Perspectives on religious and cultural tolerance

How has the 'dechristianisation' of Britain in recent decades shaped emerging perspectives on religious and cultural tolerance?

Once again here I am in front of an immaculate digital white sheet of paper, trying one more time to mimic a gesture of a deep meditation on a subject fairly new for me, upon which I have an intuition for an answer, but somehow it escapes me. Almost every day I'm hearing over the media something about "dechristianisation", the effect it's has upon this nation, how does this "dechristianisation" affect the interreligious relationships with other denominations or even what effect does it have when it comes to cultural tolerance. But the media never explains what this exactly means, we are receiving only vague reverberations of a wooden language.. the media, in fact, has to play it's role.

The evanescence electrocutes the conscience, and the hybris doesn't reveal anything anymore, and does not scare anymore. Our attitude reveals unauthenticity. Ignorance is the big issue of the 3rd millennia. Tragically caught between many options and alternatives (pragmatism, bohemia, metaphysics, mysticism, science), the modern man is unable to conscious chose one of them, nonetheless the religious factor. He assumes it, maybe by tradition, without explaining to himself or ontologically assuming it, or maybe as a result of a painful and hard deliberation. The alexandrine period, the post modern era, is a repetition above time of the pagan hellenism, anterior to Christianity. Faith, when it's not to be considered an apriority aspect, manifests itself authentically only in a oppressive environment - totalitarian systems - or in the limit case of severe sins - the case of Dostoyevsky errors. Even though in that case it's a reaction to a stimulus of a terrifying intensity, it is accidently activated in a forceful way. In a terrestrial paradise of wellbeing, faith is not imperious, but in the same time is an urgent matter of discussion, like nowadays.

The dechristianisation of Britain is in fact a macro cosmos, a bigger image of what is happening on a smaller scale even here in Durham. Every micro cosmos is a like a small building block, in the end giving the bigger image of a secular, de-Christianized nation. It's very easy to imagine Durham Cathedral as the image of the Church of England, both a spiritual landmark, but in same time both being almost some empty shapes without background, vaguely reminding of a Christian nation. Eliade's "axis mundi" has been lost, or maybe we prefer not to see it anymore, or it has shifted toward new landmarks more important to our existence. There has been an irremediable rupture between the sacred space and the profane thinking of a modern society in which spiritual, religious values are substituted with more pragmatic thoughts and aspirations.

As the dechristianisation emerged and strongly rooted in Great Britain, one of the most important effects was religious and cultural tolerance. New religions and denomination once never heard in Britain or scarce, now emerge. New waves of immigrations occur, bringing new religious influences, flourishing in a new tolerant environment.

The concept of "dechristianisation" is, I think, a relatively new concept, of a modern debate, mainly emerging and shaping this nation in last quarter of the twentieth century. It's almost synonym with secularization, because if we look at a definition of what does secular mean, it could easily be replaced with dechristianisation. "Secularization refers to the transformation of a society from close identification with religious values and institutions toward non-religious (or "irreligious") values and secular institutions. Secularization thesis refers to the belief that as societies progress, particularly through modernization and rationalization, religion loses its authority in all aspects of social life and governance.

Secularization has many levels of meaning, both as a theory and a historical process. Social theorists such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Max Weber, and mile Durkheim, postulated that the modernization of society would include a decline in levels of religiosity. Study of this process seeks to determine the manner in which, or extent to which religious creeds, practices and institutions are losing social significance." [1]

The only visible difference is that secularization refers to the more general aspect of the loss of importance of religion in a society, our case Britain, dechristianisation focalizes, only upon the minimization of Christianity in a formally Christian country. But if we can really speak about this phenomena applied to United Kingdom, we need some facts, before being able to give labels. One of the most reliable and recent surveys I've come across was the one made by Tearfund[2], between 8th February and 5th March 2006 on a poll of 7,000 adults in the UK, aged 16 or over , quoted even by BBC[3]. Putting side by side this poll with the results of 2001 Census, the downfall of Christianity is obvious, and in a matter of few years from 71.8%[4], we face a drop to 53% among those claiming to be Christians, nowadays "two thirds of UK adults (66%) or 32.2 million people have no connection with church at present (nor with another religion)."[5]

Debating the concept of "dechristianisation" there may be two possible views upon its definition. First, from a dogmatic point of view of a real Christian life, I'm not afraid to assume that 90% or more of those who consider themselves to be believers, is only out of an inertia inherited from parents, grandparents and so on, real Christianity is much more than believing in a Trinity or simply attending Church service. In a small survey in my neighborhood, 9 out of 10 people who declared themselves Christians weren't able to identify themselves as real believers, with a real Christian life. From this point of view "dechristianisation" it's very obvious and present at a micro cosmos level (i.e. Durham City) as an image of a macro cosmological point of view. But if we only look at the numbers without any insight upon the meaning any definition of words, the vast majority is still Christian, a declining number, but even so, the majority give the label of the country, so we can still speak of a Christian country, but only in terms of declining numbers, as the census from 2001 through the Tearfund poll in 2006 shows. In both cases we can agree with the fact that it doesn't matter how we approach it, the declining is obvious, clear, without any doubts.

