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Theos Team Blog

Debate Report: Is There A Future For Multiculturalism?

21st October 2011

Christine Gilland

 A packed lecture theatre at the LSE last night was the stage for a lively debate on multiculturalism, coinciding with the launch of the latest Theos report, Multiculturalism: A Christian Retrieval, by Jonathan Chaplin. The panellists represented a diverse spectrum of views, from the report’s author Dr Jonathan Chaplin, Claire FoxProfessor Tariq Modood and Mr Alan Craig.

The discussion, chaired by Jane Little, centered first around the growing critique of the concept of multiculturalism in British society, with Jonathan opening discussion by stating that a dismissal of multiculturalism is “discursively disrespectful.” He highlighted the invaluable contribution which cultural and religious minorities make within civil society, stating that they are much-needed “rich sources of moral and political renewal.”

Opposing such a positive view of multiculturalism, Alan Craig argued that the potential for separatist movements to grow and flourish within a multicultural society only fractures community and impedes social cohesion. Claire Fox, also critical of multiculturalism, notably critiqued the state’s “values gap,” adding that, in the absence of other defining values, multiculturalism had become the substitutionary virtue of choice. 

Throughout the evening Islam was a hot topic, with Prof. Tariq Modood noting that Islamic communities are frequently the subject of critical and even discriminatory discussion and a popular target for those critical of multiculturalism. He argued for a concept of tolerance which did not merely acknowledge the (possibly unwanted) presence of a minority, but created space for respect and discursive presence.

The evening finished with a lively question and answer session, which covered everything from religious sectarianism in Scotland to the need for more English language training in non-English speaking communities. While some expressed surprise at hearing multiculturalism so widely critiqued, the evening ended with a sense of hope, as the panellists agreed that the discussion and identification of national core values was a necessary part of finding a way forward for British society.

Listen to the podcast of the debate here.


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