We live in a time of growing awareness about the contribution of faith or belief groups and interfaith organisations to addressing major challenges in our society, from COVID-19 to cohesion and inequality. Yet there is a lack of evidence for what makes this work effective.
This resource page spotlights recent research on how faith or belief groups contribute to social cohesion, social action and social inclusion, and it shares resources on how to deepen and improve this engagement.
This resource is part of a two-year research project by the Faith & Belief Forum on Interfaith Effectiveness. As we developed our own resources for effective interfaith engagement, we discovered other valuable research and resources which complement our own. We held an event on the 24th of March 2021 highlighting this expanding evidence base.
A video of the event is available here [opens in a new window].
Our 2020 report entitled Cohesive Societies: Faith and Belief outlined social cohesion policy in the UK and examined the practical impact of the faith and belief sector on our communities. It found that faith and non-religious belief groups’ positive contribution to social cohesion deserves greater recognition and should have more influence on cohesion policy in the United Kingdom. While faith and belief can be a source of division, many faith or belief groups play a key role in cohesion and integration and their contributions need to be considered in the formation of government policy.
We use the term ‘faith and belief’ to describe an aspect of people’s identity, including all religious and non-religious beliefs. A faith or belief group means a single group within a faith or belief tradition, either a place of worship, or a community group or local charity which has strong ties to a faith or belief identity.
Faith or belief groups form one part of a patchwork of local groups including small charities, community groups and associations. Some ways in which faith or belief groups contribute to a better society include:
In this section we highlight recent research about the contribution of faith or beliefs groups to a better society. Good research enables policymakers and practitioners to recognise, understand and resource this contribution more effectively. More information can be found by following the links for each item.
This 2020 report detailed research conducted between July and August 2020 with 194 local authorities by the Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, in partnership with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Society. The report found that ‘the pandemic has both significantly increased local authority partnerships with faith groups and opened up a ‘new normal’ in the relationships between them: a civic and policy space characterised by relationships of trust, collaboration and innovation in which local authorities function more as enablers towards faith communities, rather than commissioners, funders or regulators.’ This change has been enabled by ‘deepening relationships, a willingness to share resources and innovation and a commitment to co-developing a more inclusive framework for considering future strategy’.
This 2021 research report by Belong and the University of Kent described a ‘study investigating the impact of COVID-19 on societal cohesion through monthly surveys involving over 3000 people across two countries and one English county (Scotland, Wales, Kent), in six local areas (Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Peterborough, Walsall, Waltham Forest and Calderdale) in England that had strategically prioritised social cohesion and also among community activists across the UK.’ Three key findings of this study were: ‘1) areas that invested in social cohesion remained more cohesive than elsewhere, 2) trust is stronger at the local than the national level and 3) those who engage in volunteering are faring better’. Recommendations for improving cohesion can be found in the companion report ‘Policy and Practice for Strengthening Social Cohesion in Local Areas’.
In 2020, the Woolf Institute ‘surveyed 11,701 people across England and Wales and asked questions concerning their attitudes towards ethnic, national and religious diversity and their experiences of it.’ The study found that ‘diverse friendships are the norm in British society’ and diverse ‘workplaces provide opportunities for integration and meeting points to create shared goals, break down stereotypes and foster positive attitudes towards one another’. Finding differences in attitudes towards diversity in different parts of England and Wales, the report recommended an ‘even more devolved, regional approach to integration and cohesion policymaking.’
This 2019 report written by brap detailed the impact of the Near Neighbours grassroots interfaith projects to cohesion and integration. The report found ‘a wealth of evidence to suggest that Near Neighbours is strengthening relationships across lines of ethnic and religious difference, building the capacity of grassroots leaders and organisations, and facilitating integration in their regions of activity.’ This work supports integration by ‘equipping and enthusing leaders – including women, youth people, and members of traditionally excluded groups. These leaders are now more confident in challenging negative attitudes, working with other faith and ethnic groups, and initiating projects to bring positive change to their communities.’
