exciting projects we launched this year is Temple Tracts – a series of e-books offering accessible and engaging introductions on key debates in religion and public life. We launched the series in April with Associate Research Fellow Greg Smith’s critical analysis of the welfare state and exploration of how faith communities are patching up the safety net. While all six titles so far have proved popular, the accolade of “best seller” goes to Foundation trustee Hayley Matthews and her Tract exploring gender and sexuality in the Church of England.

Our staff and Associate Research Fellows have published an impressive array of titles this year. Published in March, 21st Century Evangelicals edited by Greg Smith, explores the social and political engagement of British evangelicals. In the same month, the publication of Eve Poole’s highly rated Capitalism’s Toxic Assumptions is set to redefine the next generation of economics. A collaborative effort from Associate Research Fellow John Reader and Chris Baker, together with theologian Tom James, resulted in the April release of A Philosophy of Christian Realism. Meanwhile, we were pleased to see that economist Professor Angus Deaton, who has endorsed the work of Associate Research Fellow John Atherton, has been awarded a Nobel Prize.

Online

We have continued to respond to the biggest stories and highlight some of the most significant new research and new researchers through our blog. In our most popular post of the year, Chris Baker coined the pseudo celebrity couple name “Frankieklein” as he analysed the post-secular context which led to the partnering of Pope Francis with secular environmentalist Naomi Klein. A number of excellent guest bloggers have brought a multitude of research, ideas and opinions to our pages, but it was Wendy Dossett’s analysis of spiritual anonymity in the addiction recovery movement which sparked the most debate and gained the largest readership.  John Reader’s provocation ‘Food Poverty Reveals Britain’s Starved Political Imagination’ was another big hitter, while Eve Poole’s most recent reflection on advent has proved incredibly popular.

Thanks to all of the lovely people who read and share our posts on Twitter, all of our friends who like our Facebook page and everyone who receives our newsletter. For exclusive interviews, inspiring lectures and more, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Looking ahead

What a year 2015 has been! Our small team operates on a tight budget and so we ask, if you believe in our mission to continue and develop William Temple’s legacy of social, economic and political justice, would you consider supporting our important work in 2016? We need your help to continue to organise reflective, inclusive events, and to develop cutting-edge empirical research. And when you join our group of supporters you receive discounted books and much more. Thank you and Happy Christmas.

All that’s left now is for me to extend a big thank you to everyone who has helped to make this year special, from our Associate Research Fellows, to all of our guest bloggers, and to everyone we’ve worked with this year. Here’s to 2016!


More from our bloggers:

All I Want for Christmas is a Brand New Policy by Greg Smith

The 24 Carat Countdown: In Search of an Authentic Advent by Eve Poole

With Open Arms: A Christian Response to the Immigration Crisis by Hayley Matthews

Meet our team: in a series of short films, our staff and fellows talk about religion and research – watch now!

Share this page:

The Bureaucratization of Friendship: Rethinking Interfaith Dialogue

1 Comment

In reporting Archbishop Justin Welby’s address to the Board of Deputies of British Jews last week, the Telegraph’s “click bait” headline read, “Welby: Let’s stop pretending all religions agree”. The Board of Deputies own website ran with the markedly less dramatic “Archbishop of Canterbury urges faiths to come together to combat religious violence.” Not having heard the speech myself, I can’t write confidentially on the nuances of Welby’s argument or where he might have hoped for the emphasis to lie.  Either way, it is clear that the Archbishop raised some significant issues which deserve unpacking.

The Telegraph reports Welby’s mention of “profound differences” between religions and that any pretence of wide scale agreement is “dishonest”. Crucially for the Archbishop, we need increased honesty on issues of religious difference in order to stand-up to the challenge of violent religious extremism. As an interfaith activist, but one who regular critiques the sector, I’ve been known to make similar arguments. A “we’re all the same really” approach, the “tea and samosa” model of interfaith dialogue practiced by small insular groups, won’t ever have the society changing impacts which interfaith work, I believe, has the potential to achieve. As I have argued elsewhere, it is only when we discus differences, when we step outside of our comfort zones and challenge preconceived ideas of both ourselves and the other, that true progress will be made. I’m happy to make the argument that religions need to discuss their differences; so why did I feel so uncomfortable when the Archbishop of Canterbury broached the subject?

