Faith and non-religious belief groups’ positive contribution to social cohesion deserves greater recognition and should have more influence on cohesion policy in the UK, a new report has found.
Cohesive Societies: Faith and Belief, commissioned by the British Academy and the Faith and Belief Forum, charts social cohesion policy in the UK and examines the practical impact of the faith and belief sector on communities.
The report, carried out by thinktank Theos, draws on practical case studies from across the UK. Its authors said it showed that social cohesion policy has developed in the context of four main factors: demographic shifts accompanying migration, the growth of the ‘non-religious’ affiliation, 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 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.
Professor Tariq Modood FBA said: “It is time to reassess the place of faith and belief in cohesion policy.
“As this timely report 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.”
Picture: Catholics at a candle-lit vigil. (Armin Weigel/DPA/PA).