Faith in Social Action

11 Sep 2012

Faith in Social Action

Read full article here (University of Cambridge Research News)
Read more about Social Action in an Age of Austerity

An event in Cambridge this Tuesday explores the effect of economic austerity on faith-based communities and initiatives around the country.

The Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge and the Woolf Institute are organising the workshop which brings together community activists, academic experts and policy makers.

The academics are interested in finding out not just how community organisations around the UK are faring in austerity Britain, but how they are changing to meet new demands and whether faith-based organisations are playing new roles within their communities.

The focus of the event is faith-based social action groups – from different Christian, Muslim and Jewish constituencies – that either meet basic welfare needs, support youth and children, or promote social and economic development. Participants will explore the role that faith plays in motivating and shaping social action in these areas across different parts of the country.

Much of the community sector, faith-based or not, is faced with a “double whammy” – not only do many of these organisations struggle to maintain their services in the current financial climate, but they are also trying to meet higher levels of demand and more complex needs within their communities.

But the result is not all doom and gloom. Dr Shana Cohen, Deputy Director of the Woolf Institute and co-organiser of the workshop, said: “Times are tough for the community sector and there is no substitute for proper funding. But many community organisations are incredibly resourceful. There are, for example, cases of innovative cooperation between mosques, church food banks and Jewish community organisations in order to meet local needs. These cases rarely make the headlines but may be reshaping the face of local communities”.

The organisers also want to explore questions like whether austerity is changing the way that people express their faith and religious identity, and whether it is having an impact on the relations between and beyond faith-communities.

Dr Paul Anderson, Assistant Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies and co-organiser of the event, said: “We are interested in finding out whether people are ‘doing community’ in new ways in a climate of austerity. Is this leading to a new approach to faith-based identity or community in British cities?”

The workshop is being held in association with Faith-Based Regeneration Network, a community development organisation. It is the first stage in a phased project which will include a publicly available report, the creation of a network of academics and practitioners, and a bid for more in-depth research into the effects of austerity on community and faith within Britain.