Political Theologies:Responses of Religious Leaders and Authority Figures In England to Contemporary Issues of Freedom of Expression

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Unlisted


If the European Enlightenment marginalized the political role of religion, current evidence shows a renewed importance for religion in global governance (Casanova, 1994; Gearon, 2002; Haynes, 2006; Hanson, 2006), increased interest in political theology (de Vries and Sullivan, 2006; Scott and Cavanaugh, 2007), and concentrated academic enquiry on the role of religion in public life (http://centres.exeter.ac.uk/nrpl/).
The events of 11 September 2001 have further heightened though an often negatively perceived role of religion in world governance (Hanson, 2006). In terms of freedom of expression, the 'Danish cartoons' in Jyllands-Posten and Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg address have all reinforced in the popular imagination religion's, and specifically Islam's, perceived role in the repression of freedom of expression (Schall, 2007). Such perceptions highlight how little comparative work has been done to examine the range of religious responses to issues of freedom of expression.
Focused on responses of religious leaders and authority figures in England to contemporary issues of freedom of expression, Political Theologies will investigate, map and conceptualise notions of authority and leadership within disparate religious traditions in England, and thus advance our knowledge of contemporary relationships between religious and secular authority, with specific regard to issues of freedom of expression. The research will be of direct relevance to wider international debates around freedom of religion and freedom of thought, opinion and expression. AHRC here commented on the need to distinguish between freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Political Theologies will address this but is likely to demonstrate the difficulty of separating one from the other (Alexander, 2005; Appignanesi, 2006).
In contemporary political philosophy, where authority is conceptually fundamental to understanding and justifying polity, governance and law (Christiano, 2004; Raz, 1990; Shapiro, 2002; cf. Waldron, 1999), the research will produce a new, fresh and original empirical/ theoretical contribution to debates in which the political realities of contemporary religious authority and leadership have arguably been underplayed (Rawls, 2001; Dombrowski, 2001; Taylor, 2007). These 'political theologies' will provide new conceptualisations of religious authority and leadership in contemporary England through grounded, empirical evidence from the traditions themselves. This new, rich source of data will form the basis of further theoretical analysis, and a major contribution to the emergent field of political theology itself, and should satisfy the AHRC request that the re-submission develop a theoretical framework for authority, distinguishing between religious leaders and authority figures. (Refining these theoretical perspectives, including the distinction between religious leaders and authority figures, will also be further, directly and explicitly, addressed now in the interview schedule.)
This research is strongly speculative in making inroads into untrammelled territory, namely regarding our limited empirical knowledge of religious authority and leadership in relation in moments of 'cultural crisis'. More widely the research will here provide new knowledge and understanding of religious attitudes to secular authority, especially legal, and particularly human rights frameworks. The research will thus broadly enhance our knowledge of the nature, scope and influence of religious authority and leadership in England today.
The Department of Theology, University of Exeter, will now act as a Project Partner, facilitating dissemination of findings through the Network for Religion in Public Life, http://centres.exeter.ac.uk/nrpl/.

Planned Impact

Political Theologies will closely correlate academic beneficiaries with social and economic impacts, including: fostering global economic performance, particularly in the creative industries; increasing effectiveness of public service and policy - community cohesion; enhancing quality of life, health and creative output.
Who will benefit?
Policy makers, governments (at regional, devolved, national and or transnational levels)
Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/index.htm
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA, UK), www.qca.org.uk
Religious Education Council of England and Wales Chttp://www.religiouseducationcouncil.org/
CEC (Conference of European Churches), http://www.cec-kek.org/content/history.shtml
Council of Europe, http://www.coe.int/
IARF (International Association for Religious Freedom) http://www.iarf.net/
Interfaith Education Project, WCC in cooperation with Hartford Seminary, USA, http://www.hartsem.edu/EVENTS/news_HSWCCprogram.htm
IRLA (International Religious Liberty Association), http://www.irla.org/
ISESCO (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), http://www.isesco.org.ma/
Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, http://www.oslocoalition.org/
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=29008&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
WCC (World Council of Churches), http://www.oikoumene.org/
Public sector agencies or bodies
Citized www.citized.info
Citizenship Foundation, www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk
Professional Association of Citizenship Teachers, http://www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk/
Institute of Citizenship, http://www.citizen.org.uk/ ; National Association for Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (NASACRE), http://www.nasacre.org.uk/
International organisations
As above.
The third sector, including charities, museum and galleries, organisations and individuals in the creative arts
English PEN, http://www.englishpen.org/; IFEX, International Freedom of Expression eXchange, http://www.ifex.org/
The media
Independent film-making, http://www.essex.ac.uk/events/event.aspx?e_id=128
(Professor Gearon has acted as consultant for the awarding winning documentary film-maker Rex Bloomstein]
Local communities or the wider public in general
The Religious Education Council of England and Wales http://www.religiouseducationcouncil.org/

