Professor Mona Siddiqui OBE Professor of Islamic and Inter-
Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
The Fifth annual Vincent Strudwick Lecture on Religion in Public Life
from Kellogg College, University of Oxford , sponsored by the
Graduate Theological Foundation.
At St Anthony’s College, Inverstcorp Lecture Theatre 14 November
Professor Jonathan Michie, President of Kellogg College welcomed the audience on behalf of the College, and Professor Jane Shaw, Visiting Kellogg Fellow and Professor of Religious Studies and Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University, introduced the speaker.
Précis and Extract:
‘I am not looking at religion in general, but at two particular living religions, Christianity and Islam, in UK and west as a whole including North America.
In modernity the values of historic Christianity have been eroded from public life. In the 20th century Great Britain lost its historic identity as a Protestant nation, and the culture was separated from its formation, and became closed to meta-physical world views. Faith became just one possibility among many – and a private matter.
Secularism, fed increasingly by social media, became the champion of individual freedom, creating a ‘safe place’ for all, against the perceived intolerance of past religious values, at whose door past social conflict and intolerance was laid.
More recently, as bad fanatical Islamic religion raised the profile of religion in public life in the West again, Islam itself has been demonised as not just a religious, but also a political threat to the West.
The tragedy of 9/11 became a symbol of the myth that secularism is rational and peacemaking and pitted against fanatical violent extremists, creating a new global political tension.
Then as violence spread in the Middle East, refugees flooded into Europe, and Muslim migration to the USA increased. In the media, Christian and Muslim were pitted against each other in a phoney battle in which the reality of both religions has been lost to the public heart and mind.
‘The separation between religion and state has artificially compartmentalised religion, doing violence to its nature, and re-enforcing a static, rarefied conception of religious traditions, rather than revealing their dynamic inner nature’. There is an enormous gap between what Muslim once were, and where they find themselves at the centre of anger and humiliation.
In public life, multi-culturalism has failed in allowing protection for minority faiths, while Christianity has no protection from ridicule in the arts, media and general public discourse. Religious voices come together as a collective voice of conscience against the States laws on a wide range of issues such as marriage, or the right of sexual minorities; but they speak as moral authorities only like any other interest group.
The political message – at its most extreme perhaps in France – is about enforcing secular orthodoxy in the public sphere. The banning of the hijab and the niqab from public places like beaches, means that the beach, like the school, is now a space for the moral education of Muslims in how to be secular.
Yet those who claim that their relationship with God is prior to their relationship with the State, have no way of proclaiming their Muslim identity any more than Christian do.
So how may it be proclaimed ?
Firstly by a strong benevolent religious faith which has a solidarity with other faiths in fuelling divine human kindness through advocacy, education and conversation.
In the recent Presidential election in the USA religion and race mattered far more than many would like to admit. The Gospel of the religious right is not good for poor people, But where should the Gospel of Jesus be heard ? Just in church, or in public life ?
As a British comedian Paul Merton asked ‘ What would Donald Trump have had to say in order to lose the election ?’
Radical faith in which we feel God’s mercy is present within us, needs expression in our struggle for a more just and compassionate society. It is in this life, which is ‘charged with the grandeur of God’ that people of faith have certain values that may transform society’s thinking. We may have differences, but we have a shared basic allegiance.
The truth is that cultures and life styles do not clash. It is human beings with their own interests and ambitions and tribal interests who cause conflict.
Friendship across our religious and cultural boundaries is a mode of hospitality that defines humanity and to which we need to commit ourselves; it is a commitment not a ‘chemistry’, for it lies at the very core of our humanity.
The talk was followed by lively question and debate. Professor Alistair Ross, Dean of Kellogg College, thanked Professor Siddiqui for her talk together with the GTF sponsors of the series.