I've talked about the majority defining the whole, in a way, on a symbolic level, we can analyze the building blocks of "the majority", and better understand this concept. If we take the same example of Durham city, as an image of England, and the Cathedral for the Church of England it's much easier to understand that every community plays a role in the big picture of dechristianisation. The imposing building of the Cathedral stands as a proof of Christianity, some sort of "axis mundi" as Eliade would say, but in contrast with the sacred ground lays the profane picture of the desacralization. A big imposing spiritual landmark, reminding of a strong rooted religion, but in the same time an empty building abandoned by its believers. I was quite amazed to find out, in the same small survey I've took[6], that 8 out of 10 locals in Gilesgate area, where I live, haven't been to the Cathedral in the last year. People consider themselves Christians, but sometime lack a real religious feeling and this has a real implication upon cultural and religious tolerance.

Dechristianisation of Britain, as we saw it in the previous paragraphs, has created nowadays the perfect settings for a new, more tolerant culture. While many people declare themselves as being Christians, but not fully feeling this, a new background emerges for an evolution in thinking of terms of acceptance and tolerance, in fact this statement gives the exact definition of what tolerance is: the acceptance of the differing views of other people, for example, in religious or political matters, and fairness toward the people who hold these different views.

We need to understand that in recent decades Britain faced a new wave of immigration, and if it was not for this tolerance, there would be many religious and cultural tensions between British people and foreigners. The emigrational wave is very obviously illustrated by BBC[7] from 2001 until 2008, thus on a news article in 2008 the sentence was clear: net immigration to the UK increased by 46,000 in 2007.

"The Office for National Statistics show that a long-term trend of more people coming to live in the UK than leaving to live elsewhere has continued. This means that the UK population rose by almost a quarter of a million in 2007 - the second highest recorded annual increase after 2004"[8] as shown in the first chart above. While so many people chose to immigrate in Britain, from different cultures with diverse backgrounds, they bring with themselves new religions or denominations.

The reasons behind this amount of immigrants are many, from studying to finding a definite job. "Very few Britons go abroad to study - but large numbers come to the UK - a quarter of all immigrants in 2007. The British universities have expanded massively in recent years to take in foreign students because they pay full course fees, playing an important role in the economics of higher education."[9]

If we use the same micro/macro cosmos symbol as in the beginning, the same thing but in a smaller scale can be observed in Durham city, especially at the University. "Durham is home toover 3000international students, who come from over 120 countries"[10] as the website claims. Imagine students from more than 100 countries, how many different cultures and religious beliefs! But even with such diversity, many international students manage to accommodate and to finish their studies here, feeling like home, me being one of them. The only reason of such well blending into Durham life, of so many different cultures is because of this secular view upon world and religion, a passive Christian life, which enables acceptance of other religious views and gives birth to a new more opened minded generation of youth, full members of the next generation society, more capable of dealing with different religious and cultural views.

On a national scale even if we talk about studies, work or something else, it doesn't matter, the result is always the same acceptance. For example "Britain's largest immigrant faith community of the late twentieth century was Islamic. By 1990, there were around 7.5 million Muslims in Europe and around 1.5 million in Britain, composed mostly of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi (the Pakistanis making up the majority)[11]" "They were heavily concentrated in urban centers, with around 1million in London."[12] While Islamic fundamentalism is well known in many parts of the world, this wave of immigrants wasn't possible is accordance with an effervescent Christian culture, due to the many conflicts between Islam and Christianity. But in this new framework, Christianity being reduced sometime to a mere label, without authentic dogmatic beliefs, the new cultural and religious tolerance emerged, human rights play the major role in this multicultural scene, rather than religious self preservation.

"The relation between Muslims and the wider British society and British state has to be seen in terms of the developing agendas of racial equality and multiculturalism. Muslims have become central to these agendas even while they have contested important aspects, especially the primacy of racial identities, narrow definitions of racism and equality, and the secular bias of the discourse and policies of multiculturalism. While one result of this is to throw advocates of multiculturalism into theoretical and practical disarray, another is to stimulate accusations of cultural separatism and revive a discourse of 'integration'. While we should not ignore the critics of Muslim activism, we need to recognize that at least some of the latter is a politics of 'catching up' with racial equality and feminism. In this way, religion in Britain is assuming a renewed political importance. After a long period of hegemony, political secularism can no longer be taken for granted but is having to answer its critics; there is a growing understanding that the incorporation of Muslims has become the most important challenge of egalitarian multiculturalism." [13]

