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Spiritual Progression in Economic Recession?

Spiritual Progression in Economic Recession?

17 March 11

Exploring the relationship between economic downturn and religious and spiritual life in the UK in the next 10 years, the Centre for Faiths and Public Policy, University of Chester

To listen to sessions of the conference and view presentations, find links on this and subsequent pages. Sessions 2-4 can be accessed at the bottom of the page.

Keynote Contributors

  • Professor Ali Saeidi [University of Tehran]
  • Professor Linda Woodhead [Director, AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme]
  • Francis Davis [Young Foundation]
  • John Devine [Churches’ Officer for the North-West]
  • Anna Thompson [The Message Trust]
  • Dr Musharraf Hussain [Karimia Project, Nottingham]
  • Mary Dowson [Dances of Universal Peace]
  • Professor Peter Gilbert [University of Staffordshire]
  • Dr Giselle Vincett [University of Edinburgh]


A day conference was held at Chester University on 17th March 2010 to explore the relationship between economic downturn and religious and spiritual life in the UK, looking forward from the present to the next 10 years. It was supported by the William Temple Foundation, Leverhulme Trust, the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme, and the University of Kent.

“the current economic downturn … an opportunity or a serious challenge for faith?”

Building on existing conferences and research, speakers and participants had gathered to consider whether the current economic downturn presented an opportunity or a serious challenge for faith, religious bodies, and faith-based organizations (FBOs). Speakers came from a range of different faiths, both institutional and non-institutional. Religious leaders, academics, practitioners and economists were present.

A wide range of views were expressed. Some felt that the withdrawal of state funding from many FBOs would have a seriously negative impact on their ability to deliver services and help people. Others felt that such withdrawal would end an era of dependence on the state, and present an opportunity for religious bodies to free themselves from state control and ‘interference’. Some speakers from a range of different religious communities felt that thought this would encourage a return to the ‘core business’ of religion – i.e. cultivating spiritual and moral growth and solidarity.  Others thought that it would promote more ‘social enterprise’, i.e. faiths turning to self-sustaining and financing initiatives.

Discussion touched on welfare and policy in a wide range of areas, including support for the poor and socially excluded, healthcare, healing and hospices, educational activities, and ‘wellbeing’ more generally.  Standing back and taking a broader view, there was also reflection on whether religion’s (especially the historic churches’) longstanding links with the state and politics was now giving way in importance to religion’s engagements with the market. Examples of how new forms of spirituality are taking advantage of opportunities which this presents to, for example, offer new forms of healing and healthcare, and new forms of business activity and ‘work ethic’ were discussed. The growing diversity of religion in the UK was a further factor which must be taken into account: ‘church and state’ is no longer the only topic of importance.

One area which was highlighted for further discussion was the ‘economics of religion’ – how faith bodies sustain themselves financially in a period of economic recession. Chester University will organize a further conference on this theme.

 Professor Linda Woodhead [Director, AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme]

Religion’s return to the public stage

Listen or download the podcast here.

Website: www.wtf.org.uk 

Chris Baker, Director of the Centre for Faiths and Public Policy, introduced the Conference with a summary of research recently completed by the William Temple Foundation with financial backing from the Leverhulme Trust. Entitled “Faith and Traditional Capitals: Redefining the Public Scope of Religious Capital”, this conference would pick up some the themes explored in that research, addressing issues of religion and spirituality engaging with public life.

“becoming, leading to belonging, leading to participation …”

The study appeared to confirm similar recent American studies in showing that belonging to religious groups, rather than believing, motivates neighbourliness and civil engagement. A process of transformation of identities can be observed in the individual’s religious and spiritual progress from becoming, to belonging, and to participation in society. Today’s conference will explore whether such processes are heightened in a period of economic recession.

“I think the UK is in the mood for bit of humility.”

Linda Woodhead spoke of it being time for a bit of national humility. We had a welfare state of which we had been very proud, which we believed had put us at the cutting edge of progress. Now that utopian outlook was in something of a crisis. It was time for us to realise that other parts of the world had different ways of organising society. The first speaker had been deliberately chosen to bring an understanding of different models of the state and welfare, including that of his home country, Iran.

An international perspective on welfare systems

Listen or download the podcast here.

Listen or download the podcast of the question and answer session following the lecture here.

Dr Ali Saeidi is Associate Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social Planning at the University of Tehran. He began his keynote lecture with a general observation that social policy in any society derives from particular characteristics of its peoples, for instance American society’s embracing of risk. He moved on to raise questions about the relationship between rights and the structuring of society, questioning the necessity for nations to follow the stages in which social policy had developed in European countries.

Iran’s period of economic downturn had resulted in family units being drawn closer together to support, for instance, unemployed younger family members. There had also been growth in non-state organisations providing social welfare. He proceeded to analyse the development of social welfare provision in post-revolution Iran, including the role of faith-based organisations.

Access the rest of the conference sessions:

Session 2

Sesssion 3

Session 4

Report and podcasts compiled by Norman Winter. Recordings of the conference sessions are substantially complete, but may have been edited in small ways for technical and other reasons.

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