Andy Walton looks at whether there is a "Religious Right" emerging in Britain
Early signs of a new focus on Christianity in Coalition’s words and actions
9th February 2012
Revealing their research findings about the Coalition’s record on dealing with faith groups so far, two leading experts passed a mixed verdict to the audience of the first Westminster Faith Debate last night.
On the basis of independent pieces of research, both Professor Kim Knott and Dr Therese O’Toole found that the Coalition, which has been much more up front than Labour in talking about faith, is also taking their cohesion work in a different direction. Unlike the controversial Prevent programme, which focused solely on Muslims, the Near Neighbours programme channels money for interfaith and multifaith cohesion projects through the Church of England.
Kim Knott said “Cameron’s King James Bible speech affirmed strongly that we are still a Christian country and that religions still matters, but the government needs to build on the immense progress made in the last decade in working with the full range of active religious groups in this country.”
Therese O’Toole also welcomed the Coalition’s new stance on faith, but nevertheless warned that new government initiatives, like the Near Neighbours programme, don’t take enough account of how much religion in this country has changed. "We've moved a long way in the last generation," she said. “We are now dealing with highly-motivated, independent, and very professional groups who work alongside others in a the voluntary sector, and know how much they count.” O’Toole’s research focused particularly on Muslim groups like Islamic Relief.
Defending the decision to use the Church of England as broker of its cohesion programme, Dominic Grieve, speaking at the event, said that the Church of England would draw on its 300 years of history of seeing what happens when religious extremism gets the upper hand. He said “The Church of England exemplifies tolerance”, is committed to promoting good relations amongst religious groups, and is trusted by minority faith groups.
He agreed with the two academic’s assertion that religion is usually helpful, not harmful for cohesion, saying “adherence to a faith based discipline brings groups together and thereby strengthens community cohesion; and it provides in many cases a motivation to do good works for the benefit of all."
- The Westminster Faith Debates, running until May 2012, will present the best new research around the most important topics related to the role of religion in public life; the place of faith in schools, the role of faith groups in welfare provision, extremism and religious freedom. All details are available on the website: http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates
- The Westminster Faith Debates are organised by The AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programmed, Charles Clarke and Theos.
- Dr Therese O’Toole is Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the Centre for Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol. Professor Kim Knott is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Leeds.
- Press enquiries should be directed to the Theos Press Office
77 Great Peter Street, London SW1P 2EZ
T. 0207 828 7777
M. 07796325170 (out of hours)
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