132.1 Beyond the inter-faith agenda: Secular and religious divisions in urban Britain

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 12:30 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Johan ANDERSSON , Geography, Leeds University, Leeds, United Kingdom
Joanna SADGROVE , Geography, Leeds University, Leeds, United Kingdom
Since it emerged that the perpetrators of the 7/7 London Underground bombings in 2005 were residents of Beeston, an inner-city suburb of Leeds, inter-faith initiatives have been seen as key interventions to prevent terrorism, improve social cohesion, and promote good intergroup relations in this northern English city. Yet, in this paper, we argue that the emphasis on the inter-faith agenda is to some degree inadequately targeted in terms of where persistent (and arguably growing) tensions are currently being played out. Drawing on focus group research with the city’s three largest faith communities (Christians, Jews and Muslims), as well as with non-believers and organised atheist groups, our findings suggest that the most difficult conversations are not between members of the Abrahamic faiths, but rather between those who have religious convictions and those who do not. Hence, while our respondents frequently drew on negative stereotypes to describe those on the opposite side of the religious/atheist divide (“aggressive atheists”, “religious fundamentalist “), understandings of other faiths were typically described as relatively good. To further illustrate this tension, we deploy ethnographic and interview-based observations from an inter-faith initiative that brings together Jewish and Muslim teenagers, but where the atheism of some Jewish participants has resulted in confusion, misunderstandings and friction. Reflecting on these findings, which form part of a longitudinal study funded by the European Research Council, we conclude that an effective social cohesion policy must move beyond a narrow focus on inter-faith relations, and create inclusive spaces for dialogue across the religious/atheist divide.