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LSE opens new unit to examine faith and public life

14 October 2022


The Revd Professor James Walters

The Revd Professor James Walters

A NEW Religion and Global Society research unit has opened at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) with the aim of understanding how faith influences the public sphere.

The unit, funded by a £1.25-million grant made by the Templeton Religion Trust in March 2021, is being led by the director of the LSE Faith Centre and LSE Religion and Global Society, the Revd Professor James Walters, who is also the university chaplain. It has eight staff members.

A range of online resources, education programmes, conferences, and workshops will be made available for researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners. These will be developed from three themes: creating plural spaces; women of faith and peace-building; and climate change and interfaith relations.

Professor Walters explains: “Our unit goes beyond the question of whether or not religions are a ‘good thing’. We simply cannot ignore the fact that three-quarters of the world’s population have a religious faith, and demographic change means that proportion is increasing not decreasing.

LSEThe LSE Faith Centre

“If we are therefore to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis, conflict, and human rights issues; we need to understand different religious ways of thinking and being.”

The unit might be perceived as a “surprising” undertaking for a secular social-science institution, he said, but, given the proportion of LSE graduates who moved on to become civil society and political leaders, the university should support an understanding of how religion could influence decision-making on social and political issues.

“Our ultimate aim will be to mobilise religious community leaders and policy-makers alike to make a significant impact on addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges,” he said. “For example, if we are to achieve true climate mobilisation or conflict resolution, we need to better connect with those vast numbers of people for whom faith is their central guiding principle.”

The unit has a broad schedule over the next two years. In November, the research team are due to present their preliminary findings at the AAR conference in the United States. In 2023, the unit will release a podcast on women of faith and peace-building. In 2024, it is due to publish academic articles on each strand of research throughout the year, producing methodological guidebooks related to its work, and hosting workshops and events on its research areas.

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