CMPL Integration Workshop I

The first workshop looking at 'Christians, Muslims and Social Integration' was held on Wednesday 18th May, 2016 at Carrs Lane Church Conference Centre, Birmingham.  About 30 Christians attended from a range of backgrounds and interests.  The workshop looked at the Christian vision of what a plural British society might look and was particularly responding to the recently published Living with Difference report produced by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB) initiated by the Woolf Institute.  

Paper 1 -  Dr Jonathan Chaplin‘Living with Difference’: Time for a Constructive Christian Engagement

Jonathan Chaplin of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics opened the first discussion by introducing the Woolf report on ‘Living with Difference’ and then describing and critiquing some of the Christian responses to it. Whilst generally positive about the report and the need for Christians to engage with it he pointed out four particular weaknesses:

  • “It does not sufficiently acknowledge the implications of the formative historical predominance of Christianity in British public life”
  • “its operative conception of ‘pluralism’ is poorly-defined”
  • “it presents an inadequate account of ‘faith schools’”
  • And “it fails to throw its weight unreservedly behind the formal recognition of the principle of the ‘reasonable accommodation of religion and belief’”

Chaplin then considered the nature of the public square drawing on the work of Os Guinness and Richard Neuhaus to suggest that, rather than either a naked (religion-less secular) or sacred (“Christian nation”) public square, what is needed is a civil public square in which all take part in “argumentative democracy”. He also raised the question of the degree to which Islam is compatible with such a public square.

Paper 2 - Dr Philip Lewis‘What are the limits of ‘liveable difference?’ Questions posed by Islam & Muslim communities

Sadly Jenny Taylor, who had been due to respond to the Woolf report alongside Chaplin, had to withdraw at the last moment due to other commitments. This was unfortunate as her more critical response to the report would have brought greater contrast to the discussion. A link to her comment on the report is included below. Philip Lewis kindly took her place at short notice and brought a different angle by looking at the challenge of diversity within the Muslim community.  Lewis addressed the question raised by Chaplin of the “limits of liveable difference” with respect to Islam. Lewis highlighted that the Muslim community in Britain is extremely diverse and has not yet come to terms with being a minority. Even where Islam is in a majority it has no concept of what the ideal society looks like beyond Islamic virtue. He quoted several Muslims to illustrate how dysfunctional and sectarian the British Muslim community is. However, this is not uniform across the country: areas of ‘hyper-diversity’ such as in London are not the same as mono or bi-cultural areas such as the northern cities; Muslims enter local politics in different modes; conservative Deobandis are bound by traditional fiqh and fail to engage society; whereas many Muslim women are engaging in public life in new ways. These issues also raise questions of how Christians see the ideal society.

CMPL Integration Workshop II

The second workshop was held on Friday 24th March 2017 at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.  Over 40 Christians attended.  It looked at the Christian vision of what a plural British society might look like in response to an interim report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration and the much-reported Casey Review on Integration and Opportunity by Dame Louise Casey.  

Paper 1 - Dr Philip LewisA Christian Response to Casey & APPG: A Northern Perspective

Philip Lewis presented a response to these reports from his experience of living and working in interfaith relations in the north of England. He was very positive about the way that Casey had tackled difficult issues and been prepared to speak about taboo topics. He was particularly encouraged by her “religious literacy” and nuanced understanding of different Muslim traditions, although she was still too focussed on South Asian Muslims to the exclusion of some other large groups. However, Casey missed some key points and, among other things, her discussion of education was incomplete with more research needing to be done into how and why some ethnic groups are failing. He also felt that she missed some of the more hopeful signs among developing Muslim leaders and particularly women, who in Bradford are “the shakers and movers of change”.

Paper 2 - Dr Andrew Smith - Casey Review Reflections: Personal Reflections

The second response to the reports came from Andrew Smith, interfaith adviser to the Bishop of Birmingham. He too had a mixed reaction to the Casey Review. He commended her for tackling difficult issues, although wondered whether she had “found what she was looking for”. The ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal in Birmingham had already highlighted many of the issues related to segregated communities, poor language skills and the increasing influence of conservative Islam and cultural practices from other countries. He felt that the report unfairly focused on the Muslim community when ethnic communities also had similar problems. The majority community needs to do more to help minorities integrate and better education and jobs are not a universal panacea. He caricatured the Casey Review as “If we get them to speak English, do well at school, move house, be tolerant, obey the law and get a decent job, then all will be well”, and he challenged Christians to think more deeply about the “philosophy or theology of integration”.