Feb 18 2015

Leadership for the Post-secular Age

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On Wednesday 24th February we welcomed Dr Georgette Bennett to the LSE Faith Centre, to speak on the theme of Leadership for the Post-secular Age. You can read articles by Georgette Bennett here and her role in founding the Tanenbaum Foundation here. She also started the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, an interfaith response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

DSC_0389This event was a wonderful occasion. Georgette Bennett highlighted the severity of our current global situation regarding religion-related violence, but – crucially – she provided many heartwarming examples of constructive responses to these problems; desirable examples of Leadership for the Post-secular Age, like that LSE Faith Centre seeks to encourage and foster.

A podcast of the event is available here:


Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Feb 2 2015

Is Inequality Sinful?

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Barbara Ridpath - Headshot (web)

Barbara Ridpath, Director of the St Paul’s Institute

On Friday 23rd January, the LSE Faith Centre hosted the webstreaming of a conference held in Trinity Church on New York’s Wall Street, entitled ‘Creating Common Good’. Here, the Director of the St Paul’s Institute, one of the collaborating organisations, offers some reflections on the day’s proceedings. 

Last Friday at a seminar at Trinity Wall Street in New York entitled Creating Common Good [1] (simulcast in part at the London School of Economics in a collaboration between St Mary-Le-Bow, JustShare, St Paul’s Institute and the LSE Faith Centre) the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke on the topic Is Inequality Sinful? His arguments were largely about economic inequality but taken to their logical limit, Archbishop Justin issued a real challenge to the Church, particularly within days of the consecration of the first woman bishop in the Church of England. Which kinds of inequality should concern us? Is that inequality of opportunity or inequality of outcome? Does it apply only to economic inequality, dealing with the traditional biblical issue of the rich and poor, or is it wider and broader dealing also with the poor in spirit?

On Monday of the same week, Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, spoke in the House of Lords about why the strong need the weak.[2] His views emphasize the need to consider equality in terms of strength and spirit, access and voice of the differently able, the weak and the strong. And what about equality of gender and sexuality; how are we to deal with these issues? How equal are women in today’s society? And what about members of the LGBTI community, who have done far better in society as a whole than they have in the established church, but still have a long way to go to feel they are equally treated in society?

It is telling that the Archbishop’s homily at the service preceding the conference at Trinity Wall Street, was considerably more explicit than his remarks at the conference. ‘[Jesus] does not permit us to accept a society in which the weak are excluded (whether because of race, wealth, gender, ability, or sexuality),’ [3] he said.  In his talk at the conference he demonstrated numerous Biblical references to the idea ‘We are all equal’ under creation and in the eyes of God. ‘Inequality contrasts with the basic equality before God,’ he told us.


A highlight of the day was Canon Mark Oakley asking a question to the panel in New York via Skype, all the way from the 8th Floor of the New Academic Building

We need to treat each other as equals and work for equality for all because of the Biblical imperative, but there are other reasons as well. We need to know and love and celebrate those who are different from ourselves. That is what makes for both community and understanding. We need to accept and celebrate the gift of our differences as God given, and because they are what makes us human; what makes us ‘us.’

Paradoxically, the Church struggles with these issues as much or more than society as a whole. In this, all of us, including the Church, need to recognize our failings, our weaknesses and our imperfections as also part of what makes us part of the human family. We need to recognize, but not to accept them as an excuse for doing nothing. In spite of our weaknesses and our failings, we must listen for understanding on how we can all foster equality for all.

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Jan 5 2015

Craig Calhoun on a Postsecular Future

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LSE Director Professor Craig Calhoun speaks on a number of short videos uploaded on the William Temple Foundation Youtube channel, in which he discusses various aspects of faith, postsecularity and contemporary society. These are well worth a watch to wet your appetite for the coming year of activities in the LSE Faith Centre!


For more information on the William Temple Foundation click here, and for a reminder of Prof. Calhoun’s contribution to the Faith Centre opening event click here.

