12 / 01 / 21
Phil Champain, Director of the Faith & Belief Forum
We have been living with covid-19 for a year now. A hard year for everyone, and harder for some than others. The virus has forced us back into our houses and triggered an explosion of online activity. Though we may be getting tired of zoom meetings and online chatrooms, the online world will remain a bigger part of our lives now than it was before the pandemic. Working from home will become more commonplace and accepted, hybrid models of learning will evolve faster, and we will think twice before booking air travel. Whilst face to face contact shrinks, online contact is expanding.
We are experiencing a transition. Like all transitions, some will be affected more negatively than others. Some will benefit (witness the continued growth of Amazon), whilst others will struggle to survive (local authorities are at risk of bankruptcy, threatening the provision of social services). Faith and belief organisations have already stepped into the breach to help people cope. The bigger question, however, is what challenges and opportunities will become apparent once the pandemic retreats?
One thing is clear. Whilst the benefits of growing online channels of communication and internet access cannot be contested, this growth also poses serious risks to our well-being and understanding of the world around us. Computer generated algorithms direct us to what we want to see and hear, whilst disagreeing well online remains problematic, and online dialogue is hard to manage.
Given this, F&BF’s pioneering work in the field of interfaith online dialogue takes on a weighty significance. There is some way to go before we can thoroughly evaluate the effectiveness of these programmes in London, Birmingham, and Walsall. However, early signs are encouraging. There remains a thirst for connecting with others, of different faiths, beliefs, and identities. From laptops in our homes, with careful planning and facilitation, we can continue to connect and dialogue with those we might not ordinarily meet. This is important now and will remain critical once the pandemic subsides – when inequalities in our society are likely to be deeper, government support for social cohesion less, and the demand for the work of faith-based community groups greater.
Face to face encounter will return eventually and I look forward to the day we can once again run our encountering faiths and beliefs workshops in schools, bring together our ParliaMentors students under one roof, shake hands with the winners of our faith & belief community awards, and rub shoulders with those in local and central government. Nevertheless, hybrid methods for encounter and learning that effectively utilise online platforms will be an important dimension of our future programmes. It is important we learn from the online dialogue work we are currently doing and from the similar work of other, like-minded organisations.
If you would like to learn more about what we do and our journey through the transition, please do join us for our online Gala evening on 19th January.