Diversity in Contemporary British Society- Diversity implies a wide range of conditions and characteristics. Diversity encompasses visible and non-visible individual differences. Race- Britain today is a multi-cultural society, meaning that on a whole we are more accepting than we would have been 60-70 years. 2 in 4 children under the age of 10 in Britain are an ethnic minority. Equality Non discriminatory practice, no matter someone’s social factor they must not have their right taken from them, they must have equality and not be judged.
Discriminatory practice stereotyping; you must not pre-judge someone on the way they look, speak or who they. They must be treated with equality and diversity. Labelling and prejudice. You must not treat someone different because of prejudice or labelling they might not be who you think they are. They must be treated with equality and diversity. Culture- According to Social Trends (1989), less than twenty per cent of the population are members of religious organisations. Pg282.
Ethnicity- Christianity has been a major factor in shaping our society’s religious, cultural and legal heritage, although throughout past centuries some people of other faiths have also been present in these islands. For example, the Jewish community has had a longstanding presence. In contemporary British society there are now, alongside Christians and Jews, also substantial numbers of British Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, along with significant smaller religious groups, such as Baha’is, Jains and Zoroastrians, and many other religious movements too.
As well as people with a religious faith there are many who are not committed to any religious tradition. These include people who would define themselves as being entirely secular or as atheist, but also those who might describe themselves as not being formally ‘religious’ but would nonetheless see life as having a spiritual dimension. Everyone in the UK has “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”; and “freedom, either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.
While the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is absolute, the right to manifest a religion or belief is a qualified one. 2 Nevertheless, these freedoms ensure that all British citizens can play an active role in contributing to the common good and helping shape our shared public life, motivated by their particular convictions and bringing to bear the perspectives of different faiths and beliefs. The experience of recent years suggests that this diversity, while aspects of it present real challenges, does not need to be a barrier to sharing together fruitfully in our common social life and indeed can be a positive strength.
quite properly, to be the subject of continuing debate. There are some who would prefer to relegate religion to the purely private sphere. Yet British society has never been, and is not now, a wholly secular one, in the sense of excluding religious faith from the public domain. Rather, there has always been a dynamic relationship between public life and religious faith. This has been exemplified in the historic establishment of the Church of England and the status of the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national Church. There is no ‘national’ Church in either Wales (following
the disestablishment in 1920 of the Church of Wales) or in Northern Ireland. This variety reflects the different histories of engagement between religion and the state within the UK. Today, not only the Christian Churches, but also communities of other faiths engage in the ‘public square’, and with its largely secular social and political institutions. This evolving relationship is reflected, for example, in the longstanding inclusion of Religious Education in the school curriculum and the important changes in the content of this over recent years to reflect the UK’s greater religious diversity.
Most religious traditions have both a personal and a public dimension and invite their believers to follow a way of life which shapes not only their personal lives and relationships but also the way they contribute to wider society. In a few cases, members of a religious group will believe that it is inconsistent with their spiritual practice to become involved in the political process. Their viewpoint needs to be respected. But most people of faith want to engage, alongside others, in the activities of the ‘public square’. For some this will take the form of direct involvement in the
political process, while for others ‘active citizenship’ will be expressed mainly through voluntary service to the community. But all of them will bring their personal faith to bear in varying ways in their contribution to public life. In recent years there has been an increased recognition of the contribution which the various faith communities make to our shared public life. The leaders of faith communities have generally welcomed the increased engagement which has developed with Government, both central and local, and with other public institutions.
Faith communities have an important and legitimate role to play within society through contributing to the formation and implementation of public policy, and in providing services both to their own members and to the community more generally. They have been playing a significant part in the regeneration of socially and economically disadvantaged communities. To make a positive contribution to society, people of different faiths and cultures need to feel safe and secure. Too many people still suffer discrimination, harassment and even physical assault simply because of their perceived racial or religious identity.
People also need to feel valued as members of a just society where their contribution is appreciated and actively sought and where account is taken, as far as possible, of their needs and aspirations in a way which goes beyond grudging tokenism. Those barriers of discrimination and inequality which prevent full participation in the affairs of society need to be tackled with a greater sense of urgency. The recent enactment of legislation to prohibit discrimination on grounds of religion or belief in the employment field and in the delivery of goods and services is a potentially helpful contribution towards this goal. Identity Being a ‘citizen’.
There is at present much discussion about what is involved in being a ‘citizen’ and about related questions of ‘identity’ and ‘belonging’. To be a ‘citizen’ is to be a member of a particular society with the right to political participation in it. British citizens are co-owners of our society and share the responsibility for shaping its future, working together for the common good. Importantly, in Britain there are democratic institutions which give expression to this shared responsibility and through which its citizens can influence the evolving framework of law and can contribute to the forming and implementation of public policy.
