Reimagining Religion and Belief: equipping public authorities for engagement with the real religious landscape

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths University of London


The project is a partnership of the Faiths & Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths, Faith in Society, and the William Temple Foundation. It follows findings from our AHRC funded network, Reimagining Religion and Belief in Policy and Practice, which made an analysis for policy makers in welfare, cohesion and security settings of new ways of thinking about religion and belief which have been emerging across nine arts, humanities and social science disciplines. (We have published this in Baker C and Dinham A (2017) New Interdisciplinary Spaces of Religions and Beliefs in Contemporary Thought and Practice: an analysis, Religions, vol 8 no 1, Basel: MDPI and in an edited volume with Policy Press entitled Reimagining Religion and Belief: 21st Century Policy and Practice (2018) based on contributions from the network's members). The earlier project sought to undertake the analysis, and to share it in other European, North American and Australian networks to explore how it 'travels'. This was important because a) our analysis drew on thinkers internationally and b) religion and belief are themselves highly mobile in light of migration and globalisation, so an understanding of how thinking about them is or is not mobile was useful.

Within that network, we began talking with policy-makers and practitioners about these new ways of thinking in order to explore whether and how they might be useful and use-able. We held a policy engagement workshop at the House of Lords, bringing together a small number (10) of government, local authority, CVS, and faith leaders. Our report of that shows key observations from participants which underpin our conclusion that follow-up work would be valuable. There was;
1. A hunger for ideas
2. An appetite for a diversity of participation in decision-making, especially in state institutions (local and national), involving people of all faiths and none, and from a range of sectors and settings
3. Concern that informalisation of religion and belief, and a shift to 'lived' religion, make it harder for institutions to find leaders to engage, and policy-makers want help with this
4. A flowering of interest in religion, but tinged by a 'pathologisation' and anxiety
5. Tension between accepting new forms of philanthropy versus how to ensure redistribution of power and capacity
6. Leaders want some guidance on policies framing religion in the workplace
7. They are interested in action more than principles or points of agreement, and assume the rest will follow
8. An appetite for a 'database' of case studies showing where faith groups add value.

Recognising these specific and unforeseen appetites and needs, we propose to work over a follow-up period with a wider group of policy-makers and leading practitioners in welfare, cohesion and local initiatives, with the concrete task of devising policies, and resources to support them, about religion and belief which closely align with latest research and theory. This includes establishing a new national Religion, Belief and Policy Network (RBPN) supported by three new elements: a dedicated website offering a suite a print and digital resources, addressing real-world challenges and dilemmas of religion and belief; an annual conference; and the development of an innovative analytical and strategy development tool for use by local policy makers and practitioners, called the Religion, Belief and Policy Framework. These resources will be co-produced with civil servants and leading practitioners whose areas of engagement directly intersect with the policy fields identified, particularly national UK government departments (the Home Office, Department for Communities and Local Government, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department of Education, and Department of International Development), local authority chief executives and chief operating officers, and senior staff from key voluntary and community bodies.

Planned Impact

Impacts are intended across three cohorts of beneficiaries:
1. Policy-makers - through exploratory 'development' workshops, facilitated co-production of tools, sharing of them via a dedicated website, a conference, and a sustainable Religion, Belief and Policy Network the project will provide pathways to:
- Providing access to theoretical ideas and perspectives by which to view and engage with the lived diversity of UK religion and belief that will help bring the topic alive to them in interesting and creative ways.
- Enhancing understanding and appreciation of the importance of religion and belief in the formulation of cohesive, safe and resilient localities
- Increasing the confidence of policy makers in accurately assessing both the challenges and opportunities presented by religion and belief in the public sphere
- Encouraging co-produced frameworks for improved policy engagement with other key players and interaction beyond the safe confines of a siloed experience and worldview
- Providing access to reliable and regularly updated sources of information and practical policy and community engagement with other key stakeholders.
These will be measured against membership of a new network, hits and downloads of new resources on the website, and evaluative interviews.

2. Practitioners
This cohort's capabilities will be enhanced in all the ways identified above, but with the additional sense of empowerment and agency that comes from having practice experience, insights and identity valued and recognised. Practitioners will participate in all of the activities above and in addition will work in a separate dedicated space for them to work with small cohorts of their service users to consider the likely efficacy of new tools and prospective interventions. This impact will be measured by a short baseline and follow up survey of participants at the start and end to ask about use, experience and sense of empowerment, as well as concrete changes and outcomes arising.

