re-printed from the Unobserver
As the debate continues about the inclusion in BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day of those who are not from the major world religions, a new paper from the religious thinktank Ekklesia urges that spirituality should not be confused with religion.
The paper points to a sizeable proportion of the population with spiritual beliefs who are not connected to the major religions. Those from the major religions are however the only ones currently allowed to contribute to the ‘God Slot’ in the BBC’s flagship news programme.
The research paper examines the idea of ‘Spiritual Capital’ – the knowledge and expertise relating to meanings, values and fundamental purposes available to an individual or culture – and concludes that many religious debates, such as those about religious broadcasting, are riddled with unsupported assumptions about religion and spirituality.
Examining the relationship of Spiritual Capital to religion, as well as to values, ethics and social attitudes over the last 25 years, the new paper suggests that despite a decline in the numbers claiming to belong to the large Christian denominations in the UK, Spiritual Capital remains high. It also suggests that the data indicate it is not essential to belong to a religious organisation to develop Spiritual Capital – even when this is measured in terms of belief in, and relationship with, God.
The paper proposes that belonging to a religion is not enough to ensure high levels of Spiritual Capital, and religions must work harder on developing the spiritual, moral and psychological lives of their adherents.
The paper draws on data from the British Social Attitudes Survey, which suggest that almost 50% of those who don’t belong to a religion hold some form of active belief in God and / or have a prayer life. It also reveals that over 15% of those belonging to the Church of England say they hold no active belief in god and / or have no prayer life.
Policy makers and others looking to develop and build Spiritual Capital should not locate Spiritual Capital solely with religion, the paper warns. It also suggests that religions should not seek to portray themselves as the single representatives for all spiritual individuals or of spirituality in general.
This paper is the first in a project being undertaken by Ekklesia to evaluate and explore ideas of Spiritual Capital.
Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley, himself a former Thought for the Day contributor, said: “The paper’s findings show that those who seek to portray the major world religions as the sole guardians of spirituality are mounting their arguments on the basis of false assumptions.
“A ‘black hole’ in religious broadcasting is now clearly visible. Sizeable proportions of the population hold a belief in God and even have active prayer lives, whilst not connected to institutional religion. A crucial question for those working in the field of religion and spirituality such as those at the BBC considering who should contribute to ‘God slots’, is how they will cater for such people. ”