The Institute for Research into Superdiversity conducted an evaluation of community sponsorship programmes in the UK from 2017-2020. Faith or belief groups make up a large part of the organisations providing community sponsorship. The report found that ‘community sponsorship in less diverse areas offers potential for transformation of understanding of refugee issues, to reduce fears about “others”, to change working practices to make them more inclusive for wider diverse populations and to bring new perspectives into relatively homogeneous communities. Such changes are possible through direct contact with refugees or CSS volunteers but also potentially through word of mouth sharing of information by those who encounter refugees and CSS volunteers.’ Policy briefs and further research can be found here.
This 2016 report by New Philanthropy Capital provides useful evidence about the role and contribution of faith or beliefs groups to the charity sector. The report found that ‘faith-based charities make up more than a quarter of the voluntary sector in Great Britain and faith-based charities in England and Wales have a combined income of £16bn. The current number of faith-based charities in Britain is partly a reflection of the strong historical links between faith and charity in our society, but it is also a reflection of our current multicultural and multi-faith society. Faith is deeply embedded in the charity sector.’
Research on individual faith or beliefs groups can aid understanding and encourage civic engagement. The British Sikh Report uses survey data ‘to identify the needs and wants of the Sikh population in the UK. A report is published each year that will form the basis for engagement with political and community leaders and help inspire others to help run and create initiatives to cater for Sikhs in Britain.’ The 2020 report included insights on organ donation, disability and loneliness, among other subjects.
This article by Naomi Thompson, Graham Bright and Peter Hart built on interviews with faith-based community workers from a range of faith traditions, some who were volunteers and some who were paid professionals for faith-based organisations. The article provides evidence for how some faith or belief groups are resisting division and bringing people together in resistance to both neoliberal and neopopulist values.
The interfaith movement has worked for decades to foster understanding and shared action between people from different faiths and beliefs. The term ‘interfaith’ describes many ways in which people with different faiths and beliefs connect through dialogue, education and action for common goals. Recent research has helped to explain more about what makes this engagement more effective and inclusive. More information can be found by following the links for each item.
This 2018 Woolf Institute report describes a three-year research project on interfaith engagement in Delhi, Doha and London. It presents ‘comparative analysis of the range of factors that motivate and inform interfaith engagement across these diverse contexts, and between different religious traditions’. The report gathered eight key findings and recommendations for effective interfaith engagement, including the value of moving beyond formal dialogue, a focus on similarities and responding to crises toward deeper local engagement on shared issues of concern whilst addressing difference meaningfully.
This 2020 report by Lucy Peacock explores what effective interfaith engagement looks like in the classroom. The Faith & Belief Forum’s School Linking programme trains teachers in interfaith and intercultural dialogue facilitation skills, and brings two classes of students together at three ‘Link Days’ to explore issues around faith, identity and community. The research draws upon analysis of almost 1,500 student and teacher surveys alongside online surveys, teacher focus groups and participant observation of teacher training and school activities. The report proposed a recipe for reducing prejudice through ‘optimal interfaith contact in the School Linking context’ through ‘equal status, common goal(s), cooperation/collaboration and social/institutional support’.
This 2020 report summarises research about Citizens Alliances established in 10 areas of the country by Citizens UK from 2018-2020. The report finds that effective social action between local institutions (including faith or belief groups) involves three factors: 1) building relationships within and beyond one’s own institution to enable resilience to respond to crises and act for justice; 2) building genuine ownership through collective funding and organic development of alliances; and 3) building leadership development within institutions.
