31 Jan
  • By ICC
  • Cause in UK Parliament, London

Mainstreaming Religious Literacy

Mainstreaming Religious Literacy

On Tuesday 31st January Inter Cultural Centre were very pleased to attend the event ‘Mainstreaming Religious Literacy’ hosted by the All Parliamentary Group on Religious Education at the UK Parliament.

The meeting assembled a number of key figures from the religious education community, many of whom had contributed towards the APPG’s recent publication ‘Improving Religious Literacy: A Contribution to the Debate’. As one such contributor to the report, ICC was keen to hear how it had been received and what future steps were due to be taken.

The conversation was directed by Chair of the APPG, Fiona Bruce MP, who began by thanking everyone for their ongoing involvement in this important subject matter and introduced the speakers.

First up was Professor John Wolffe from the Department of Religious Studies at the Open University. Speaking from the angle of ‘Religious Literacy & the impact of Brexit’ Prof Wolffe began by commending the report and went on to highlight the following ‘Recommendations’ which he found to be most important strategically:

  • Recommendation 7: the Department for Education should encourage the expansion of CPD opportunities for high quality religious literacy training, and should encourage all teachers to take part in them.

  • Recommendation 11: the Home Office should make religious literacy training a mandatory part of the Prevent training given in schools, universities, prisons and other institutions

  • Recommendation 17: the government should encourage news organizations to give trainees and junior journalists the opportunity to attend training courses on religion and religious issues away from work and to provide funding for these courses. A high priority should be placed on ensuring that journalists, broadcasters and those working in the media generally develop a high level of understanding of, and a strong ability to communicate effectively about, religious traditions and how they are lived out in Britain today.

  • Recommendation 18: a formal network of policymakers and academics should be created to discuss, comment and advise on upcoming policy publications concerning religion, and to share best practice relating to language use and terminology about religion.

In the dawning of a post-Brexit world Wolffe felt that our National Security was now at a higher risk than ever, and this was primarily down to a lack of education. He explained that there is a legitimate concern about a very small minority of the Muslim community, for example, however literacy is key to discerning the difference between these few and defending the majority who pose no threat and run the risk of becoming alienated from the rest of society.

Wolffe expressed his concern that those seeking to advance the areas of Religious Literacy must collaborate collectively, rather than duplicating efforts through different organizations. He continued that, in order to succeed with the task set out we need a wide variety of approaches and sharing out of specific tasks.

Next to speak was Joshua Hordern, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at the University of Oxford. Mr Hordern focused on Religious Literacy in Health & Social care, and once again opened with glowing remarks of the report, in particular how it had addressed all area’s of life and didn’t just stop ‘at the school gates’. He added that it is imperative that Religious Literacy ‘must not stop outside the hospital doors’.

Focusing on why it is important, Mr Hornern spoke of the need for Health & Social care to be personalized to the individual, and since an individual’s life is so often dictated by their faith or religion there is a great need for practitioners to be educated in this area. His response to this was that there was a need for wider and deeper religious literacy within healthcare, especially community based health & social care. In terms of the reports ‘Recommendations’ Hordern also highlighted point 18 i.e the need for the creation of a formal network of policymakers and academics & 21 (below) as being critical to success in this area:

  • Recommendation 21: central and local governments should take steps to encourage public engagement in local and national dialogue and outreach initiatives between different religious and non-religious groups. They should also take steps to encourage the development of new local schemes, which can build long-term relationships between people of different religions and beliefs in local communities.

The final speaker Kamran Malik, Senior Partner at Ernst and Young, came to share about working with Coexist House. With a focus on practical ways in which Religious literacy could be promoted in the work place, Mr Malik walked through the accomplishments of Coexist House to date and laid out their goals for the future.

On the premise that organizations have made much progress in recent years when it comes to the Equalities Act and yet Religions are still not treated in the same light, Mr Malik was optimistic about the response from a number of institutions and companies from both the private & public sector, when he met to discuss the issue with them. He relayed that in general these companies see the importance of the subject matter and recognize the part they have to play in transforming the situation. Coexist are well positioned to provide the framework to enable them to do so.

The talks were followed by a Q&A session. One point that continued to re-surface, and indeed one that echoes the sentiment of ICC, was the need for a formal network of policymakers & academics within government to carry forward the key findings of this report and turn them into actionable items (Recommendation 18). Fiona Bruce MP ensured attendees that steps were being taken towards this.

The full 62 page report is viewable & downloadable here.