The last 15 years have seen a burgeoning of interfaith organizations in the UK, writes Abdul-Azim Ahmed, a UK-based researcher on contemporary Islam in Britain in On Religion (Winter 2015), a new independent magazine on religion and society.
According to Ahmed, there are today “hundreds” of interfaith organizations in Britain. Some of the early interfaith initiatives in Britain can be traced to liberal religious circles in the early 20th century. Ahmed also links the early emergence of interfaith interest to the growth of religious studies as a field, exemplified by a conference on “Religions of the Empire” at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 1924. But not all partners are equally equipped for interfaith work.
Besides established faiths, largely Christian, more recent faith communities in the UK are still in the process of building their institutions and must face many challenges. When the Inter Faith Network was launched in 1987, there were about 30 interfaith groups, often very local in their focus of building relationships across places of worship in a city. Subsequently, the growth has been rapid with nearly 100 in the year 2000, and around 240 in 2010. The acceleration at the local level has been marked after 2000; dramatic and violent events have shaped “a particular context for interfaith relations,” Ahmed observes.
An American import, “community organizing” is also now seen in the UK. It uses the social capital of various groups—including religious ones—to put pressure on authorities and businesses toward providing better service to the public. While such efforts are not based primarily on religious dialogue proper, they bring together various faith communities and contribute to building relationships. Among issues for the future of interfaith work, some suggest that it should become more inclusive of non-religious beliefs or that it should go towards “personalized inter-world view dialogue.”
(On Religion, http://www.onreligion.co.uk)