Emelia West is a third-year undergraduate student of the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science at the University of Leeds. Her degree focus is Theology & Religious Studies and as part of her final year project, decided to undertake an external placement at Leeds City Council researching the ways that they are approaching religion and belief in Leeds public life.
Over the past couple of years, Leeds City Council has focused its efforts on being more inclusive of faith communities. In 2013, a report was issued named “Taking Religion or Belief Seriously: Challenge for Leeds City Council”, that proposed ways that the Council could implement effective policy and change concerning religion and belief. Living in what is now, arguably, deemed a postmodernist society gives way to secularism in government institutions, leading to resistance or uncertainty when dealing with religion and belief. Leeds is a highly diverse city so it is imperative to have an understanding of the crucial role religion still plays, as the contrary could potentially lead to marginalisation of groups in the area.
Using the report as a foundation, the Council was encouraged to further engage with faith communities by setting up workshops to promote greater understanding of culture and cohesion between the Council and Local Faith Groups, prompting Covenant. This is a joint commitment between faith communities and local authorities aimed at promoting religious freedom and inclusivity of religion and belief in society; ensuring everyone’s voice is heard.
Further, the Council has done more to promote its religion and faith hub; a sub group of the equalities sector, ensuring it is taking a pluralistic approach to its inclusivity agenda. However, there is also a focus on intersecting identities, regarding faith and LGBT, as well as BME and LGBT. The Council are in the process of creating social media for each different sector and a website that you can view the events that are taking place, as well as those that have already been. This helps bring members of the community together and additionally gives them a greater sense of community as they are being joined with other people who identify in the same way they do.
The work the Council have begun to do is still in the developmental stage, whilst recognising that it has already made important progress. It is a complex journey, with some religious institutions being more willing to engage than others, yet continuing with workshops and faith hub meetings, the council can be proud of its focus on inclusivity.
Additionally, its focus on intersectionality is often a complex and difficult issue to deal with. With LGBT and faith there can be tension between the two groups. The Council has tried to open up the conversation of LGBT issues in faith communities which is a potentially difficult and tricky area of discussion. This is proving to members of the community that the Council willing to help everyone, especially those who may feel they are in vulnerable positions being LGBT and having faith. Sometimes it is easier to deal with these issues separately, however the Council is showing their commitment to trying to help people and resolve problems in their community.
Religion, culture and identity are all closely intertwined with each other. By excluding religion from conversations in society you risk alienating people. Britain is a multicultural country and therefore it is imperative to include religion in discussions regarding public life, to create a more cohesive community. This is why it is imperative to include religion and faith leaders, which can help build bridges, and highlight issues to the Council who can address them faster and more efficiently.
For more information on a recent Leeds LGBT+ Hub Faith event, please see Kieran Ferdinand’s CRPL piece here.
By Emelia West