Case study: Faith and secularism in contemporary Britain
Questions regarding the role of religion in public life remain contested, as exemplified by recent debates on issues such as same-sex marriage, gender equality, and faith schools. While some argue that a climate of ‘militant secularism’ now means that religious groups (including Christians) can be viewed as persecuted minorities, others suggest that religion still occupies a dominant role in the political sphere. There are also inequalities between different faith groups. For example, the Church of England has automatic access to the House of Lords, while other faith groups occupy more marginal positions in the political structure. Furthermore, individuals may suffer the additional pressures of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. This case-study draws on focus group research with three faith communities in Leeds (Christian, Muslim, and Jewish) as well as with atheist groups to explore some of these issues in depth. By using various gatekeepers in different subsections of the religious communities, the research explores both inter-faith and intra-faith relations, while focusing primarily on tensions between atheist groups and various faith communities.