The institutions of the state may not always operate in an ideal way and will need to be adapted from time to time to reflect changing circumstances in appropriate ways in order to maintain the loyalty of its citizens. But it is important for citizens to support and protect the democratic character of these institutions against those who seek to undermine them, whether from without or within. Engagement with the political process enables citizens to join together in the task of charting the way forward for this society, both locally and nationally, and in helping to solve the difficult and complex problems it faces.
This involves a constant process of interaction and renegotiation as the road ahead unfolds. This process of engagement needs to be open to all and to provide room for robust and passionate argument where members of society feel able to express their feelings, concerns and fears. An individual’s sense of belonging is linked to their understanding of their identity, which is in turn linked to their history and family roots. Accompanying the debate on ‘citizenship’ there has been discussion on what it means to be ‘British’ and on how far diversity and a sense of unity within our society can be reconciled.
The debate has focused on how we live together as diverse people and communities within one society. ‘Multiculturalism’, ‘integration’ and ‘cohesion’ are terms which are often currently used in discussing these questions. While it may be helpful to have agreed definitions of these words, what is more significant is for there to be some shared understanding of the characteristics of the kind of society which we want to have in this country. Upholding and respecting the integrity of individual strands within our society and, at the same time, ensuring that there continues to be sufficient held in common within society for it not to fragment, is about striking the right balance between the pulls of unity and of diversity. It is a case of ‘both/and’, not ‘either/or’.
We need an inclusive understanding of the character of our society which, while reflecting the important place of shared values, rights and responsibilities, is not too narrowly defined and which does not require everyone to be assimilated to a pre-existing model or to be forced into a single rigid mould. We also need to recognise that the character of our society is a dynamic and evolving one.
We all have multiple identities, derived from a variety of factors, such as faith, culture, gender, age, language or geography, or from participation in a particular group. For practical reasons, we have to use categories and classifications in a variety of contexts to give some shape to the ‘map’ of our society and its members. But we need to recognise that these categories cannot do full justice to the individuality of different people. Each of us, as an individual, has a unique mix of characteristics which makes us the person we are and in the light of which we engage with other people and with the wider world.
There is a complex constitutional geographical diversity built into the identity of a United Kingdom which embraces England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and also the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Its history has been complex, its present form has evolved over past centuries and its constitutional unity is today politically challenged from some quarters. All geographical loyalties run deep. British citizens have particular loyalties to England, to Scotland, to Wales and to Northern Ireland as well as to the United Kingdom as a whole.
They also have more local loyalties – to particular regions and counties and to cities, towns and villages. Asking those people who have a strong commitment to a Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh identity to see themselves primarily as ‘British’ can be an unwelcome reminder of past history, when many experienced their identity as being subordinated to a national identity dominated by the English. Indeed, some may well wish to identify themselves as belonging primarily to their individual nations within this United Kingdom, rather than seeing their civic identity primarily in terms of Britain or the United Kingdom.
There are also an increasing number of people who see themselves as being ‘English’ rather than ‘British’, perhaps in part in reaction to political devolution elsewhere in the United Kingdom. So any concept of ‘Britishness’ will only be acceptable across the UK if it can sit comfortably alongside a strong sense of ‘English’, ‘Scottish’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘Northern Irish’ identity, and of the regional and local identities within these nations.
A difficulty in the discussion of ‘Britishness’ at this point in the history of these islands is that the current debate conflates two issues: firstly, the role of ‘Britain’ as the constitutional framework for our shared society; and, secondly, the attempt to define the characteristics of our society in terms of culture and shared values, in providing us with a shared sense of identity. It is the second aspect of the debate to which this document is related in exploring the implications of the greater religious diversity we now experience.
One of the best aspects of contemporary Britain has been the emphasis on the value of our diversity and on the importance of a sense of unity, underpinned by public recognition and celebration of the contributions which different communities, groups and individuals within the UK make to the well being of our society as a whole.
Many people will want this to be characteristic of this society whatever the outcome of the debate on the future of Britain in political and constitutional terms. Education and the media Education, at all ages, is vital, so that we know and understand more about one another and do not fall prey, as a result of our ignorance, to false judgements and outworn stereotypes. We all have a role to play in combating stereotyping, whether of our own communities and traditions or those of others.
Education in schools needs to promote encounter and awareness about different cultures and faiths. Likewise the media needs to provide balanced and non-sensationalist reporting and to avoid promoting myths and stereotypes which can feed unfounded fears and misrepresent reality in ways which serve to exacerbate tensions and divisions. As one aspect of this, the media should do more to educate people about the various faiths in the UK and to highlight positive inter faith relations in different areas of the country – not always focusing on negative stories.
The Inter Faith Network, along with its member organisations, is committed to helping shape a Britain where all can live and practise their faith with integrity. It is also committed to encouraging and supporting the development of better understanding not only both between Britain’s faith communities but also between them and wider society. We need to work together with energy, honesty and openness for the flourishing of this society and of our wider world. The future of our country will in part be shaped by its past but will not be determined by it. Its future is in the hands of all of us who make our home here.