This three-year long project builds upon previous research conducted by the university for the Home Office in 1999-2001 (published as Religious Discrimination in England and Wales, available to download as a PDF). The aim of the current project is to contribute to a better understanding of the nature and extent of discrimination and unfair treatment on the grounds of religion or belief, including relevant changes over the past decade, and an assessment of the adequacy of policies, practices and laws designed to tackle such unfair treatment.
The project has focused on Blackburn, Cardiff, Leicester, the London Borough of Newham (all four of which were included in the original research) and Norwich (which has been added for the current project).
I've blogged about this project a couple of times already, when Dr Sariya Contractor came to the Welcome Centre and interviewed me (14 March 2011) and when I took part in a focus group of local Bahá'ís (11 April 2011).
At this stage of the project, the research team wants to engage with an even wider range of practitioners who identify themselves with the Protected Characteristic of religion or belief, from the voluntary and community sector, from the public, private and legal sectors. We've been invited to this workshop so that the university can share its research findings and provide us with an opportunity to contribute to them in the light of the experience of our organisations and groups.
Today's is the first of five Knowledge Exchange Workshops taking place over the next few months around the country. The others are to be held in Oxford, Manchester, Cardiff and London.
Issues around discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief are sensitive and highly contested, involving matters of individual freedom of conscience and expression in community and public life; the organisation of corporate religious activity and also employer and service provider responsibilities. When interacting with other responsibilities and rights, conflicts between different legally "protected characteristics" result in questions about their balancing. Many debates turn upon the role of law arising from a decade of change in social context, policy and law.
Revisited research objectives
The project includes revisiting objectives that were first addressed ten years ago:
To assess the evidence of religious discrimination in England and Wales, both actual and perceived.
To describe the patterns shown by this evidence, including:
To indicate the extent to which religious discrimination overlaps with racial discrimination
- its overall scale
- the main victims
- the main perpetrators
- the main ways in which the discrimination manifest
To identify the broad range of policy options available for dealing with religious discrimination
New research questions
In the light of developments during th past decade, the project has also asked:
How far might the pattern of reported expereinece of unfair treatment on the basis of religion (such as type of unfair treatment; frequency and seriousness; groups primarily affected and sectors of social life) have changed since the 1999-2001 project?
What are the implications of the above for theory, policy and practice in issues of discrimination/equality measures concerned with religion or belief, bearing in mind the:
Some key legal questions have been included: to what extent might the narrowness of religious exemptions in discrimination law have contributed to any reported experience of unfair treatment toward the religious groups and their practices?
- impact of the 7/7 bombings and "preventing terrorism"
- policy focus on "Britishness" and "social cohesion"
- impact of legal developments relating to religion
- impact of "belief" within law and policy on "religion and belief"
- relationship with other equalities strands
To what extent might the breadth of these exemptions have contributed to any reported experience of unfair treatment on the other grounds (such as gender, race or sexuality) within religious communities?
How much awareness is there of the relevant legislation for protection against religious discrimination? And how much use has been made of these measures?
Over and above the benefits of participating in the event, it was a pleasure to be in the company of my old muckers, Drs Wendi Momen and Naz Ghanea-Hercock.
This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council Religion and Society Programme.