Faith and belief engagement
This week is interfaith harmony week, Sara Thorpe guest blogs about the Scottish Government’s newly formed faith & belief team.
New Team and Strategy
Modern Scotland is a multi-faith society but it can be a challenge for some faith and belief communities to make their voices heard. It can also be difficult for policy makers to have an in-depth understanding of the needs of faith and belief communities, given the range of views on particular issues.
To address these challenges and ensure we engage effectively with faith and belief stakeholders, a new faith and belief team has been set up in the connected communities division, reporting to the Minister for Equalities and Older People. The team will develop a new strategy for faith and belief engagement aiming to:
- work closely with stakeholders to promote interfaith dialogue and relations
- help ensure the voices of faith and belief stakeholders are fairly represented in policy development
- support faith and belief communities to be active partners in Covid recovery
Faith and Belief in the Pandemic
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted the central role that faith and belief groups have in Scottish society. Many have been incredibly active, working with Local Government and Third Sector organisations to respond to the needs of their local communities. Faith and belief stakeholders also worked with Scottish Government to develop COVID-19 guidance for places of worship – a complex task given the diversity of practices and activities that take place within these buildings.
These experiences showed there is scope for government to work more closely with faith and belief groups to deliver on shared priorities. This also prompted important questions about the relationship between government and faith and belief communities and how this can and should operate in the future.
Faith and Belief in Scotland
The landscape of faith and belief is evolving in Scotland and it’s important that our new strategy reflects those changes. Recent data shows an increase in the number of adults who now have no religious belonging, to just over half the population.
Whilst some Christian churches continue to see a decline in numbers, there has been growth amongst the Muslim, Buddhist and Pagan faiths. There are trends towards a more secular society overall, but also towards a greater diversity of faiths, traditions and non-religious belief groups such as Humanists, who are included within our remit.
Of course, the engagement strategy will also need to reflect on the tensions and challenges that can arise from faith and belief in society. We must have a balanced view of the impacts of faith and belief in society, recognising the potential for divisive and harmful effects and how we respond to these, as well as the huge positive contributions that so many communities make.
As we develop this strategy, we will engage widely with colleagues inside government and with faith and belief communities across Scotland, seeking to help build closer connections between policy makers and communities. The result should be stronger policy that works for everyone