Friday 27 January 2012

Linda Woodhead on Religion in the Public Square

Linda Woodhead, ‘Restoring Religion to the Public Square: Faith’s Role in Civil Society’, The Tablet (28 January 2012).

One of the sample articles in this week’s The Tablet is by Linda Woodhead, on religion in the public square. Woodhead has been the director of a £12 million research project on ‘Religion and Society’, and she promises that some results of the research will be aired in future issues of The Tablet as well as through a series of ‘Faith Debates’ to be held in Westminster in the Spring.

At one point in this article, she draws an interesting analogy with feminism:

‘For decades, feminists battled to correct the distortion whereby the “male gaze” determined what was seen in history, literature, politics, and even the laboratory. The broadening of perspective that resulted changed the way we view the world. Now another revolution is needed: one to correct the secular gaze that airbrushes religion away. It’s a crazily narrow-minded approach, which has to turn a blind eye to the luxuriantly variegated religiosity of most of the world, and ignore the past. Including our own.’

Reminding us of four of the ‘most momentous events of our times’ – the revolution in Iran, the collapse of Communism, the attacks of 9/11, the Arab Spring – she notes the somewhat obvious point that ‘all had to do with religion as well as politics’.

Woodhead thinks there are some signs of change in higher education:

‘Students are now more openly interested in religion, and a new generation of academics is taking the subject more seriously, even in traditionally secular disciplines... [E]ven with British and other European students, there has been a shift since I started teaching in the early 1990s. They don’t carry the baggage about religion that their predecessors did. Often they carry no baggage at all: they are simply ignorant about religion. But their interest, and their open-mindedness, makes them eager for knowledge.’

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