Faith, religion and the international public sphere
3 March, 2011
Reverend Canon Dr Gary Wilton, The Church of England Representative to the EU & Canon of the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Trinity, writes:
Everywhere you look religion is still with us. This is despite the enlightenment predictions that the death of religion was imminent.
Micklethwait and Wooldridge in their 2009 God is Back conclude:
“On the street and in the corridors of power, religion is surging worldwide. From Russia to Turkey to India, nations that swore off faith in the last centuryor even tried to stamp it outare now run by avowedly religious leaders. The global rise of faith will have a dramatic and far- reaching impact on our century.”
God is undoubtedly back, religion is everywhere – west, east, north and south. And it has a huge impact on international relations and public policy. But how do we talk about it, and how do we discuss the really difficult topics, when even framing the questions can be painfully tricky?
During the last six months political leaders in France, Germany and the UK have all declared that multiculturalism has failed. But in what ways has it failed? Has it failed completely? Has it failed in the same ways across the world? If it has failed what will replace it? And where does that leave the religions that are thriving across the globe and thriving in so many local communities? How does government govern a religiously plural society post multiculturalism?
In the UK, the new governments Big Society debate has ushered in a re-consideration of the place of religion Some see religion as a problem that needs to be solved. The new government sees it as part of the solution… “I want to send an important signal that we value the role of religion and faith in public life…” stated Minister Eric Pickles.
The signal from Wilton Park is that to be part of the solution, religion needs to be part of the discussion. If religion is excluded from the discussion, inadvertently we might be making it into the problem.
Difficult questions need to be framed and asked in ways that are open, welcoming and safe. No, Wilton Park is not about to become a seminary. But it is a place where the international policy maker can meet the peacekeeper, the humanitarian and the theologian. Maybe asking the difficult questions about the failure of multiculturalism is the beginning of religiously plural societies that just might succeed.
Gary will be working with Wilton Park on its faith and international policy conferences