Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Religion, education, identity and sectarianism

ONE of the many interesting dimensions of the problem of sectarianism discussed at Just Festival tonight (6th August 2013) included the question of how far religious communities might share a responsibility for it.

The point was made that many of those most readily identified as directing hate speech towards others seem to have little to do with regular church-going, say. But others pointed that some of the most vociferous groups deployed strong religious agendas and language.

The subtle business of rendering particular groups or persons 'close' or 'far', somehow 'acceptable' or 'less acceptable' can be deeply bound up with religious commitments and legitimation close to what might be regarded as the mainstream, it was suggested. So there was indeed an agenda for faith communities to address here.

But how does sectarianism differ from racism and sexism, say?  You can't change your ethnicity, and for most people not your gender, whereas beliefs and values can be shifted by conversion or evolution.

Ian Galloway (Church of Scotland minister) pointed out that sectarianism exists in a whole weave of identities, commitments, histories and conditionings. It needs its own focus, but should neither be seen in isolation nor exaggerated as the only problem of hatred or contention we face in society at large.

Awareness raising and education in schools, through educational training, civic organisations, arts and theatre was all significant the advisory group said - stressing that funding decisions were taken by government and local authorities, not by them.

There was some discussion of the issue of non-denominational or religious foundation schools, with different perceptions about the way faith-based education might be related to social or cultural division. Overall, the panel suggested the problem here could be exaggerated, but acknowledged it as a 'blue touchpaper' issue.

The panel this evening featured four of the five members of the Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland, established by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs.

This article has been live-blogged at the event. More here

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