As we seen, am immediate effect of England's dechristianisation was a more tolerant view upon different culture, in my example the Muslims, which I've chosen in a rather more symbolical way, because of the way Islamic culture tends to be viewed as an almost fundamentalistic perception of religion and if this view is condemned by British society, any culture can be easily accepted. Because of a more tolerant Britain, the idea of cultural and religious tolerance makes its way as new widely accepted belief. Even though acceptance, I have to admit is still in its infancy, but on the right track. Protest like the one in 2006 in London marks the beginning of a new era which promotes acceptance and tolerance. "Protesters waved banners calling for unity against Islamophobia. Organisers also said it wanted to dissociate the mainstream Muslim community from a "minority of extremists"."[14]

Another thing worth to mention regarding the aspect of tolerance was the reaction of the British Parliament to try to stretch the law against racism "to cover religion so that anti-Muslim literature is becoming covered in the way that anti-Jewish literature has been covered from decades. Finally, Parliament passed a bill in early 2006 to protect against incitement to religious hatred." [15] A decision that in a strongly religious country, I don't would be possible.

All these are signs of dechristianisation which allow new emerging perspectives upon the concept of tolerance. This can be seen from small communities through the Parliament of England, which for example, once funded only schools in the curriculum area of Church of England, now starts to fund schools of other denominations. "The government has agreed in recent years to fund a few (so far, seven) Muslim schools, as well as a Sikh and a Seventh Day Adventist school, on the same basis enjoyed by thousands of Anglican and Catholic schools and some Methodist and Jewish schools"[16], after 1960 when it was recognized that also Catholics and Protestant should had a right to state resources.

It's important to note the evolution of British society from a very strong Christianized one, with the Queen being the Head of the Church of England, to the dawn of a modernized liberal thinking upon religious and cultural differences, with the new emerging perspectives upon "unconventional", new things. The necessary framework now created sustained the perfect environment for tolerance, and fed more open-minded opinions upon ,mainly, masses of immigrants trying to find a new settlement here, in Britain, and bringing with them an entire history, new cultures, religions and denominations. Even if some want to accept it or not, for many, this is their new home, and as the mother accepts even an adopted son as being hew own, every British citizen has the moral obligation, first of all, to accept and tolerate others.

Thankfully for this new view upon "new", and for the acceptance, youths from all over the world, as the statistics of every University in this country shows, have the opportunity to study in a broadminded atmosphere, things that most certain wouldn't be possible if a higher level of religious or cultural discrimination took place

Nowadays, acceptance is the word of the day, and every culture finds its place among British culture. Every benefits the same rights as any British citizen, receiving recognition and tolerance.

Any of these wouldn't be possible without new emerging perspectives offered by a "dechristianised" Britain, the perfect background for a new view upon tolerance and acceptance.


Survey on 20 people, focusing only on those who considered being Christians:

  1. Do you consider yourself being a Chritian?
    • 10 declared yes
  2. How often do you go to Church?
    • I don't know - 2 people
    • 1-3 times a year - 4 people
    • once a month - 3
    • more than once per month - 1
  3. Have you entered the Cathedral in the past year?
    • 10 refused to answer
    • 8 haven't entered
    • 2 have entered


  1. A.S. Ahmed, Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World (London and New York, IB Taurus, 1999)
  2. Callum G. Brown Religion and society in Twentieth-Century Britain , Pearson Education Limited 2006
  3. Geoffery Levey and Tariq Modood Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, online resource: accessed 2/25/2010
  4. H. Ansari, The infidel within: Muslims in Britain since 1800 (London, Hurst & Co. , 2004)
  5. "Faith in the Nation. Religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today" edited by Zaki Cooper and Guy Logde, Intitute for Public Research 2008
  6. accessed 02/25/2010
  7. accessed 2/18/2010
  8., accesed 02/23/2012
  9. accessed 2/25/2010
  10. accesed 02/23/2010
  11., accesed 02/23/2010
  12., accesed 02/23/2010
  13. accesed 02/23/2010
  14., accesed 02/23/2012
  15. "Faith in the Nation. Religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today" edited by Zaki Cooper and Guy Logde, Intitute for Public Research 2008, p.4
  16. accesed 02/23/2010
  17. *see appendix
  18. accessed 2/18/2010
  19. accessed 2/18/2010
  20. accessed 2/18/2010
  21. accessed 2/25/2010
  22. A.S. Ahmed, Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World (London and New York, IB Taurus, 1999), pp. 174-5; H. Ansari, The infidel within: Muslims in Britain since 1800 (London, Hurst & Co. , 2004), p. 2, apud. Callum G. Brown Religion and society in Twentieth-Century Britain , Pearson Education Limited 2006 p. 293
  23. Callum G. Brown, op. cit.
  24. Geoffery Levey and Tariq Modood Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, online resource: accesed 2/25/2010
  25. accessed 02/25/2010
  26. Geoffery Levey and Tariq Modood, op.cit.
  27. Ibidem

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