A taking of the temperature of Britain’s relationship with religion began last week with the launch of a major commission’s national consultation on belief.
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life announced at the House of Lords on Tuesday that it wants to hear people’s views regarding the place and role of religion in society. The commission, which is the brainchild of Cambridge University’s Woolf institute, is headed by Baroness (Elizabeth) Butler-Sloss, and its other 19 members include Lord (Richard) Harries of Pentregarth, former bishop of Oxford, Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, of Churches Together in England, Professor Gwen Griffith-Dickson, vice-principal of Heythrop College, together with representatives of the Sikh, Hundu, Jewish and Muslim faiths, and of humanists.
The team will focus on the impact of religion on national identity, how children are taught about religion, and its connections with the law, social action, dialogue and the media. It will also examine the role and viability of an established Church in the twenty-first century.
Lady Butler-Sloss stressed that the commission is entirely independent. “The conclusions will be entirely our own and largely dependent on our consultations”, she said.
Creation of the commission comes at a time when Britain’s religious make-up is changing, with a decline in membership of the Church of England, while an increasing number of migrants has boosted the numbers of Catholics, Muslims and faiths rooted in Asia. Religion has also become a headline issue, with rows over faith schools, same-sex marriage, and sharia law dominating the news.
“Religion is now a major player on the public stage in a way that would have taken people in the 1950s by surprise,” said Lord Harries.
The commission will submit its report to the new Government, elected in 2015. For details of national hearings and to submit your views, go to www.corab.org.uk