How will they benefit?
The research will provide a rich and valuable source of evidence to inform public debate around freedom of expression, linking academic scholarship and research with informing public opinion. The research will contribute to inter-faith dialogue, debates between religious and secular perspectives, and contribute to wider debate and policy, especially in community cohesion, for example: http://www.neighbourhood.gov.uk/page.asp?id=519
Political Theologies fulfils AHRC's KT Strategy 2008-2011 in all four key areas of KT activity: 1. In policy development and advocacy through outreach to religious communities; 2. In building and sustaining strategic partnerships by collaborations within and beyond the Academy; 3. In connecting partners across academic disciplines with policy makers at national and international levels but also through the third sector, including religious communities and non-government organisations concerned with freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression; 4. In developing new models of how research can outreach from the Academy into the wider community, locally, nationally and internationally.

What will be done to ensure that they benefit?
Listed dissemination plans will be supplemented by using the mainstream media, press releases and interviews. A wide range of governmental, inter-governmental and non-g

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/H008543/1 01/03/2010 01/09/2010 £63,788
AH/H008543/2 Transfer AH/H008543/1 01/09/2010 30/11/2011 £35,238
Description Project findings now published in a single-authored book: Liam Gearon (2015) Religious Authority and the Arts (New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang). The transcript conversations which represent the substance of this volume are the result of a research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council: Political Theologies: Responses of Religious Leaders and Authority Figures in England to Contemporary Issues of Freedom of Expression. Over nearly three years I interviewed a range of senior religious figures from the considerable diversity of religious traditions represented in England. The small scale project conducted around fifty interviews, and produced nearly half a million words of transcripted interviews, edited down to its present length, with some difficult selection of material which necessarily meant for reasons of space some insightful conversations were omitted. Those that have been included cannot be said to be systematic in its coverage of all religious traditions or even of all the voices within any one of them. What for me became a physical and political-theological journey around England - from metropolitan capital to rural hinterlands - provided nevertheless a snapshot of attitudes and ideas, political and theological responses to contemporary issues of freedom of expression. It was an extraordinary journey, physically and intellectually, and I have tried to capture the essence of the exchanges for as wide an audience as possible.
Exploitation Route Have you met your original objectives?
Yes - and in many ways far exceeded. The project was initially intended as a small scale, speculative project which snowballed into a much larger commitment which has taken close now to five years to draw to a successful conclusion in a book.
In what ways might your findings be taken forward or put to use by others?
The most striking finding was the range of differing responses of religious authority figures to contemporary issues of freedom of expression. These I framed into a typology (of political-theological responses) which forms the structure of my forthcoming book, Religious Authority and the Arts: Conversations in Political Theology. Thus: Chapter 1 Political-Theological Convergence: The Church of England Chapter 2 Political-Theological Conservatism: Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Evangelical Protestantism Chapter 3 Political-Theological Crisis: Judaism Chapter 4 Political-Theological Conflict: Islam Chapter 5 Political-Theological (Re-) Construal (I): Hinduism Chapter 6 Political-Theological (Re-) Construal (II): Buddhism Chapter 7 Political-Theological Condemnation: What the secular humanists say Chapter 8 Political-Theological Critique: What the writers say In short, then, The topic of freedom of expression, which was