William Temple Foundation has been blessed with an exciting and successful year. We would like 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.
I joined the Foundation in November 2013, so at the start of this year, my role was still a work in progress! We spent the first few months of the year reflecting on the Foundation’s history whilst working out a vision of our future. As a growing staff team of two, Director Chris Baker and I worked to refocus and rebrand the William Temple Foundation.
In April we were very excited to launch our new brand and most excitingly, our new website. After years in the World Wide Web wilderness, we’re very proud of how well received the site has been, not to mention the wonderful followers we’ve gained on Twitter and Facebook.
One of the most popular blog posts our website has ever had, happened to be one of the first. Associate Research Fellow Greg Smith’s post ‘Blurred Encounters in a Messy Church’ is still pulling in readers, seven months later.
May – June
In late spring, our staff and Fellows were busy at events up and down the country. As part of our commitment to creating spaces for reflection on life’s most challenging issues, we co-organised numerous events from our hub at the Centre for Faiths and Public Policy at the University of Chester. This included the conference ‘Philosophy, Religion & Public Policy’ which Associate Research Fellow John Reader reflects on here. Chris Baker gave the keynote lecture at the Church of England’s ‘Faith in Research Conference’, whilst I was delighted to present at the Dialogue Society, previewing the book chapter I’ve written for their forthcoming publication Dialogue Theories II.
In July we announced our part in a major new AHRC funded project, Re-Imagining Religion and Belief for Public Policy and Practice. Since July, Chris Baker, together with Goldsmiths’ Adam Dinham, has interviewed some of the world’s leading thinkers on religion and public life as part of this exciting two year project, including David Martin, Steve Bruce, Linda Woodhead, Craig Calhoun and Tariq Madood.
If I were to pick a favourite blog post from my own contributions this year, it would be the one which came about first as an angry reaction to the media, but became whole when I combined my rant with empirical research on religious identity. The blog post which emerged is called, ‘Stigmatisation of Young Muslims Plays into the Hands of Terrorists’.
And suddenly we find ourselves in December. We’re excited to be looking ahead to 2015 and have already announced a major event which we’re organising in the run-up to the election — Building a Politics of Hope: Exploring the role and impact of faith-based leadership in local communities. We look forward to seeing you there, or connecting with you at other events and through other projects throughout next year.
So looking back over 2014, I’m pleased to say that we’ve achieved a great deal, especially for such a small team. We operate on a very small budget and so we ask, if you believe in our mission to continue and develop Temple’s legacy of social, economic and political justice, would you consider supporting our important work? We rely on the support of donors to continue to organise reflective, inclusive events, and to develop cutting-edge empirical research. Plus, when you join our group of supporters you will receive discounted books and much more.
Our Director Chris Baker has been appointed the inaugural William Temple Professor of Religion and Public Life at the University of Chester. This exciting appointment marks a new stage in the partnership between the University of Chester and the William Temple Foundation, who, since 2009, have worked together on several joint initiatives, including the Centre for Faiths and Public Policy. Professor Baker is Director of Research at the William Temple Foundation and leads research on religion, public policy, civil society and urbanisation at the University of Chester.
A major focus of the new role will be to curate and promote engaging events showcasing the relationship between religion and public life, as well as to continue attracting significant research funding to the University. Recent examples include establishing a major new AHRC funded research network ‘Reimaging Religion and Belief for Public Policy and Practice’. Together with Professor Adam Dinham of Goldsmith’s, University of London, Professor Baker will lead this significant discussion and networking hub, bringing together a diverse range of key thinkers from around the globe to analysis the role and impact of religion and belief on public life and policy.
Chris Baker said, “I am delighted and honoured to lead this work under the name of William Temple; an important figure who holds such resonance both in the Church and wider society. Through the partnership between Chester and the William Temple Foundation I have the opportunity to lead on, and to bring many others into vital conversations on the role of religion in contemporary life.”
Chris Baker is officially appointed as William Temple Professor of Religion in Public Life on Wednesday 1st October 2014.
Religious capital is, ‘the practical contribution to local and national life made by faith groups’. Spiritual capital meanwhile, ‘energises religious capital by providing a theological identity and worshipping tradition, but also a value system, moral vision and a basis of faith’. Religious capital is the ‘what’: i.e., the concrete actions and resources that faith communities contribute. The ‘why’ is spiritual capital: i.e., the motivating basis of faith, belief and values that shapes these concrete actions.
