From multiculturalism to muscular liberalism? Faith and the future of integration

Tent croppedIn the early debates about multiculturalism in the 1960s and 1970s, religion occupied a relatively marginal place, with the focus falling on racial equality and the recognition given to different linguistic groups. Today, however, the situation is quite different. Religious difference is at the centre of debates about the subject both in Britain and elsewhere. Gradually, the focus has moved from ‘race’ through ‘ethnicity’ and ‘culture’ to ‘faith’, and at the same time attitudes toward multicultural politics have hardened. The putative threat posed to national cohesion by supposedly isolated and illiberal religious minorities was stressed in a major speech on the topic by David Cameron in 2011, during which the Prime Minister rejected ‘state multiculturalism’ in favour of what he called ‘muscular liberalism’.

Tracing the origins of multicultural policies from the 1960s to the present day, this series examines the implications of the present government’s approach to multiculturalism for the integration of faith groups in the UK. The first two articles in the series offer reflections on and criticisms of the coalition’s approach to questions of integration.

In The role of ‘faith’ in multicultural integration, Jonathan Chaplin, of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, provides an analysis of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s report Creating the Conditions for Integration. Contesting the coalition’s assertion that it ‘does God’, Chaplin argues that the present government appears deeply uneasy with faith groups contesting the status quo, or intervening in public life on their own terms.

In Muscular Liberalism vs. democratic liberalism, Jan Dobbernack (University of Lincoln) and Derek McGhee (University of Southampton)  examine Cameron’s affirmation of ‘muscular liberalism’, criticising what they see as his ‘divisive’ approach to toleration and offering their own democratic alternative.

Two further articles look overseas to draw lessons for multiculturalism in the UK.

In an article focusing specifically on multiculturalism and Muslims, Multiculturalism and Muslims in Britain and France, Tariq Modood of the University of Bristol contrasts the UK with France, pointing out how – despite the officially anti-multicultural stance of the French government – steps have been taken to create a quasi-official Muslim representative body: the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman.

Then in an extended article drawing on his recent voluntary work in the Middle East, Walking-talking-volunteering, Max Fararr looks at parallels between the UK and Israel, offering reflections on anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice.

Finally, in Social cohesion and state-funded faith schools, Claire Dwyer of University College London writes about her research into faith schools and community cohesion, looking at how such schools have responded to criticism by increasing opportunities for contact between different faith groups.