From “Christian Nation” to a Multi-faith Society: Reimagining Religion in Multicultural Britain
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 3:10 PM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York)
At the end of the Second World War, England’s status as a “Christian nation” was unquestioned, so much so that the religious education provisions of the 1944 Education Act saw no need to specify that the “religion” in question would be Christianity. By the early twenty-first century, there was general assent that England had become a multi-faith society committed to the free practice of all religions. This paper will trace the emergence of the idea and implementation of the idea of Britain as a religiously plural society. I focus my analysis on the role played by the mainstream churches of England in extending the institutional privileges that they enjoyed (for example, dedicated space in religious education curricula and access to the airwaves for religious broadcasts) to the new religious communities of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs that developed in the wake of post-colonial immigration in the second half of the twentieth century. As chairman of the National Committee on Commonwealth Immigrants from 1965 to 1968, the archbishop of Canterbury took a keen interest in the integration of Britain's new religious communities into British society. Anglican clergy took on similarly important roles at the local level. This pursuit of social integration and commitment to religious pluralism did not so much level the religious playing field as further secure the position of the Church of England as the state church. In the seventeenth-century, the Church of England’s establishment had been conceived in terms of guaranteeing religious uniformity. By the early twenty-first century, observers both inside and outside of the Church of England had come to see its national role as protecting the practice of all faiths.
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