Shaping debate on religion in public life.

Our Work Cited in Key Report on Religion and Belief in British Public Life

10 Dec 2015

William Temple Foundation research has been recommended in a key national policy document on the impact of religion and belief in the UK. Entitled ‘Living with Difference – Community, Diversity and the Common Good’ the report was produced by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. The Commission was convened by the Woolf Institute based in Cambridge. Our Director Chris Baker and Assistant Director Charlotte Dando attended the report launch at the House of Lords earlier this week.

Eye-catching proposals that have emerged from regional enquiries, as well as expert testimony, over the last 18 months include repealing the insistence of acts of collective worship and observance, and severely restricting the right of faith schools to recruit on the grounds of religious identity. This has drawn criticism from religious institutions like the Church of England whose schools provide education for a million young people.

On the other hand, the Commission recommends that increased religious literacy is vital to creating a diverse society where otherness is welcomed and understood and not feared. Calls for more resources and training to be provided in teaching religion and beliefs (so that it is on a par with reading and maths), has caused consternation amongst secular groups. Overall, the report recommends that we ‘should do more God than less’ (The Guardian).

The Foundation’s Chris Baker was called as an expert witness at one of the Commission’s weekend seminars, to explain his research on spiritual capital, and its direct connection to civic and political engagement by institutions and citizens from religious, as well as non-religious, backgrounds. Charlotte Dando also spoke to the Commission on religious identity and interfaith dialogue among young people.

The Foundation’s research on spiritual capital was deemed highly relevant to the Commission’s view of how best to generate progressive change for the benefit of all in an increasingly diverse, but also fragmented, public square. Paragraph 7.16 of the report recommends: ‘In addition to the concept of “social capital”, the concept of “spiritual capital” is needed, the notion of an ongoing resource for community building that offers not only a theological identity and worshipping tradition, but also a value system, moral vision and a basis for personal hopefulness and faith”.

The report continues: “Thus conceived, spiritual capital can energise religion and belief communities to act in civil society for the betterment of others. Spiritual capital may involve the desire to transform people holistically as well as improving their material situation. Secular values and traditions may also contribute to spiritual capital.” These ideas are directly cited from research by Chris Baker and Hannah Skinner, published by William Temple Foundation, including the highly influential 2006 report, ‘Faith in Action – The dynamic connection between spiritual and religious capital’.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Chris Baker said, ‘I am pleased spiritual capital is recognised in this report as having an important contribution to make to the practical debate about creating a sustainable and compassionate civil society. A criticism of this otherwise helpful report is that its focus on religious literacy masks the need to also understand how secular identity and character has diversified in the last 30 years. Without this analysis, we may still not get to the bottom of what it means to share a common humanity in rich and varied ways in the UK.’

The Foundation’s Chair of Trustees the Ven. Peter Robinson commented, ‘our research on spiritual capital shows how pluralism and post-modernity is being worked out at individual and institutional levels in the UK and how we need to harness this in ways that help to bind society together. The church and other faith groups have a vital role to play in showing how this can be done’.

Read the CORAB report in full.

Read William Temple Foundation’s ‘Faith in Action’ report.

Photo: Ed Kessler at the CORAB report launch, Monday 7th December, 2015.
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