the main focus of discussions, remains much in the public eye, and for some significant reasons. The research uncovered however some far deeper faultlines in the contemporary debate. A review of the literature on freedom of expression revealed a prevailing and still unfolding aetiology at the interface of aesthetics, politics and theology. This came later, only as the project developed. The initial and main concern was to provide some comparative understanding of how different religious traditions and not simply the one that seemed to be most often in the news related to these contemporary issues of freedom of expression. Here the interviewees brought a diverse series of reflections on historically rooted and conditioned responses, responses in other words conditioned that is by their traditions, their theology, to the contemporary context. It was this contemporary context which provided an acute focus to an issue perennial since antiquity. THE most important theoretical findings, which is leading to further work is the intensely contested space at the interface of politics, theology and aesthetics.
The work continues to be very timely - I was completing the introduction to the volume prior to publication when the events of Charlie Hebdo occurred in Paris, 2015.
As noted in other sections, the Political Theologies grant has enabled/ facilitated much wider ranges and types of collaborations within and beyond the Academy and across disciplines. This work in political theology has for example led to a multi-institution collaboration on education, security and intelligence studies, as previously detailed. This was a direct result of work I had undertaken as Guest Editor of the British Journal of Educational Studies (Gearon, 2015), volume 63 (3) on Education, Security and Intelligence Studies; and a successful national seminar I convened at the British Academy in November 2015, the day before the further tragic events in Paris.
The thinking within the project - on the interface of politics, theology and aesthetics - has also led to a successful bid (with myself as PI) for a major grant award for a seminar series on Philosophy, Literature and Education, with events held at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, University of Warwick and the British Academy.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description I expect further impact from publication of a substantial book, Religious Authority and the Arts: Conversations in Political Theology. However, based on the security and intelligence ramifications of the Political Theologies AHRC grant (the book was completed in the year of Charlie Hebdo) much of my recent work has drawn me into some major public-facing - multi-institution/ sector and cross-disciplinary - debate around the interface of education, security and intelligence studies. The event I convened at the British Academy in November 2015 - the Annual Seminar of the Society of Educational Studies - was one such event, the URL for which is below. The event coincided and marked the recent publication of my guest edited special issue of the British Journal of Educational Studies on Education, Security and Intelligence Studies, and has led to a major, innovative collaboration between several UK universities, defence organisations (Cranfield) and think tanks (for example the Royal United Services Institute). The AHRC research grant was speculative and high risk, with at the time of application, unknown or unpredictable results and in the five years since the award has produced a surprising and certainly unexpected results, innovations and findings of relevance to informing public debate as well as shaping new directions in inter- and cross-disciplinary research at the interface of politics, theology and aesthetics. The British Academy event also marked the award of my second prize in the national book awards for the Society of Educational Studies, for On Holy Ground - a book which has provoked formal and informal responses from scholars across Europe and North America debating the role of religion in contemporary public life.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description I am currently convening the Colloquium on Security and Intelligence Studies at Oriel College, University of Oxford 21st-22nd September 2017 
Organisation University of Oxford