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Dec 16 2014

Interfaith Week: How I learned to go with the flow

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Mary Leong partaking in a traditional Vancouverite activity: yoga in the ocean

The LSE Student’s Union organised a variety of events in and around the Faith Centre for Interfaith Week 2015. The SU Communications Officer Mary Leong shares her experiences of meditation here, where she found herself pleasantly surprised after a Meditation Session in The Cave – a space within the Faith Centre designed for students to use for contemplation, reflection and meditation


There’s an awful lot about religion in the news and it’s not always positive. The protracted Israel-Palestine conflict, massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, persecution of Uyghurs and Christians in China, increased conflation of religion and state power in many countries – the list goes on.

While root causes can’t be reduced solely to religion, it continues to play a large role in states’ justification of violence and conflict.


LSE’s Interfaith Week was a chance for students of all faiths (or none) to engage about religion, culture, and spirituality in an open, inclusive, and non-intimidating forum. I was sent to participate in a meditation session, and hopefully, learn something in the process…

Meditation, I scoffed. As a former sales assistant in an aromatherapy store, I had encountered my fair share of customers trying to tell me about my chakras. That was about the extent to which my relationship with zen had progressed over the years. I didn’t purposefully shy away from the spiritual, but didn’t see – or make – room for it in my life.

Part of my reluctance to engage was discomfort with the way “trendy” New Age practices have evolved and divorced with their historical, cultural, and spiritual significance. In Vancouver, where I’m from, there are (very expensive!) yoga studios and juice bars on every street corner. Wellness and spirituality have become commodities that signify a certain – mostly white, upper-middle class – aspirational lifestyle, and frankly I just wasn’t keen to participate in it.

On a personal level, the idea of taking time out to be alone with my thoughts was a little frightening. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in the Cave, a dimly-lit room in the Faith Centre adorned by rope-knit beanbag seats and candles. In the back of my mind, a niggling thought remained: What if I’m doing it wrong? Can you even do meditation wrong? 


My fears turned out to be, thankfully, unfounded. I was pleasantly surprised when the session largely featured breathing and visualization exercises, both of which I was quite familiar with, thanks to ongoing efforts to cope with anxiety through those methods. I was also heartened when the session ended with a series of readings from Sufism, Buddhism, and Kabbalah on the importance of mindfulness and interpersonal relationships.

Now, I’m not saying that meditation is going to become a major part of my life from here on. I certainly didn’t transcend to some higher mental state or have some sort of spiritual awakening, but the idea of just taking time out to find some inner peace and quiet doesn’t intimidate me as much any more.

For all my scepticism, Interfaith Week provided a gateway for me (and hopefully other students) to open up to new ideas and experiences. I’m glad that it pushed me to do something outside my comfort zone that challenged me and my assumptions.


Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Dec 9 2014

Mutually Supportive Connectedness on the Interfaith Buddies Scheme

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Catherine Whittle

This term saw the pilot run of the new Interfaith Buddies scheme, fostering constructive encounters and engagements between LSE students of different faiths and belief systems in the context of small discussion groups. Here, Anthropology and Law student Catherine Whittle shares some experiences and reflections on the scheme, and highlights the importance of staying interconnected, especially when it comes to offering mutual support in challenging times. 

Huddled by my Advent candle on this chilly December evening, I’m enjoying the novelty of having just posted a Facebook poll asking a Catholic, an agnostic, a Muslim and a Buddhist when they’re all free for our Christmas dinner. Can’t say I saw that coming.

