Rising government concern about pluralism, social cohesion, and the role of Islam in Europe and Canada has led to the establishment of several large and unprecedented research programs on religion in these nations.
When speaking of this trend at the SSSR meeting, sociologist Grace Davie noted that these national programs have “generated enormous activity and a new generation of scholars, although the research findings have not reached many lay people.” The largest programs include the Religion and Society program in Great Britain, with 75 separate projects; the Future of the Religious Past program in the Netherlands; VEIL in France; Religion, State and Society in Switzerland; the Role of Religion in the Public Sphere in Scandinavia; and Religion and Diversity in Ottawa, Canada.
The European Commission is also funding 22 projects that deal in some way with religion. There is often a large Islamic component to these programs; for instance, one-third of the projects in the Swiss program concern Muslims, even though they represent four percent of the population. But Davie argues that it is more than Muslim growth that is bringing the millions of euros to fund these programs. From the 1960s religion was largely ignored if not invisible in the public sphere, but in the 1980s and 1990s there was increased visibility to religion, even though it was seen as a “problem to be solved …. Now religion is viewed as a resource to be used,” as in the case of faith-based social services.
But while religion is re-emerging in public debate, the “increasingly religiously illiterate public don’t have a clue to what is happening,” Davie adds. The problem of getting the results of the research from these programs to lay people and religious groups is not helped by the media, which are often more “story-focused” rather than concerned with research, Davie concludes.