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The Oriel Colloquium follows from a security and intelligence seminar I convened at the British Academy in November 2015, and over 2016 a major multi-disciplinary and multi-institution seminar series on Education, Security and Intelligence Studies, including events hosted by the Oxford Intelligence Group (Nuffield College, Oxford), the Buckingham University Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Whitehall. Keynote speakers at the Oriel Colloquium include: Professor Christopher Andrew (Emeritus Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge, and official historian of MI5) and Professor Loch K. Johnson (Regents Professor of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia, author or editor of thirty books on security and intelligence studies, including The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence). As well as a multi-disciplinary range of leading academics in security and intelligence studies, speakers include security and intelligence professionals, notably the former Senior Defence Economist to NATO and Adviser to the 12th NATO General Secretary; a speaker on national security resilience and counter-terrorism from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Whitehall; a Senior Officer of Military Intelligence at the United States Military Academy West Point; colleagues from Boston College will be talking with the FBI on university-intelligence service relations and cyber security; a former senior MI6 officer and Cold War diplomat (Berlin Station); a former CIA Intelligence Officer (to speak on the International Association for Intelligence Education); the British Council; the Foreign Office; amongst others. The Colloquium maintains also a special interest in the security and intelligence aspects of the arts, humanities and literature. Presiding over this section is my old friend Dr Alastair Niven LVO, OBE, a judge of the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1994 and of the Man Booker Prize in 2014, former Principal of Cumberland Lodge Windsor and President of English PEN, Alastair also uniquely held posts as Director of Literature at the Arts Council of Great Britain and Director of Literature at the British Council. Andrew Lownie, literary agent and author of Stalin's Englishman, will be presenting in this section. John Lloyd, contributing editor of the Financial Times, is also now contributing under this heading.
Collaborator Contribution The format will be one of an invited exchange of ideas amongst experts and, broadly interpreted, a critical focus will be on the relationship between universities and the security and intelligence agencies. The Oriel Colloquium is funded by the Society for Educational Studies, of which I am Treasurer, and is working in close collaboration with the Oxford Intelligence Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
Impact Publications include: Gearon, L. (2017) 'The Counter Terrorist Campus: Securitisation Theory and University Securitisation' - Three Models', Transformation in Higher Education DOI awaited, publication February 2017. Kuusisto, A. and Gearon, L. (2016) 'The Life Trajectory of the Finnish Religious Educator', Religion & Education, DOI: 10.1080/15507394.2016.1272154 In press publications include: Liam Gearon (ed.) (2017, in press) Education, Security and Intelligence Studies. London and New York: Routledge. Liam Gearon and Joseph Prud'homme (2017, in press) State Religious Education and the State of the Religious Life, New York: Wipf and Stock. Forthcoming publications include: Arniika Kuusisto and Liam Gearon (eds.) (2017, forthcoming) Value Learning Trajectories: Theory, Method, Context. Waxmann. Liam Gearon and Emma Williams (2018) Journal of Philosophy of Education, Special Issue, Volume 51, Philosophy, Literature and Education. In preparation: Liam Gearon (2018) The Kill Chain: Research Ethics in the Securitised University - invited proposal to Oxford University Press. Liam Gearon (ed) (20118) The Routledge International Handbook of Education, Security and Intelligence Studies. London and New York Routledge.
Start Year 2016
Description Education for democratic citizenship - a role for the churches? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Keynote lecture, Conference of European Churches, Strasbourg, including collaboration with the Council of Europe


