The most secular century - the 20th century - has given way to a recognition that it was really no such thing! Religion and belief have certainly changed but they didn't go away after all. The welfare project after 1948 certainly professionalised and secularised health and social care. It also effectively 'invisibilised' faith based welfare in the process. But faith groups continued to contribute at the margins and with the poorest. When the welfare settlement started to give way after 1979, the mixed economy of welfare made faith groups 're-visibilised' as they have increasingly taken their place alongside a whole range of non-state providers of services of all shapes and sizes. During the 2000's, Britain's New Labour governments introduced all sorts of policies and funding streams to engage the faith-based contribution. Now in a post-crisis climate, policy has shifted once again from community, collaboration and empowerment, to enterprise, philanthropy and self-start. Alongside is a rejection of the multifaith paradigm and the revalorisation of the Church of England as a Christian lead for the contributions of all the religious traditions.
Whilst today's politicians insist that Labour 'didn't do God' - and the incumbents do - the reality is that politicians the world over 'do God' in different ways. Neo-liberal states everywhere are engaging faith-based groups to plug the gaps as states withdraw. Governments of all colours want to work with faiths. It's how they do it that differs.
A pressing theme throughout is religious literacy - what is the quality of conversation and debate about religion and belief in societies which had thought themselves secular but are re-discovering themselves as complexly Christian, post-traditional, secular and plural?
These issues come together in interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange to help religion, belief and non-belief groups, policy-makers and practitioners work together effectively.
The Faiths and Civil Society Unit is committed to a number of principles, values and purposes which underpin the work it undertakes. It endeavours to be:
Multi-faith - the unit is committed to working with all nine faiths recognised by the InterFaith Network UK (Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu, Jain, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism). Within this it is interested in working empoweringly to support equality of opportunity for engagement amongst the faiths, whatever their size and capacity.
International - the unit is committed to working internationally. It is already working, as appropriate, in the UK, in Europe and in North America. As well as working in specific countries, the unit is committed to a globalised perspective which sets faiths locally in the context of global and international relations.
Inter-generational - the unit is committed to the inclusion of participants of all ages and especially to younger policy-makers, practitioners and researchers as a mechanism for the sustainable development of the faiths and civil society agenda. It also recognises inter-generational differences in perspective and experience, especially as these affect second and third generation migrant faith communities, and seeks to acknowledge this in its work.
Multi-disciplinary - the unit recognises the breadth and scope of the field of faiths and civil society and welcomes a multi-disciplinary engagement in its development. Though the unit has a policy (political and social sciences) focus, therefore, it also actively welcomes the involvement of other disciplines, especially Theology, Philosophy, Community Development, Near and Middle Eastern Studies and Oriental and Asian Studies.
Inter-disciplinary - in addition to a multi-disciplinary focus, the unit also hopes to develop new modes of inter-disciplinary work wherein hitherto traditionally separate disciplines explore new ways of working complementarily and integratively.
Cross-sectoral - the unit is committed to working with policy-makers, practitioners and researchers, both academic and otherwise, and across the public, community, voluntary and, where appropriate, private sectors in the development of work in this field. In doing so it seeks to maximise the rare opportunity it has for taking forward a new field with all of the stakeholders at once, thereby attempting to support equality of opportunity for engagement in the context of differing needs, capacities and visions.
'Bottom up' as well as 'top down' - the unit recognises the inequality and disadvantage which constrain the engagement of some faith communities. At the same time it acknowledges the importance of continuous engagement between those at strategic and policy levels and those at the 'grass roots'. It is committed, therefore, to promoting and facilitating that engagement through its programmes of work and to providing every opportunity for those working at all levels to mix with each other directly and with developing capacity.
Inclusive - as well as a commitment to multi-faith working, the unit recognises the range and diversity of opinion, perspective, moral outlook and theological views inherent in faith communities (as elsewhere) and is committed to being inclusive of that diversity. It recognises that this may sometimes lead to challenge and debate and it welcomes this in the context of promoting a safe and responsible space for working with this.
Participatory - the unit wishes to encourage the participation of all stakeholders and to promote practices, methods and processes which support this. Action-focused - the unit aims to produce work and outcomes which support change in policy, practice and research and in the relationships between them. In particular it aims to support a synthesis of policy, practice and research which produces better and best practice in all three areas and provides a trusted and respected evidence base and space for thought and reflection on the matters pertaining to this agenda.
Diverse - the unit recognises the diversity within, between and beyond faith communities and their partners and values this diversity as the basis for developing an inclusive and widely owned programme of work in this area.
Partnership and Iteration (an ongoing process of debate and discussion which constantly refreshes thinking and positions and keeps the conversation alive) - the unit believes that partnership working is the key means by which it can achieve its aims to synthesise policy, practice and research and to work inclusively with diversity, cross-sectorally, and across faiths and disciplines. It also recognises the value of working iteratively with its partners and with others working in similar and complementary fields.
Reflect - the unit seeks to provide opportunities for critical engagement within, between and beyond faith communities on issues of relevance to them and to civil society, and to apply a process of critical reflection to this wherever possible and appropriate
Evidence - the unit aims to support the production of an evidence base for better and best practice in policy, practice and research
Disseminate - the unit is committed to the dissemination of evidence and reflection to faith communities and their partners as widely as possible and seeks to achieve this through its own networks and those of its partners as well as through direct engagement with faith communities
Network - the unit aims to act as a focus for interaction between faiths, disciplines and sectors and to support the networking of stakeholders locally, regionally, nationally and internationally
Conceptualise - the unit aims to develop conceptual analyses and models of faith based practice and policy to support the critical development of the engagement of faiths in public space.