Frankly I’d be hard pushed to think of four lectures I’ve been to that were as enlightening and intellectually stimulating as the four hours I’ve spent with my Interfaith Buddies group. I’ll share a few highlights that educated me:


-          I tentatively asked my new Catholic friend if Catholics pray to Mary and not directly to God. From my evangelical/Baptist background, praying to Mary is not the done thing, and a distant memory from my childhood of hearing my Catholic grandmother open a prayer with ‘Hail Mary’ had roused my curiosity. Her emphatic response: “No, we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I could have cheered and applauded. It seems the ‘personal relationship’ is not the exclusive domain of Protestantism; thank goodness. Actually, the idea of encouraging children to pray to Mary as a more approachable, maternal figure doesn’t seem like the worst idea.

-          The lesser jihad, a holy war to resist those oppressing the Islamic community, is not so significant as the greater jihad: the war raging within yourself against darkness and temptation, the fight to choose the right path. And regardless, I am told, the lesser jihad in no way justifies the actions of the so-called Islamic State, at least in the view of many Muslims. (I wondered if this would come up. None of us mentioned it until our Muslim member broached the subject.) Further, within Islam even smiling at someone is an act of charity. I like this logic under which those without financial means can also be charitable. It taps into my understanding that generosity is more about spirit and relationship than finance.

-          Buddhist meditation is about understanding our emotions, being at one with them and exercising control that we might not be overcome by them. This practice means that any event of life is not too much for us, however difficult; there is more to our existence and we need not be overwhelmed. Secondly, a prominent Thai festival involves dedicating a day to throw water over anyone and everyone you happen to come across as an act of sharing blessing and good fortune. Really, anyone. The government have told those who don’t want to get wet to stay at home. Can you imagine the influx of common assault charges if we tried the same thing here?

-          Burning paper representations of gifts for late relatives and ancestors is still practiced in China, though perhaps not so commonly as in times gone by. Some of us expected this having seen the odd (commonly ethnocentric) documentary, but we didn’t realise that the paper gifts burned for the dead can include servants, or that these gifts can be intriguingly labelled, ‘Made in Hell’. I also heard my first stories of people seeing the ghosts of their recently deceased relatives, which as an Anthropology student is quite exciting. I am challenged to consider how far my theology can stretch to accommodate a diversity of human experience, and where the boundaries lie between faith, reason, tradition and culture.

Possibly the seminal moment of my Interfaith Buddies experience for me, however, has been the human connection of our group, diverse as we are, getting to know each other. One member of our group is facing a difficult time at the moment with her mother being very ill. Recently her mum underwent a serious operation, and through our Facebook group she asked us all to “pray/meditate/wish a lot…” for her mum. If I could crystallise Interfaith Buddies into a moment, it would be this. Five people from with very different histories, and often contrasting beliefs, remembering and supporting one another in any way we know how – we petition our God, a higher power, the Universe; we hope, in the interests of another. And so this other becomes less ‘Other’ and more ‘Person’, like me, who needs support, like me.

LSE’s Interfaith Buddies programme is similar to a programme run by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, whose mission is to “help people build relationships across divisions of conflict, culture and religion”. I have felt peace and reconciliation within our group. I might even go as far as saying that our meetings have given me hope that our world could one day find peace and reconciliation. That, from my faith perspective, humanity and the rest of creation could live in the ‘shalom’ (wholeness, peace) of God that I seek for myself and often struggle to extend to others. I regret that I have not always seen past my own prejudice or ignorance. I hope we may over time rediscover our true humanity, a humanity that is always shared. And above all, I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to outgrow my preconceptions, to learn from others and to consider how much we have in common. There is much about which we agree.

“Life is never about being correct, but only and always about being connected. Just stay connected! At all costs stay connected. Our only holiness is by participation and surrender to the Body of Love, and not by any private performance. This is the joining of hands from generation to generation that can still change the world—and will. Because Love is One, and this Love is either shared and passed on or it is not the Great Love at all.”– Richard Rohr’s Meditation: The Eternal Home of Love. Centre for Action and Contemplation

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Nov 4 2014

Planting the seeds of wisdom at the Faith Centre official opening

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s200_jacob phillips (1) (2)The official opening of the LSE Faith Centre featured a dialogue between former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, and renowned sociologist Prof. Bruno Latour, chaired by the LSE Director Prof. Craig Calhoun, on the theme of Religion and the Environment. In this post the Faith Centre Coordinator Jacob Phillips highlights the resonances between some of the themes of this discussion and the work of the LSE Faith Centre itself. 