The Conference on Education for Democratic Citizenship, October 5-7, Strasbourg, organised by the Church and Society Commission (CSC) of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), brought together members of churches and church organisations, clergy, lay,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
Description Education for democratic citizenship - a role for the churches? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote lecture, Conference of European Churches, Strasbourg, including collaboration with the Council of Europe


Widespread international distribution to churches across Europe.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
Description European Civil Religion and European Religious Education 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_222306_en.pdf

This paper challenges a foundational conjecture of the Religion in Education Dialogue or Conflict (REDCo) project, that increased interest in religion in public and political life as manifested particularly in education is evidence of counter-secularisation. The paper argues that rather than representing counter-secularisation, such developments represent an emergent and secularising European civil religion facilitated through European religious education.

This was a public lecture, high profile annual keynote lecture, the Cardinal Winning Lecture, hosted by the University of Glasgow.

Previous lecturers have included (in 2008) First Minister Alex Salmond.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description October 2016: Invited and funded presentation at the International Nuremberg Forum, The Politicisation and Securitisation of Religion in Education: A Response to a Rejoinder', the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 12th Nuremberg Forum 2016 (Oct 3-6)

Public Theology - Religion - Education. Interreligious Perspectives

Since the turn of the millennium, the awareness in liberal democratic societies has grown that religion cannot simply be regarded as a private matter, but that it has an indispensable public dimension. Unfortunately, the religious context of terrorism and of violent conflicts have more strongly reinforced this awareness than the many positive, constructive contributions by religions to the common good. There is also an increasing appreciation, however, of how much liberal democratic societies gain from the political and social engagement of NGOs, institutions, groups and individuals - among which religious groups and religiously inspired people play an important role.

Thus, for example, in recent decades the significance of interreligious communication and cooperation for community building and peace in the world has repeatedly been pointed out. At global, regional and local level representatives of different religions commit themselves to working for peace, justice, human rights, integrity of creation as well as for the solution of pressing problems, such as integrating migrants.

In general, the contributions by religions to the common good imply an educational aspect: They aim to stimulate processes of perception and thinking that uncover new perspectives and help to discover new opportunities for action. Thus, on the one hand, education is an integral part of the public dimension of religion, and on the other, it is the realm of public education that constitutes an important subject of social debate to which religions can make substantial contributions. From both perspectives, promoting the ability to deal with plurality and to work towards an inclusive society are major objectives of education - and interreligious education is of substantial significance in this context. The fundamental acknowledgment of the Other, precisely in his or her remaining otherness and strangeness, can be an important result of religious and interreligious education that contributes to a successful social coexistence, especially including immigrants.

In the Christian context, the calling to contribute to the common good has come to be discussed under the label of "public theology", and has led to the establishment of a "Global Network of Public Theology" (2007). In this discussion, the educational aspect has repeatedly been mentioned, but has remained marginal up to now. Other religions have their own traditions and perspectives, from which responsibility for society is motivated and reflected. Judaism, for instance, has significantly influenced public culture, especially in Europe, and it keeps sensitizing the public to problematic developments in society. For representatives of Islam in liberal democratic societies it becomes more and more important not just to show that Islam is compatible with democratic values, but to show that Islamic perspectives can contribute to the common good. In Buddhism, since the middle of the 20th century, the movement of "engaged Buddhism" has developed, in which meditative spirituality is combined with active social and ecological commitment. And in the Bahá'ís community social and non-partisan political commitment has always been fundamental. It is obvious that all these religions, and others, have an important public and educational function in society that provides resources for the realisation of liberal, democratic values.

Thus, the Nuremberg Forum 2016 intends to draw attention to the contribution of religions to the common good, with a focus on educational aspects and stimulated by the Christian concept of 'public theology'. By promoting interdisciplinary and interreligious academic and social discourse it aims to strengthen the religions' public responsibility, especially with respect to public education, and their public visibility as resources for the humanization of societies. This aim is in line with the now 30-year-old tradition of the Nuremberg Forums to facilitate intercultural and interreligious dialogue and learning in a pluralistic society. The Nuremberg Forum is organized by the Chair of Religious Education at the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Professor Manfred L. Pirner, Professor Johannes Lähnemann, and Dr Werner Haußmann) together with Professor Peter Bubmann (Practical Theology, Erlangen), Dr Florian Höhne (Systematic Theology, University of Bamberg), Professor Andreas Nehring (Religious Studies, Erlangen), Professor Henrik Simojoki (Protestant Theology/Religious Education, University of Bamberg) and Professor Thomas Wabel (Systematic Theology and director of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Research Center of Public Theology, University of Bamberg), in co-operation with the Global Network of Public Theology, GNPT (chairperson: Professor Elaine Graham, University of Chester, UK) and in connection with the Office of the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD).

The conference is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Protestant-Lutheran Church of Bavaria (ELKB), the Roman-Catholic Archbishop of Bamberg, the City of Nuremberg (Kost-Pocher Foundation and Human Rights Foundation), Religions for Peace Germany (RfP), the Institute for Anthropology of Religions (ZAR) and the Centre for Human Rights Erlangen-Nuremberg (CHREN), the latter two at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.nuernberger-forum.uni-erlangen.org/introduction.shtml