Religion and the Public Sphere is an interdisciplinary blog that seeks to explore the place and role of religion in British public life today. Posts on this blog will explore how religion does and doesn’t matter in British public life, and how it should and shouldn’t.
The point is to know religion a bit better, not simply as believers or disbelievers in specific tenets of faith, and not simply as insiders to one or another specific community of practice and meaning, but as members of the public.
The idea of the public involves common interests and communication among strangers. Strangers means of course people we literally don’t know, but also people with whom we do not share a close communal bond of common relationship. When Muslims meet Christians and Jews, when atheists meet those with faith in God it is in a public realm where we must navigate not having complete cultural or social commonality. Accordingly, we may not know what the others take for granted or as proven, or what the others deem most important. It may turn out that in fact we share many very important interests – in peace and prosperity or family and freedom. It may turn out there are some crucial differences between us, though not the ones we might have thought. But we don’t know this if we don’t communicate and if we don’t learn.
If religion is kept out of public life and interaction, then we don’t learn. If public communication about religion is dominated too one-sidedly by one religion, then we don’t learn what we might about others – even about what they share. If public communication is dominated by those who wish only to argue stridently for the superiority of their religion and neither listen nor carefully explain, then we don’t learn.
But when we bring religion into public discourse, we reveal not just facts about each religion. The public sphere is not simply a religious literacy class. In public discussions we communicate perspectives with which to see and understand all of what is important in public. This may include the views of different religious people on the morality of money, on the justice or injustice of war, the rightness of humanitarian assistance to those who suffer, what obligations we owe to the poor, or (though this isn’t mainly a religious question) whether Britain should stay in the EU.
This blog is a companion to a series of public lectures and dialogues at LSE, led by the school’s Director Professor Craig Calhoun along with Professor Matthew Engelke and Revd Dr James Walters. The people we are inviting to speak and to write have very different views and backgrounds. We hope to support a richer conversation, not consensus or conformity.
Esther Kersley is editor of the Religion and Public Sphere blog. Esther previously worked as a Research Officer at peace and security think tank Oxford Research Group where she edited their Remote Warfare blog. She has also worked for the NGO Transparency International and counter terrorism think tank Quilliam. Esther has an MSc in Conflict Studies from the LSE and a BA in Politics from SOAS.
The views expressed on Religion and the Public Sphere reflect the views and opinions of individual contributors. The articles posted have been reviewed for content and seek to support academic integrity and dialogue. This blog does not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the London School of Economics and Political Science.