This 2020 Peterborough Racial Equality Council report provided a ‘platform for voices that are often unheard: those of young people from BAME backgrounds on issues that affect their lives in multicultural schools and neighbourhoods’. The report was ‘compiled from the comments of 430 young people from BAME backgrounds, recorded between 2016 and 2018 using a combination of open-ended written responses and interviews’. Key findings from the perspectives of these young people working together well include: ‘1) school curriculum should include much more, reliable information about the cultures, histories and achievements of people from BAME backgrounds; 2) young people of all backgrounds should be recruited and actively involved in developing local policies for community cohesion, and 3) well informed, face to face teaching and learning about different faiths is very important to help young people to understand each other’.
This 2020 article by Andrew Smith explores the development of on-line interfaith dialogue events during the COVID-19 pandemic. It analysed three different interfaith dialogue activities that took place during 2020 and suggested ideas and issues for people seeking to hold on-line dialogue events in the future. The article described ‘challenges and opportunities of developing constructive group dialogue online, power dynamics that were exposed, and how access and familiarity with software raised issues of inclusion’.
This 2016 report by Angus McCabe, Heather Buckingham and Steve Miller with Marcianne Musabyimana aimed to give a ‘more accurate picture of faith communities’ social engagement in the context of austerity and of local religious and ethnic diversity’. It engaged with 70 people affiliated with faith or belief groups through interviews, focus groups and workshops. The research found that ‘different faith groups were very active in terms of welfare provision (e.g. food and clothing) and other services (e.g. youth provision), mitigating some of the worst effects of poverty as far as they were able to with the resources they had. Yet across faith groups, concerns were expressed about capacity to respond to increasing levels of need in a sustainable way.’
This resource is an action guide for young people, including information on the different kinds of interfaith activity, ways to get involved, planning tips and practicalities, and links to further information.
Interfaith Scotland has developed a collection of resources for faith and belief groups to support a ‘Year of Climate Action’ around the COP 26 Climate Conference to take place in Glasgow in November 2021.
This guide provides practical examples and recommendations that spur the growth of existing interfaith initiatives, and the establishment of new ones, to address some of the many challenges related to COVID-19, while emphasising the development and strengthening of cross-community relations through dialogue.
Faith Action has created a range of resources for faith or belief groups responding to the pandemic, including good practice on faith-based responses, information on financial sustainability and vaccine information.
The Faith Covenant is a joint commitment between faith communities and local authorities to a set of principles that guide engagement, aiming to remove some of the mistrust that exists and to promote open, practical working on all levels. It was developed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society with Faith Action as the secretariat.
This guide by F&BF is designed to improve and to increase partnerships between local authorities and local faith or belief groups. It offers practical advice on how local authorities may better engage, celebrate and collaborate with local faith or belief groups; and how local faith or belief groups and other local groups may better contribute to local decision making and to more connected and cohesive local communities.
This resource is a simple, but very effective, 10-point guide to having positive, constructive dialogue developed by the Feast UK.
Based on actual discussions that took place in Birmingham in 2014, this practical resource equips people of different faiths, beliefs and cultures to explore areas where there might be significant differences, and to do so constructively.
This resource is based on the Faithful Friends On Tour Project in Birmingham where an interfaith group visited places of special meaning to the group members. The resource helps other groups plan and run similar programmes.
Religious education is an important element for religious literacy and engagement. These two hubs for religious education offer a range of self-study and guided courses for RE teachers and other educators.
This online resource enables K2 and K3 students to ‘meet’ people (films of our F&BF speakers) of different faiths, beliefs and identities, telling their personal story of their lived experience of their faith or belief.
Online resources on skills for dialogue about difference designed for KS3 RE and PSHE teachers with detailed lesson plans with accompanying films, presentations and worksheets on the subjects of safe space, identity and controversial issues.
This F&BF research report includes resources on how faith or belief groups can work together with others to create more inclusive spaces.
This practical guide by the Equality Trust provides tools to take action to tackle economic inequality (inequality of both income and wealth) and make the UK a fairer, better place.
This F&BF guide offers practical advice on how civil society organisations, faith or belief groups and governments may work together to reduce violations of this human right and to support a culture of respect and good relations between people of all faiths and beliefs.