Faith groups’ role in social cohesion undervalued, says new report commissioned by the British Academy and the Faith and Belief Forum

21 Jul 2020

Faith and non-religious belief groups’ positive contribution to social cohesion deserves greater recognition and should have more influence on cohesion policy in the United Kingdom, finds a new report commissioned by the British Academy and the Faith and Belief Forum.

‘Cohesive Societies: Faith and Belief’, by the thinktank Theos, charts social cohesion policy in the UK and examines the practical impact of the faith and belief sector on our communities.

The report draws on practical case studies from across the UK, including an interfaith programme initiated by the West London Synagogue to promote positive Jewish-Muslim relations locally, a mosque that is currently facilitating English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learning, a Catholic homelessness charity, and a Christian initiative set up to tackle knife crime in the capital.

The authors argue:

  • Social cohesion policy in the United Kingdom has developed in the context of four main factors: demographic shifts accompanying migration, the growth of the ‘non-religious’ affiliation, significant changes to the welfare state, and crises such as the ‘race riots’ in summer 2001
  • Consequently, cohesion policy has been disproportionately dominated by concerns for national identity, security and loyalty, rather than by a desire to pursue social cohesion as an end in itself
  • Faith is too often thought of as a concerning ‘other’ and a risk to social cohesion; it has also often been subtly racialised as the preserve of ethnic minorities in a broadly secular mainstream
  • While faith and belief can be a source of division, many faith groups play a key role in social cohesion and their contributions need to be considered in the formation of cohesion policy.

The report is part of the British Academy’s ongoing Cohesive Societies programme, launched in 2017, which explores how societies remain cohesive in the face of rapid political, social, economic and technological change.

Professor Tariq Modood FBA said:

“It is time to reassess the place of faith and belief in cohesion policy in the United Kingdom. As this timely report from Theos shows, social cohesion policy has often ignored the practical, positive and significant role that faith groups play in our communities. Moreover, where cohesion policy has addressed faith and belief groups, it has all too frequently been in the context of security concerns and the need to repair community relations where they are already broken.

“We need a more rounded consideration of the complex and distinctive nature of faith and belief. We hope that this review will offer a helpful starting point in this regard, enabling further discussion in the ongoing Cohesive Societies project and beyond.”

Phil Champain, Director of the Faith and Belief Forum, said:

“Faith and belief groups are best viewed as an asset to society and not as a problem to be solved. This report clearly shows that integration issues are better addressed by approaching faith and belief communities in a spirit of partnership, recognising the positive role they can play in creating a more connected and cohesive society. Many faith groups already play a central role in bettering social cohesion while also providing crucial services in their local areas. By working to build better relations between our diverse communities, we can unlock even more of this potential for positive change.”

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