The official opening of the LSE Faith Centre featured a discussion between Rowan Williams and Bruno Latour on  religion and the environment, chaired by the LSE Director Craig Calhoun. At first glance, this could seem a little incongruent; the apparently disparate themes of religion and ecology being hotly debated in a centre for religious observance and interfaith encounter in an institution which specialises in economics. However, these factors connected and intertwined in a remarkable fashion throughout the discussion, making this event a very fitting one to mark the opening of the Centre.  The Faith Centre is a place to explore one’s own tradition and encounter other traditions, to have ungrounded fears and presuppositions challenged, and to experience new insights and realisations, and uncover unseen aspects of one’s own standpoint. Throughout the dialogue between Williams and Latour, these aspects to the work of the LSE Faith Centre recurred frequently, as both thinkers approached religion and the environment in terms of challenging presuppositions, bringing fresh clarity and realisation to our approaches, and uncovering implicit or hidden aspects of religion as a resource for meeting the challenges of the impending ecological crisis. In short, many of the virtues required as a response to the ecological crisis, are related to aspects of the work of the Faith Centre itself. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Oct 31 2014

Making our LSE community one that exports peace

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Community and Welfare Officer and Alumnus Seb Bruhn attended We are All Human at the LSE Faith Centre, and records his impressions in this post. He concludes that if we can be more open to sincerely respecting and trying to relate to the struggles of people from other backgrounds, then we will perhaps get both a more truthful and holistic understanding of the global situation. 

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend ‘We are all human: Interfaith Perspectives on Troubled Times’. It was a fascinating panel event hosted by the LSE Faith Centre, with speakers Mustafa Field from the Faiths Forum for London and Sister Christine Frost, both renowned for their work on community cohesion. This event and its message, which was largely a response to recent incidents, resonated deeply with me, compelling me to write this blog that you are now reading. Its encouragement of organic interfaith dialogue and inclusion of anecdotes helped to remind me of the acute importance of mutual understanding and maintaining hope in these volatile and ever changing times.  Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Oct 15 2014

We are all Human podcast now online!

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On Monday 13th October the Faith Centre was delighted to present,

We are are all Human: Interfaith Perspectives on Troubled Times


Our guest speakers were two highly experienced interfaith workers, Mustafa Field MBE (Director the Three Faiths Forum) and Sister Christine Frost MBE (Interfaith Community Worker in East London). Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Sep 24 2014

Don’t Import Conflict, Export Peace

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In our first post of the new academic year, LSE Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser the Revd James Walters sets out a vision of the LSE as a place that does not import conflict, but exports peace – and introduces an exciting new Faith Centre initiative, Interfaith Buddies.     

A much-discussed topic in social science is the extent to which it is possible for a researcher to stand outside the field of study. Can you adopt a neutral position from which to observe what’s going on? Is it possible not to be in some way involved?

Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Jun 4 2014

Faith Centre hosts ‘Europe’s most radical nun’

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On Thursday 29 May the Faith Centre welcomed Sister Teresa Forcades to speak on the topic of ‘Faith and Politics’.

teresa 2Described by the BBC as ‘Europe’s most radical nun’, Sister Teresa Forcades is a Benedictine nun and prominent social activist in her native Catalonia. She has studied in America and in Spain holding doctorates in theology and public health. A controversial critic of Government, Capitalism and her own Church, Sister Teresa has gained an international reputation as a left wing public intellectual and campaigner.


To listen to Sister Teresa’s talk please click play below or download as a podcast.

Click to play or Download mp3

In association with the LSE Forum on Religion

Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin