Written by Athanasia Safitri
The Church of England (C of E), also renowned as the Anglican Church, is an example of a state halfway between religious and secular in the plural society. The current British monarch, Charles III, is the supreme governor of the Church of England. On the other hand, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and a principal leader of the Church, the ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. As society grows secular in such a plurality today, some trends have affected the religious practice of the Anglicans and the rest of Britain. Professor (Rev). James Walters from the London School of Economics and Political Science shared his insight during the Wednesday Forum on 15 February 2023 entitled “British Religious Plurality in the Age of Charles III.”
Walters opened his talk by presenting the British national census on religious affiliations between 2001 and 2021. In 2021, Anglicans made up 46% of the population, which dropped significantly from 72% in 2001. On the other hand, the non-affiliated raised from 15% in 2001 to 37% in 2021. Similar trends occurred among different religions, which increased from only 6% in 2001 to 8% in 2011 and 11% in 2021. The data confirms Britain’s significant shift in religious practice within the last 20 years.
The trend and engagement in the religious plurality
The statistics emanate two trends: the shifting of many Christians who claim not to practice religion anymore or simply have no faith and the growth of non-Christian religion. These are what the Western phenomena called secularism. According to Walters, two things highlight secularism in the British context. First is the intellectual rejection of God by the elite, who think religious matters are no longer relevant to explain what happens in our society. More rational and scientific ways are embraced by people these days to make sense of the world. The second one is the famous cultural disconnection of institutional Christianity which means the loose interaction with the Christian life pattern in society.
Walters continued by stating two essential qualifications for the shift of cultural Christianity. There is a fuel narrative of the church’s decline in people who feel unconnected from Christianity life, lose their faith, and become nonreligious. Even so, the hegemony of Christendom is still strong because it inspires most people’s activities in life, such as involvement in education, social welfare, and economic crisis. The other point is the movement of religious minorities which represent the different statuses and experiences, especially toward the migrant groups in British society. Islam, Hinduism, and Sikh have gained more believers in the past ten years. However, politics and inter-religious dynamics of the origin country of the migrants affect the community relation toward each other.
For better engagement of pluralism, religious and political beliefs should be disengaged. Concerns about politics significantly rise in Muslim acknowledgment, sometimes leading to community violence. Walters suggested that strong interfaith relations must take place at the leader level, both locally and globally, to enable a renewed Christian presence that accepts plurality and to encourage growth in all minority faiths.
What we can learn
The session continued with answers and questions which explored and discussed more on the practice of plurality in Indonesia and how we can take the experiences in British society as a model. Dr. Leo Epafras’ invitation to respond to the younger generation in the identity search will be today’s challenge, even worldly. He asked about the state interference of the British government, to which Walters replied that it happens more in political positions or value opposition to the dominant religion. The government may interfere with regulating religious traditions and how to regulate the people. However, in Britain as well as in Indonesia, there is no official law established. Some ICRS and CRCS UGM students also share their concerns about the conflict between Muslims and other churches and how cultural tension arises, which invites political problems.
An important note during the sharing session is the demand for a solid interfaith network is established among leaders, and we must adjust the model based on the context of the society. The leaders should address pressing issues such as same-sex marriage, LGBTQ, and racial conflict in post-secularism, where the line between religious and secular may be fluid. On the other hand, it will encourage a deeper engagement of plurality in religious diversity.