Some of this unease is because the notion of difference is relational: different compared to what? Compared to whom? For the white, upper middle-class, male leader of the Church of England, it is easy to begin conversations around difference because (in a British setting at least) you are the de facto neutral position; the Archbishop is not that which is different; the other; the exotic. It might, therefore, be worth raising the question as to whether intuitional forms of interfaith work ever begin from a level playing field whereby everyone is equally different. In such situations, I can imagine how a representative of a marginalised religion, or a widely demonised religion, might find more appeal in discussing that which is shared and to explore commonalities, rather than to highlight the things which mark oneself as different. After all, as a society we don’t have a great track record of encouraging the assertion of religious difference. Look for example, to recent furores and misunderstandings surrounding issues such a Sharia law, halal meat and the wearing of the face veil or niqab.

Of course, it is not only our recent history which suggests our lack of tolerance towards religious differences, both in society and institutionally. Our contemporary understanding of the term religion is, as Karen Armstrong suggests, an early modern product of Protestantism, which “set an agenda to which other faith traditions would be expected to conform”. In “Anglican Britain”, from the past to the present, religious difference is either subsumed as part of self-defined and fixed definitions, or is demonised and set apart.

Tucked at the bottom of the Telegraph’s article, Welby is quoted as having said, “True friendships and relationships can withstand honesty about differences in values, opinions and religious understandings and a common commitment to mutual flourishing in diversity.”  Much of the interfaith work in which I’m involved is based on relationship building, usually between young and self-reflective people, coming together as part of a peer group, and acting together on issues beyond simply our religious identities. During these encounters, as Welby describes it, I have come to grow in “true friendship” which has often involved the difficult, yet profoundly powerful experience of mutual disagreement. But can the same be said of institutional forms of interfaith work? These “official” interreligious meetings, with their necessary doctrinal limitations, and careful need for “representation” appear a world away from the informal gatherings of youth I’m more familiar with. They are an example, as my colleague Chris Baker describes, of the bureaucratization of relationships, often at the expense of real respect and trust.

So why have we fallen into this rhetoric of interreligious similarities and shared statements? Can minority faith leaders speak with the same confidence on the question of difference, as the Archbishop of Canterbury? And why has the Archbishop yet to find a neutral “safe space” where faith leaders from all backgrounds feel fully able to meet the challenge he lays out? I would argue that the institutional approach to interfaith work practiced by our faith leaders might be holding the conversations back. For like all friendships, we are attracted to the other person in the first instance for our similarities, the things we share and it is only once a friendship has solid foundations when the difficult conversations can be broached. If faith leaders are failing to have these difficult conversations, then perhaps the necessary groundwork, the foundations of friendship, are too shaky to support them.

So how to build these friendship? First of all, these things take time and effort. Sitting together on high-profile panels at conferences, delivering one-off key note speeches, and signing shared statements, cannot provide foundations for enduring friendships. I have built my closest interfaith friendships through informal gatherings, one to one appreciative dialogue, sending jokes via WhatsApp, and working and volunteering together on shared social action projects. Maybe these models won’t work for faith leaders, but clearly something more effective, something multi-layered and sustainable must be tried in order to build the real friendships necessary to support those tricky conversations. In his address, Archbishop Welby appealed for an interfaith ideology “that undermines, that subverts, the arguments of the radicals’”. As I have argued before, the most subversive thing we can do to challenge violent extremism is to work together to develop “true friendships”. If we can meet as equals and grow together across lines of difference, this ideological position is the exact opposite of the ideology of religious extremism.

Charlotte Dando is Assistant Director of William Temple Foundation.


More from our bloggers:

Join the debate: Follow us on Twitter and ‘Like’ us on Facebook

 

Share this page: