Dr Rowan Williams has today (Wednesday 11 June)delivered his first major address on inter faith relations since becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.
Speaking at the University of Birmingham, Dr Williams challenged some basic assumptions about relations between faith communities religions and secular society.
Dr Williams warned policy makers against treating religion as a separate and subordinate sphere of life. He also challenged religious traditions to be clearer about the true nature and extent of their differences.
Dr Williams criticised the secular tendency to view religion as "a subdivision of human activity which belongs among the optional extras, after you have attended to the clear imperatives of non-religious public life."
He also spoke of misconceptions that could arise when faith communities were harnessed for government and other programmes.
He said, "Sometimes there can be an expectation that religious communities will simply follow a broadly liberal social agenda, and a consequent anger and disappointment when this doesn't materialise... What matters is to recognise that the religious group starts from a perspective which on some questions will deliver conclusions similar to those of the secular progressive and on some questions definitely will not."
Turning to religious traditions themselves, Dr Williams called fora clearer appreciation and understanding of "the very significant disagreements about the kind of universe we inhabit, what that universe makes possible for human beings and what is the most truthful or adequate or even sane way of behaving in the universe."
He added, "Once we are clearer about the nature and scope of religious disagreement, we are actually more rather than less develop a respectful and collaborative practice in inter-faith relations." Faith schools, he added, could play an important role in that process.
Dr. Williams went on to criticise the religious intolerance of some faith-based states. They betrayed, he said, "a very disturbing lack of confidence in their own religious resourcefulness."
He praised non-theocratic societies for allowing real contention about religious truth. But the secular vision of society also had to strive to make itself credible: "When it refuses this," he said," we have a mirror image of theocracy - an uncriticised ideology defining the terms of public life."
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