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Using religious history to promote social cohesion

This research by a team in The Open University’s Religious Studies department, has identified and promoted the key role that religious history can play in promoting social cohesion.

Key impacts include:

Nurturing a sense of belonging, and mutual respect, between communities in London, Lancashire and Northern Ireland.

Alerting journalists, national policymakers and the public to the importance of historically-informed religious literacy as a means of avoiding misunderstanding and potential conflict.

Significantly contributing to the preservation and public accessibility of important Muslim and Anglican religious archives.

What this research has done

This research has identified and promoted the key role that understanding the history of a religion, and the experiences that have shaped the perspectives of its members, plays in promoting a sense of identity and social cohesion.

Working in collaboration with faith and community groups, the research team has carried out public engagement activities in London, Lancashire and Northern Ireland which, participants and community and faith leaders testify, have promoted a sense of belonging and mutual respect.

There has been considerable engagement with young people through activities in schools. These include an event at Burnley Campus to engage with students in the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, and activities which encouraged Urswick School in Hackney to develop their own museum celebrating a sense of shared institutional history.

The research demonstrates that knowledge of religious history is important for those of all faiths, and none. Historical awareness is key to religious literacy, which is increasingly recognised as being essential to counteract the ignorance and prejudice that fuels community divisions, and to encourage appreciation of shared and complementary identities.

Professor John Wolffe, The Open University

The work has also alerted religious groups to the value of their historical records, prompting a number to deposit their archives, and contributed to decisions by two major religious organisations to make substantial investments in archival preservation and accessibility.

The East London Mosque has archived their extensive collections documenting the Muslim presence in London back to the early 20th century, raising £50,000 to create the first purpose-built facility in the UK for storing Muslim historical records.

And the research also made a significant contribution to demonstrating the importance of history for the mission of the Church of England.

The Church Commissioners were persuaded to invest £23.5 million in a new building for Lambeth Palace Library, which houses the historic books and archives of the Church of England, regarded as ‘the most important religious collection outside the Vatican’.

At national policy level, research leader Professor John Wolffe has given presentations to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education and is cited in its report Improving Religious Literacy: A Contribution to the Debate.

Research publications

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