One of the things I’ve enjoyed most since starting this blog has been discovering what is already going on in the whole arena of faith and politics in this country. the more I look into this, the more I discover. Much of what is happening does not get picked up by the media and is under the radar for the average person on the street.
Quite often we’ll here reports from think tanks (especially on Radio 4) presenting their research findings on a particular area of public policy or the state of the economy. Think tanks, though, remain a bit of a mystery to most people I speak to. They are organisations that conduct research and engage in advocacy with the intention of influencing and shaping government and public policy in a whole range of areas such as economics, social policy and also faith related issues. There are over one hundred in the UK and they can range considerably in terms of size and influence.
Theos is an independent, ecumenical Christian public theology think tank. It was launched in November 2006 with the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor. Its mission statement on the front page of its website reads as follows:
‘Theos is a think tank which believes you can’t understand the modern world without understanding religion. We seek to inform the debate about the place of religion in society, challenging ill-informed thinking through our research, events and media comment.’
Compared to the work of some think tanks, which give the impression that you need a PhD to understand their findings, Theos’ is very accessible. The team at Theos regularly post articles on current issues from a Christian perspective and monitor what is being covered in the media as well as producing major reports during the year. In her latest article, Elizabeth Hunter – Theos director, discusses why she believes politicians ‘still don’t “Do God” very well’. She summarises her piece by saying:
‘The future of relationships between religious groups and government remains to be seen. The social utility of people of faith will continue to be key for policy makers. Occasionally, individuals might come along who have a deeper understanding, but they are rare. All the more reason for politicians to be presented with the facts around key issues like faith in schools, faith based welfare provision and religious freedom in a way that they can understand.
Beginning next week, politicians, civil servants, NGOs and media will gather in Whitehall for the Westminster Faith Debates. This series will present the best interdisciplinary research that’s been done over the last four years as part of the £12 million AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society programme. The AHRC, the think tank Theos and Charles Clarke are putting on this series for one simple reason- because we know what a significant force religious people are in society, and we want to help our leaders ‘Do God’ better.’
These Westminster Faith Debates will be bringing together some high profile figures including Trevor Phillips, Richard Dawkins, David Blunkett and others. The events are designed primarily for senior civil servants, parliamentarians and journalists, and will cover key topics such as religious identity, faith in schools, radicalisation, welfare, religious freedom, and UK trends in religion and values.
The first debate takes place on February the 8th at Sixty One Whitehall. The Faith Debates website has more information and contact details for booking tickets.
It’s always good to see faith issues being taken seriously in Westminster circles. Hopefully Theos will provide some feedback from these events that can be covered in future posts.
Update Tuesday 31st January
I’ve been informed by Theos that the debates will available to watch via podcast. I’ll post further details when I get them.