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Faith in the Public Square - forthcoming book by Archbishop Rowan Williams

Monday 25th June 2012

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will release "Faith in the Public Square" in September.

The book, published by Continuum, is a compilation of several of Archbishop Rowan’s interventions into the public discourse – often at key points in wider debate — during the ten years of his ministry as Primate. 

The book is available for pre-order at Amazon.


Below is a sample of the lectures included in this compilation. 

On Muslims and citizenship:

Lecture on 29 October 2004 at Trinity College, Oxford
States Need to be Comfortable with Public Faith - Archbishop's Chatham Lecture

“This whole cluster of issues has become more immediate and practical with the current complexities over the modern state's relation to Muslim identity. Liberal commentators properly concerned to combat anti-Muslim prejudice persist in assuming that Islam is a set of convictions in the mode of much modern Christianity. To suggest that the Muslim owes an overriding loyalty to the international Muslim community, the umma, is worrying; it is a factor in Muslim identity (say the liberal commentators) that intensifies suspicion towards the Muslim community in a quite unnecessary way.  What is desirable is thus for Muslims to make clear that they have a straightforward primary modern political loyalty to the nation state, unaffected by the private convictions that individual Muslim believers happen to hold in common.”

This quotation is the representation of a view which the Archbishop does not hold and which he then proceeds to deconstruct, arguing in the conclusion that religious loyalty and political loyalty should not be seen as being in direct competition.

On ageing:

Lecture on 6 September 2005, Church House
Archbishop - Elderly deserve protection

“In an obsessively sexualised world of advertising and other images, age is often made to look pathetic and marginal.  And in the minds of most people there will be the picture of the geriatric ward or certain kinds of residential institution.  To borrow the powerful expression used of our prisons by Baroness Kennedy, this is ‘warehousing’ – stacking people in containers because we can think of nothing else to do with them.”

On criminalising incitement to religious hatred:

James Callaghan Memorial Lecture on 29 January 2008, the House of Lords
Archbishop's lecture - Religious Hatred and Religious Offence

“The creation of a criminal offence under British law of incitement to religious hatred provoked bitter and sustained controversy; anxiety was expressed on the one hand by committed secularists who feared some kind of limitation on the freedom to criticise or satirise religious belief in general, and on the other by Christians who were apprehensive that the legislation might be used to restrain the preaching of Christianity as unequivocally true and to prohibit any public statement that questioned the validity of other faiths.  Both suspected, not without reason, that the main motor of the legislation was a wish to respond to the frequently expressed complaint that existing blasphemy laws in the United Kingdom did not adequately protect all non-Christian faiths.  And while this is in fact a debateable reading of the blasphemy laws in the light of what the courts have said in the twentieth century, there was undoubtedly a strong perception that Muslims suffered relative disadvantage and an equally strong political resolve to minimise the sense of exclusion felt by many British Muslims in this regard.  But this reinforced the anxieties of those who believed that disproportionate attention was being given to a hyper-sensitive minority: surely – it was argued – those whose beliefs were at odds with those of the majority in a basically liberal society could not claim immunity from public criticism.”

On secular misunderstanding of religion:

Lecture on 17 April 2008, Westminster Cathedral
The Spiritual and the Religious: Is the Territory Changing?

“In short, as religion – corporate, sacramental and ultimately doctrinal religion – settles into this kind of awareness, it becomes one of the most potent allies possible for genuine pluralism – that is, for a social and political culture that is consistently against coercion and institutionalised inequality and is committed to serious public debate about common good.”

On Christianity, public life and politics:

Lecture on 1 March 2011, Manchester University
Relations between the Church and state today: what is the role of the Christian citizen?

“About 100 years ago a very distinguished Anglican theologian by the name of John Neville Figgis, a priest of the Community of the Resurrection in Yorkshire, wrote about how the Church should be seeking to shape public opinion.  And by that he meant, first and foremost, shaping public opinion within its own boundaries.  The Church ought to be a place where people were educating one another about civic questions and human dignity, where people were educating and being educated about liberty, responsibility, the creation of a sustainable human environment.  And Figgis said that the significance of trying to shape public opinion within the Church was something quite different from an institutional programme on the part of the Church to impose its vision on everybody else.”

On the Big Society:

21 March 2011, Commemoration Oration, King's College London
Archbishop: "Big Society - Small World?"

“The theme of the Big Society has found its way into a wide range of contexts in the last year or so.  Reactions have been varied; but we should not be distracted from recognising that – whatever the detail of rationale and implementation – it represents an extraordinary opportunity.  Introduced during the run-up to the last election as a major political idea for the coming generation, it has suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which ideals can be realised.  And this in turn has bred a degree of cynicism, intensified by the attempt to argue for devolved political and social responsibility at exactly the same time as imposing rapid and extensive reductions in public expenditure.  The result has been that 'Big Society' rhetoric is all too readily heard by many as aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable.  But cynicism is too easy a response and the opportunity is too important to let pass.”

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