3. Media
The combined impact of these impact pathways (workshops, website, framework, conference, network, evaluations) will seek to influence wider general messages and understandings via traditional and new media (TV, local radio, press, social media). This will be undertaken in partnership with the recently established independent Religion Media Centre. Goldsmiths and the William Temple Foundation's extensive networks will ensure a steady flow of positive and informative stories of religion and belief in relation to inclusion, diversity and localised flourishing. Existing networks that will contribute to and sustain both awareness and content for this digital resource include: the Religious Literacy Leadership Network (Dinham); the Spaces of Hope network (Baker); the William Temple Foundation (Baker); William Temple Ph.D studentships in Religion, Belief and Public Life (5 FT Ph.D studentships at Goldsmiths, 2017-2021); the Equality and Human Rights Commission Religion and Belief Network; the Inter Faith Network for the UK (Hawkins and Kartupelis); and the Government Interdepartmental Group on Religion and Belief (Hawkins). These will be directly engaged with by a dedicated 'curator' who is already undertaking a similar role at the William Temple Foundation.

Together these activities will generate an ongoing and updated archive of resources and briefings in the field of religion and belief in relation to welfare, cohesion and security. This will be based at the Faiths and Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths. The website will reach in to our established and extensive policy, practice and research audiences to provide ongoing guidance and resources carrying the latest research, briefings and examples from case studies. These resources will be drawn from multiple existing sources (see Outcomes and Impact for further details), as well as from the new resources produced within this follow-up work.


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Dinham A (2020) Reimagining Religion and Belief in the Public Sphere in Modern Believing

Description Scoping events (circa 10 participants) in each of the nations of the UK engaged with policy leaders from a range of sectors and settings in Spring-Summer 2019. This led to terms of reference as follows:
• The focus - EDI; health; police, crime and justice; in contexts of human becoming
• Not about inventing policy for engaging with faiths but how all/any mainstream policy takes account of religion, belief and spiritual diversity
• Specific, concrete, deliverable, focused on end-users' experiences
• Rethinking service users as human beings - focusing on their humanity, values, worldviews, well-being. 'Spirit' and 'soul' were also used.
• Reflecting differences between the four nations of the UK
• Policy is not only made by national and local government but by regulators, professional bodies and others too
• Be assets-based more than risk or problem-based
• Remember religion, belief and spirituality are part of wider intersectional identities, and are fluid

We identified a long list of issues in need of resources which could be developed for policy-makers and practitioners as follows:
• Anti-Muslim, anti-semitic and other hate crime
• Relationship of radicalisation to international affairs and foreign policy (for NGO and FCO professionals)
• Review of Muslim engagement
• Hot spots - transgender, and Israel-Palestine
• NHS and 3rd Sector engagement
• Faith in hospices - guide for practitioners
• How to build engagement with faith groups (eg modelled on the EHRC process?) - issues, interlocutors, etc - a crib sheet, especially for civil servants who have dropped into role?
• Safe spaces at work - setting up a workplace Religion and Belief Working Group
• Welcoming the whole person at work
• A concise statement of the challenge of religion and belief in the public sphere
• A summary of existing 'exemplar' policy responses which stand out
• Analysis of how/where faith engagement adds value
• Medicine - abortion , transfusion, end of life, euthanasia
• List of interlocutors in faith communities
• Case studies of good policy
• Law summary, especially addressing the issue of hierarchies of equality (religion and same-sex marriage)
• What is 'secular' and are we it?
• The real religion and belief landscape, and how to think about it
• Guided training resource on women's rights and homophobia
• A 'confidence to ask' guide (film?)
• Religion and safeguarding - responsibilities, signs and solutions

From that we worked with a small co-production group, drawn from the wider events, to identify 8 tools for co-production in a two-day residential workshop in autumn 2019. Participants were asked to identify:
1. What is the tool?
2. Who is the tool for?
3. What is its key purpose?
4. What should be in it?
5. What format should it take?

The Tools-Plan: we have envisaged and are working towards an online umbrella portal called 'Religion and Belief Policy Network' with 8 'panels' or buttons: one for each tool, and one for 'Join our Network or attend events'
Exploitation Route There will be a sustainable Religion and Belief Policy Network
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description 8 new policy tools have been developed and published for free use by policy makers relating to religion and belief diversity in their settings on our launched website
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Religion and Belief Policy Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Launched the formal network with website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022