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There are a series of events in Belfast, Blackburn, Edinburgh, London and Milton Keynes to discuss and reflect on the implications of our research, and to disseminate our recommendations amongst policy-makers, journalists, academics and local communities.

When Words Fail: Why the media must 'get religion?' - Blackburn Cathedral, Wednesday 13th May 2015

This event – from 6.00 to 8.30 pm, preceded by light refreshments, will be held in collaboration with Lapido Media and Blackburn Cathedral. Please see the attachment for the full programme, and RSVP to by Saturday 9th May if you would like to attend. All are most welcome. 

Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties – New College, Edinburgh, 19 March 2015

This event, hosted with the generous collaboration of the School of Divinity (especially the Centre for Theology and Public Issues and the Religion and Ethics in the Making of War and Peace project) at the University of Edinburgh, provided an opportunity to discuss the implications of the report in a Scottish context. There were two sessions each introduced by a presentation from John Wolffe. 

In the first session Understanding and Addressing Sectarianism: Scottish Perspectives, the other speakers were Stewart J. Brown (University of Edinburgh), Dave Scott (Nil by Mouth) and Charlie Irvine (Place of Hope). Professor Brown explored the historical context of Scottish sectarianism, noting the legacy of mingled anger and guilt from the Irish Famine and industrial exploitation of working class, and suggested that there were significant parallels with the present-day situation of Muslims in response to the tragedies of Bosnia, Iraq and Syria. All religious people, however, felt threatened by militant secularism, a point developed by Dave Scott, who spoke of the ‘new sectarianism’ of secularists attacking religion. Contemporary sectarianism, he argued, has moved beyond religion, and urgently needs objective definition. Charlie Irvine acknowledged that the rhetoric of sectarianism had receded in recent years but discussed recent research that pointed to the continuation of ‘insider sectarianism’ which continues to stigmatize and ostracise particular groups. Download John Wolffe's introductory presentation  as a PDF file.

Issues explored in subsequent discussion included

  • the challenge of affirming diverse identities while avoiding incitement to hatred, especially in a cultural and political context where traditional ‘Protestant’ and ‘British’ identities are difficult to assert in a positive non-confrontational manner
  • the role of the media and the arts in peacebuilding
  • the continuing potential for the churches to make a positive contribution, especially through rediscovering ecumenism
  • the role of football and the continuing need for a stronger lead from the Scottish FA in addressing sectarianism
  • the interplay of sectarianism and gender issues, notably in the context of mixed marriages, and in the macho behaviour associated with football

In the second session Getting Religion: Informing Policy and Media Responses to Violence response to John Wolffe’s presentation were given by John Mason MSP (SNP, Glasgow Shettleston), Jolyon Mitchell (University of Edinburgh) and Mona Siddiqui (University of Edinburgh). John Mason urged the need for a healthy respect between religion and the state, in which neither side sought to control the other. He endorsed the report’s call for greater religious literacy and spoke of his own efforts both to make religion more understandable to secular politicians and to make religious people more aware of politics. Engagement with religious leaders, however, did not necessarily trickle down to the grass roots. Jolyon Mitchell adopted a visual approach, drawing the audience’s attention to a World War I memorial window in the very room where they were sitting, and inviting their reactions to a number of cartoons relating to the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings. He argued that more attention needs to be given to how people (literally) see things. Mona Siddiqui questioned the viability of ever getting the media to understand religion properly in the light of their persistent failure to do so over the last twenty years, and expressed her frustration that contemporary Western interest in Islam is primarily driven by fear of violence. She argued that the assertion that Muslims were hurt and alienated was both patronising and over-generalized, that radicalization was not necessarily rooted in alienation, and that talk of ‘moderate’ Muslims begged the fundamental question of what yardstick was being used to measure perceived moderation.   Download John Wolffe's introductory presentation  as a PDF file.

Issues explored in subsequent discussion included

  • the value of a Humanities approach  in stimulating critical and nuanced reflection on complex issues  the  need for academics to overcome intellectual snobbery when engaging with the media, as compromises as essential
  • the usefulness (or otherwise) of drawing parallels between the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and present-day Islamist-inspired terrorism
  • who (if anyone) has the right to define what is ‘real Islam’? – ISIS, Barack Obama, journalists and academics all have very different answers 
  • the need to see current events in the context of Europe’s own soul-searching in the quest for coherent post-Christian identities.

Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties

15th January 2015 - The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes

With Professor Adam Dinham (Goldsmiths, University of London), Professor Marie Gillespie (Department of Sociology, The Open University) and Professor John Wolffe (Department of Religious Studies, The Open University).

This event offered an opportunity to discuss the implications of our recently published ‘Religion, Security, and Global Uncertainties’ report, and complemented our other event on 6th January in London – which targeted the media, policy makers and practitioners – by providing an opportunity for more specifically academic reflection on the project and the potential for future related research.