In our discussions and ponderings we have mused about the nature of this spiritual capital: is it reducible to psychological terms within the heads and hearts of believers, or is there some reality of the idea of God at work or immanent in these processes? In Christian terms this would be linked to the work of the Holy Spirit, indwelling in believers, and equipping them with spiritual gifts to do the work of God. But maybe also the Spirit is at work in the world beyond the church – as in the Genesis account, “brooding over the surface of the waters”. John Taylor explored this idea several decades ago in his classic book The Go Between God.
In a multi-faith setting a publicly accessible theology of spiritual capital becomes even more complex, and some Christians would undoubtedly want to argue that there is something unique about the Holy Spirit at work in and through individual Christians and in the church. But spiritual capital also resonates with a religious culture in which spirituality is popular and religion is not. Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead explore this in The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality. Inevitably in our individualistic consumer oriented society “spiritual capital” will tend to be read as associated with the spirtual life of the individual. Here I want to argue that this is a mistake and that we will do better to look at spiritual capital as a collective property. Indeed a careful reading of spiritual capital, such as in Chris Baker’s article on moral freighting and civic engagement, makes it clear that we think of spirtual capital as grounded in social relationships in communities of faith.
Putnam and Campbell in American Grace seek to trace the dynamics of believer’s pro-social involvements in casual good neighbouring and in more purposeful associational life for the benefit of the community. Working with the well known theory of social capital – as developed by Putnam – they pose the question of the role paid by believing and belonging in driving good citizenship. The evidence comes down in favour of belonging, the strongest correlations seem to be with church attendance or religious participation and civic engagement, more or less regardless of what a person believes. Putnam and Campbell
………. suggest it is down to something they call “moral freighting” whereby individually based propensities for altruism, already shown to exist more in religious people, become connected to other religious/spiritual individuals of similar propensity. This connective process “tends to evoke peer pressure for you to do good deeds as well” (i.e., to “freight” or carry over your moral codes into actions undertaken in the public sphere), (Baker 2013).
To any practitioner in faith based community work this is hardly a surprise. Volunteers or social action projects linked to a church most readily come from church congregations, where people who know each other well through their weekly worship and fellowship, either initiate, or are recruited – often as a group – to work together in an activity that serves the “needy” they have recognized in the locality of the church. It is much harder to recruit outsiders to join such projects, or to persuade faithful church members to offer voluntary service through an existing organisation outside the home church. In the absence of strong research evidence or personal experience of involvement in other faith communities it is impossible to determine if these dynamics apply universally.
However, a recent survey by the Evangelical Alliance on the theme “who is my neighbour?” offers at least tangential evidence that this is the case among evangelical Christians. Some 59% of the respondents said they were actively involved in at least one church social action or community outreach project. The most common types of projects were food banks, work with elderly people or families, youth outreach work and homelessness ministries. However only 21% were actively involved in a secular project or activity, among which work with people with disabilities or learning difficulties or hospices was the most common; significantly those fields in which professional – and secular – medical input could be valuable.
However it is in some of the comments reflecting the ethos of such work that we see much deeper into the evangelical brand of spiritual capital. We have only space for one example, though many other respondents expressed similar ideas.
There are many very close inter-church projects in the community. Debt advice, prayer, Street Pastors, healing rooms, extensive schools work, on street prayer, food bank and other projects being prayed over.
The striking things here are the juxtaposition of prayer and anti poverty work, and the strength of the inter-church partnerships. Indeed most of the churches where the survey respondents attend partner with other churches on social action or mission projects, both locally (82%) and overseas (75%). While partnerships with Christian organisations are also frequent (59%), only about a third go to a church which partners with secular charities or the local council, and less than one in ten where there is an in interfaith partnership.
The clarification of our notion of spiritual capital means that for some Christians at least it is more of a shared corporate ethos than an individual motivational force. It is based on shared values and plausibility structures, and definition of religious boundaries. It is expressed in a shared commitment to mission, which is strengthened by a shared commitment to prayer and the regular rehearsal of these values by collective worship, preaching and shared reflection on the scriptures. Perhaps it is for this very reason that some Christians (especially Evangelicals) find it so hard to take their spiritual capital out of the cocoon of the Christian sub culture, and to express their faith explicitly in the secular world. Perhaps this too is why partnership with secular bodies is so challenging and why secular actors find it so hard to comprehend and fully engage with the efforts of churches and other faith communities, unless on a purely instrumental and contractual basis.