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AHRC Religion and Society programme launches series of faith debates

Date: 27/01/2012

It?s easier to talk about sex than religion in Britain today. Mention your recent sexual exploits at a party and you?ll have an interested audience; tell them about your vision of the Virgin Mary and they?ll be leaving the room.

It?s not just personal, it?s political too. Religion hasn?t gone away, but we?ve lost the ability to think seriously and critically about it without resorting to clich and polemic.

God isn?t dead. That hardly needs pointing out at a global level ? from the US elections to the Arab Spring. But it is also true in the UK, where 77% described themselves as religious in the last census (2001), and where religion continues to shape our institutions, values and landscape.

Religion should be discussed as intelligently as politics. When religion?s not being caricatured or over-simplified, it?s simply ignored. Given its complexity and its importance in the world, it?s just as important to be well-informed about religion as about politics, but opinion and polemic too often substitute for serious engagement.

The Westminster Faith Debates are launched to address the problem. These open debates between academics and public figures offer an opportunity to hear the latest findings and think again about the place of religion in our public life. They are the initiative of Professor Linda Woodhead and the Rt Hon Charles Clarke, in partnership with the think-tank Theos?.

The debates will:

  • showcase research from the largest ever research initiative on religion in the UK, the ?Religion and Society Programme?(directed by Professor Linda Woodhead), which involved 240 academics from 38 UK universities carrying out new research between 2007-12.
  • address the most pressing controversies about religion in public life
  • show how much religion in the UK has changed in the past thirty years
  • give influential public figures the opportunity to respond to the latest research
  • provide space for open public debate with an audience which will include senior civil servants, parliamentarians, policy professionals, media, faith communities and the voluntary sector.
  • stimulate wider debate, opinion and media coverage

Speaking at the launch event this week, Charles Clarke said: Modern politics and government need to understand religion better than they now do. The up-to-date research challenges lazy assumptions and these debates enable us to discuss what it means for our public life.

Linda Woodhead said: The recent explosion of research on religion shows how much religion has changed ? even though we often talk as if it?s still the 1950s. It?s time to update our ideas and refresh our debates.
Welcoming the debates, the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks added, this series couldn?t come at a more crucial time.

The Debates will be held at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), 61 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2ET, Wednesdays 5.30-7pm.

  1. Religious identity in 'superdiverse' socieities: 8 February, Trevor Phillips, Dominic Grieve, Kim Knott, Therese O?Toole
  2. What's the place of faith in schools?: 22 February, Richard Dawkins, John Pritchard, Jim Conroy, Bob Jackson
  3. What have we learned about radicalisation?: 7 March, Mehdi Hasan, Ed Husain, Mark Sedgwick, Marat Shterin, Matthew Francis
  4. What role for religious organisations in an era of shrinking welfare?: 21 March, David Blunkett, Peter Smith, Adam Dinham, Sarah Johnsen
  5. What limits to religious freedom?: 18 April, Lisa Appignanesi, Julia Neuberger, Maleiha Malik, Peter Jones
  6. What are the main trends in religion and values in Britain?: 2 May, Aaqil Ahmed, Cole Moreton, Grace Davie, Linda Woodhead

For more information, go to www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates.
To register, please reply to p.ainsworth@lancs.ac.uk, stating which debate(s) you would like to attend.


For more information, please contact: AHRC: Jake Gilmore, tel: 07970 99 4586; email: j.gilmore@ahrc.ac.uk

Notes to Editors:

The Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Visiting Professor, Dept of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University www.charlesclarke.org

Professor Linda Woodhead, Dept of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/faculty/profiles/Linda-Woodhead

Theos exists to ?promote clear thinking on religion and society?. More information at www.theosthinktank.co.uk

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. More information at www.religionandsociety.org.uk

The Religion and Society programme is a collaborative venture between the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Together, these research councils have contributed £12.3m to fund research of the highest quality on the interrelationships between religion and society. The Programme aims to foster collaborative research across the arts, humanities and social sciences; to build capacity in the study of religion; to engage interested parties beyond the academy; to further understanding of religion in a complex world. The programme started in January 2007 and will end in December 2012.

Arts and Humanities Research Council: Each year, the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from languages and law, archaeology and English literature to design and creative and performing arts. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,100 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

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