Religion and Society

The relationship between societies and their various religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural subgroups permeate every aspect of our daily lives. Globalisation has led to an inevitable breakdown of the territorial ‘nation’ we have come to identify with, facilitating mass movements of people across the world and therefore considerable trends towards more multicultural and diverse societies. The vast majority of states that exist today consist of a plethora of ethnicities, nationalities and cultures; yet the question of whether this is beneficial or detrimental to the integrity and social cohesion of the receiving state, and therefore whether immigration should be embraced or restricted, is still fiercely contested.

During the first semester our policy centre will focus on the future of multiculturalism in the UK, the EU and global society as a whole. We will investigate the power of inclusivity in harnessing the benefits of diverse populations to nations, whilst addressing the underlying concern of whether total integration between ethnic groups can ever be a possibility. Tackling such questions is imperative in this day and age given the increasingly multicultural metropolis that the think tank operates in, and crucially, the xenophobic resistance such developments are facing. This debate is furthermore conducive to research into the discourse surrounding domestic policies of assimilation versus those of integration. For example, restrictions on religious expression supposedly allow for social cohesion through absorption of migrants into the culture of the receiving state; yet in doing so, they violate the freedoms of religious and ethnic minorities at the hands of the majority. Restrictions on religious expression therefore translate into a dilution of subcultures into a social maelstrom, where individuals naturally feel a detachment from their sense of identity. Such conditions are a considerable hindrance to social cohesion and peace. Our aim is to produce policies which encourage an embrace of diversity and freedom of expression in order to achieve harmonisation between minority and majority populations.

Throughout the second term we will examine the relationship between nationalism and populism. Populist leaders tend to seize upon a feeling of discontent in a society, and all too often this translates into a fear of the ‘other’, personified in influxes of migrants from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Our aim is to investigate why populism frequently echoes nationalist sentiments, suggesting that a cohesive society is concomitant with having a culturally homogenous group. Upon witnessing the results of the 2016 US presidential election and 2016 Brexit referendum, for which many voters quoted fears of migration as their rationale, many analysts made links between xenophobic campaigns and electoral success. The rise of right-wing nationalist groups such as AfD in Germany, Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and UKIP in the UK have furthermore led us to question what it is about such ideologies that capture public attention. Our policy centre will delve deeper into the ways in which societies can be influenced by populism and proliferation of the in-group versus out-group mentality. We aim to produce policies which encourage critical analysis of the impact that migration has on our societies, as well as identifying the role of the state in mediating the power of populism.

If you are interested in our vision and want to contribute to our work through devising policy and research papers, please do not hesitate to contact the editor of our policy centre at megan.avey@kcl.ac.uk

We look forward to hearing from you!

Jessie Shepherd
Director, Religion & Society Policy Centre