In this event, we shared many research synergies as well as frustrations about how to impact effectively on policy-making and the media, with academics, policy-makers and journalists being described as ‘passing ships in the night’. Reflecting on the recent terrible Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, which had occurred the day following our event in Westminster, we discussed the ‘cyclical reproduction of insecurity’ that immediately follows such acts of terrorism. Rather than developing nuanced long-term strategies that consider the complex causality of specific attacks, it was observed how policy-makers often offer knee-jerk responses that can actually make the situation worse. Sections of the national media also respond with unhelpfully polarized debates between representatives with opposing extreme views. Such reports might make interesting viewing or reading, but they can reinforce and extenuate divides rather than being productive in identifying consensus and possible solutions. In such polarized representations, different sections of communities tend to be crudely pitched against each other in the same way that a simplified notion of a ‘secular West’ is pitched against a ‘religious Other’

Getting Religion - Challenging religious illiteracy in a time of global uncertainty

6th January 2015 - Portcullis House, Bridge Street, Westminster, London 

Panel members

Our panel (back row, left to right: Professor John Wolffe, Dr Mustafa Baig, Tom Holland and Dr Nick Isbister; front row, left to right: Professor Grace Davie, Caroline Wyatt, Betsy Hiel and Dr Marat Shterin).

This event in the heart of Westminster was hosted jointly with Lapido Media for whom it was their first annual consultation on religious literacy in world affairs. The event also represented our main public launch of the results of our year-long analysis of current university research thinking around issues of religion and security. Our shared key message centred on the need for us all to develop our religious literacy if we are to effectively understand and address the challenges that we face in a time of global uncertainty. With a particular focus on the media and conflict reportage, we were pleased that Caroline Wyatt, formerly BBC Defence and now Religion Correspondent, kindly agreed to moderate the event. Our eminent panellists - Dr Mustafa Baig, Professor Grace Davie, Betsy Hiel, Tom Holland and Dr Marat Shterin - scoped our present predicament from within several disciplines. Our 85 delegates represented a diverse constituency of policy-makers, academics, journalists and practitioners, and they were given the opportunity to discuss and recommend actions that may help inform awareness of religious issues in relation to security and global affairs.

The event was supported by the RCUK Partnership for Security, Crime and Research and sponsored by John Glen, MP (Conservative) and Dai Havard, MP (Labour) on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Uncertainties.

Watch videos of our report launch event  

Event presentations:

Media reports and commentaries:

Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties: Implications for local communities

26th November 2014 - Blackburn Cathedral, Cathedral Close, Blackburn

With many thanks to Anjum Anwar MBE, the Dialogue Development Officer at Blackburn Cathedral, we had a large and diverse constituency at our event at Blackburn Cathedral, with a wide range of views expressed. Professor John Wolffe began the proceedings with a presentation (see below) outlining our report, with reflections on the importance of considering ‘cultural’ or ‘soft’ security, and thus, the need for more work to be done to make people feel secure about their own identity and culture through nurturing a shared sense of belonging. 

This event took place at the time of the release of the official report on the murder of the Lee Rigby and the unveiling of a new counter-terrorism bill, both of which many participants believed have missed, ignored or underplayed crucial factors. The importance of religious education was one such factor. It is perhaps ironic that official recommendations are focussing on schools as areas of potential radicalisation at the same time that religious education is being drastically cut (for example, only 198 schools in Lancashire now teach it). To ensure that religious education was effective, however, it was argued that it should be inclusive of all faiths and equally accessible to those without faith. To this end, moral values should be advanced as related to our humanity and what it means to be a good human being, rather than being linked exclusively to religion. Religious education should also focus more on what religion means to individual people ‘in reality’ rather than about presenting stereotypical and idealised representations.

Yet it was also emphasised that developing religious literacy would not prevent religious violence. Some participants argued that many so-called jihadist terrorist attacks had much more to do with hostility to British foreign policy and the interventions of our security forces in Muslim-majority countries, than with any interpretation of religious texts. It was also generally felt that many local police and school initiatives were doing great work in Lancashire in terms of ‘cultural’ or ‘soft’ security, but that these were going in the opposite direction to – and being counteracted by – the hard security initiatives emanating from central government. So the importance of our research recommendations reaching these important agents was emphasised.  It was also argued that more attention should be given to the threat posed by the far right, with much new legislation being seen to only focus on so-called Islamic Jihadists.

Event presentations:


Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties: Implications for the Northern Ireland Churches

23rd October 2014 - The Open University, 110 Victoria Street, Belfast

In partnership with the Very Revd Dr Norman Hamilton in his capacity as Co-Convenor of the Church and Society Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, this event brought together academics, clergy and representatives of parachurch organisations, including the Evangelical Alliance and Irish Churches. The aim of this event was to assess the practical implications of our Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties research for Northern Ireland Churches. The outputs from this event can be found below.

Event presentations:

Blog commentary and reflections by Dr Gladys Ganiel, Associate Professor in Conflict Resolution & Reconciliation, Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin:

Contact us

Professor John Wolffe and Dr Gavin Moorhead

Department of Religious Studies
Faculty of Arts
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

Tel: +44(0)20 3076 0246

Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research