Religion, spirituality and the social sciences: challenging marginalisation,
Editors Basia Spalek and Alia Imtoual,
(The Policy Press) 2008
There is no point in looking for a single event or factor that kick-started the revival of public interest in religion towards the end of the 20th century. It was more a question of
separate developments that have criss-crossed in some complicated ways.
The UK provides a second example of the heightening of the public profile of religion since the 1900s. The process began with preparations for the millennium celebrations and was boosted by the personal interest that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and some of his government ministers displayed in matters of faith. After much wrangling, the Millennium Dome in London was equipped with a faith zone and chaplains. But the most interesting developments occurred after 2000 when it was decided to place on a permanent footing the consultative arrangements through which the British government had worked with various faith communities and the UK Inter-faith Network in preparing the millennium celebrations. This eventually let to the establishment of protocols covering regular consultations with representatives of faith communities in virtually all government departments and at the level of local government as well. In addition, many of the government policies that were aimed at achieving ‘sustainable communities’ and ‘urban regeneration’ contained provisions for working with faith communities and faith-based organisations as valued partners of central and local government. Official encouragement of ‘faith schools’ has been another manifestation of support for policies that give a higher profile to religion in the public sphere.
In short, religion and spirituality now demand serious attention for a wide variety of reasons. One of the great merits of the contributions to this volume is that they grapple directly with the theoretical, conceptual and methodological challenges presented to social scientists by the upsurge of public interest in religion. The authors are self-reflexive and critical about the need for a social scientific study of religion that is well equipped to investigate not only the changes that have occurred in the meanings of religion and spirituality but also the contexts in which religion and spirituality are practised. Politics, gender, the media and the law are four particularly important contexts. The interplay between empirical and theoretical arguments is another feature of many chapters.
A fascinating read….