Statistics always only tell part of the story. Yes, religion is on the decline as evidenced by the British Social Attitudes survey which noted that 53% of all adults describe themselves as having no religious affiliation, up from 48% in 2015. Unsurprisingly this has ignited the secular society debate and many argue that the time has come for greater debate around the role of religion in society and question whether or not our political and religious institutions are out of touch with people’s real attitudes to faith and belief. Yet faith can be a positive influence for societies. It is important to tap into and celebrate how what we call lived faith can be channelled in a myriad of ways for common benefit.
Indeed, amidst questions of how religious or not we are and how this feeds into the role of institutions in society, we should not forget the multitude of faith based projects going on to meet the needs of different communities – whether this be the need for food, for shelter, for spaces to pray, for communities to come together, for access to health serves, for language support, and much else besides. Many are small scale and little known. 3FF will be highlighting 70 such projects on 27th November at our inaugural Evening of Faith Recognition and Celebration in partnership with Her Majesty’s Greater London Lieutenancy.
Having said this, we must not forget the importance of creating spaces in which difficult and challenging conversations can take place, including ‘the role of religion in society’. Such dialogue and discussion needs to be encouraged amongst all ages and at all levels of society. I have recently contributed a chapter to a new publication ‘We Need to Talk about Religious Education (RE)’. This chapter makes the argument that RE in schools offers one kind of safe space in which such questions can be explored, primarily because it offers the student the opportunity to connect discussion of societal issues with an understanding of the complexities of our own identities and that of others. More on this here.
Another safe space, on offer this month, is the annual Interfaith Summit on 16th November run by the alumni of our ParliaMentors leadership programme . This year it will be at Tabacco Dock in East London and will bring together hundreds of mainly young people, with different faiths and beliefs, to explore issues of concern to them, including faith, gender and sexuality, faith in the media, and race and faith. Young people, whether at school, university or outside an education setting, need these spaces to voice their concerns and express their ideas. These may relate to the broad notion of religion in society. However, such a topic encompasses a wide array of issues that young people of religious faith and non-religious belief want to apply their curiosity and creativity to.
So, let’s celebrate what we can all achieve through our different faiths and beliefs. Let’s also have the courage to have the difficult conversations we need to have about faith, belief and society. Both work together to improve social cohesion and the communities we share together.