Introduction to the Free Churches Commission
Social cohesion has been near the top of the political agenda for well over a decade now, from the Cantle report into the riots of 2001 in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, through the 2012 Government Migration Advisory Committee report into social cohesion and integration, to the Casey review into opportunity and integration published in December 2016. Much of the discussion in these reports (and beyond) has been about the role of ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ groups in local communities.
With this in mind, the Free Churches Group recently commissioned an eighteen-month research project looking at the relationship between the Church and social cohesion in England. The project will be conducted by Theos, the UK’s leading think tank on religion and society issues.
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The research will be framed around a series of case studies, taken from across the country and selected on the basis of existing concerns surrounding social tensions. These studies will provide a body of original research into the challenges that churches face when responding to social cohesion concerns in their local areas. Our findings will be published as a major report into the nature, challenges and opportunities for the Church’s response to social cohesion today, as well as a series of ‘how to’ booklets aimed at churches looking to deepen their engagement with social cohesion and policy makers hoping to engage with churches on these issues.
Over the course of these investigations, we will discover what is already been done by churches in response to social cohesion concerns, and evaluate the impact of these initiatives through consultation and conversation with community leaders and a broad range of local faith communities.
The project will aim to consider the following central research questions:
What are churches already doing at the local level to aid social cohesion?
How is this activity connected with, embedded in and legitimised by churches’ ongoing gospel mission?
What are the factors emerging from this activity that can be seen to move communities towards social cohesion?
What are the factors emerging from the research process that that can be seen to move communities away from social cohesion?
What lessons are there for churches looking to engage in these issues?
What lessons are there for statutory bodies and community groups who wish to work with and draw on the resources and leadership of the churches in England to foster social cohesion?
For any questions about this project and its aims, please contact Paul Rochester at Free Churches Group (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Madeleine Ward at Theos (email@example.com).