Study calls for greater recognition of faith communities role in building society

 Religion and faith communities play an important role in the cultural and social fabric of the UK, but public authorities need to do more to improve their understanding of the contribution they make, argues a new publication from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

In a new collection of essays from leading figures of the five largest faith communities in the UK, IPPR argues that religion and faith play an increasingly important role in British society. The publication explores the views of faith leaders towards British identity, integration and multiculturalism, religious extremism and the position of religion in the public realm.

The collection finds that although faith-based social activism and voluntary work deliver significant social benefits, their contribution is too often viewed with suspicion and hostility by some strands of secular opinion. ippr argues that greater faith literacy among public authorities is needed if Britain is to harness the significant contribution that faith-communities can make to the social, economic and cultural life of Britain.

IPPR argues that recognising and valuing the role of religion in British society needs to be balanced against a recognition of the core principles of British democracy - the equality of all before the law, the possession of citizenship rights irrespective of race, religion, gender and sexuality, and the rights of non-believers. The collection shows that British culture has provided a receptive home for members of different religious communities. Its underlying values of equal respect, pluralism and tolerance have made the UK a successful example of a multi-faith society.

'Faith in the Nation: religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today', includes a foreword from the Prime Minister Gordon Brown MP and essays from: Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York; Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster; Sir Johnathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi; Dilwar Hussain, Islamic Foundation; Ramesh Kallidai, Secretary General, Hindu Forum of Britain; Dr Indarjit Singh OBE, Director, Network of Sikh Organisations

In their essays, the faith leaders agree that Britishness and faith identity can be mutually reinforcing, and offer some sharp criticisms of patterns ofcultural segregation.

Writing the foreword, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, says: "Britain, of course, has a strong Christian tradition, but the landscape of our country today is resolutely multi-faith. Religious leaders writing here raise some important questions about what the relationship between faith communities and the state should look like in a multi-faith society How can we recognise and value the role of religion in British society without compromising the essential equalities that lie at the heart of the secular state?

"These questions and many others are explored in the pages of this groundbreaking publication ­ the first of its kind to bring faith leaders together to reflect on the kind of society that, as a nation, we aspire to build. Their answers today are not always the same, but one message comes across clearly and consistently: that religious belief will continue to be an important component of our shared British identify as it evolves and that British society can and does draw strength from its diverse faith communities."

Although different ideas and views are explored and expressed by the faith leaders in their essays, some notable common themes emerge. Specifically, the belief that despite some struggles to be accepted, their faiths have become part of the fabric of Britain and that their communities have made important contributions to British society. Each of them points to ways in which their religions have been shaped by their interaction with British culture and values. Dilwar Hussein from the Islamic Foundation argues strongly for an Islam that is much more tailored to the conditions of the UK.

There is also an expressed shared view among some of the faith leaders to retain the Church of England as the established Church and a welcome for the steps that have been taken to promote the interests of different faiths through Establishment.

The contributors also identify some common challenges, specifically, the need for a policy to move beyond a static and segregated notion of multiculturalism, by articulating a stronger common sense of British identity. Britishness they argue, can act as a bridge between the legitimate claims of faith identities and a common shared set of national loyalties, which are essential for promoting social solidarity and community cohesion.

The essays also uncovered a more recent sense of religious communities' feeling of estrangement from certain aspects of contemporary Britain, such as excessively hedonistic and materialistic life-styles. They also express concern about what they perceive to be the steady secularisation of the national culture.

Sourc: IPPR

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