World Religions in Education by lonyoo

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									Shap Journal 2002/2003

World Religions in Education

Religion: the problem or the answer?

Religions in the UK: A Dialogical Enterprise

Paul Weller

The product

Religions in the UK was first published in 1993 as the
product of a collaborative research project funded
and conducted jointly by the Religious Resource and
Research Centre of the University of Derby and the Inter
Faith Network for the United Kingdom.

The directory attempts to draw together accessible
introductory overviews of the religions and inter-faith
initiatives that it covers, and particularly of the forms
that they take in the United Kingdom, whilst also
providing independently researched reference and
contact information on religious and inter-faith
organisations and initiatives.

As explained in the preface to its first edition, the
purpose of the directory is that it is a resource which is
"designed to assist and encourage the further development of
inter-religious contacts and dialogue in the UK and to
facilitate the wider participation in public life of the generally
accepted world religious traditions with established
communities in this country." (Weller, 1993: 7)

Other directories

Prior to the publication of the first edition of Religions
in the UK, no other "one-stop-shop" reference work of
its kind existed. The addresses of certified places of
worship were set out in The Official List, Part III - Certified
Places of Worship (Office of Populations Censuses and
Surveys, 1981) but the list's coverage was restricted in
the way indicated by its title, and volumes were not
regularly updated, although supplements were produced.
As part of a planned global project Religions Directory
International: A Comprehensive Guide to the World's
Religions, Churches, Denominations, Temples, Synagogues,
Religious Organisations and Spiritual Groups, a specific
volume, Volume I: UK and Ireland (Ward, Dandelion and
Poggi (eds), 1990), was published. However, although
strong in its coverage of esoteric and spiritual movements,
its contact details did not so comprehensively cover
religious organisations associated with the generally
accepted world religious traditions.

With respect to individual religions, contact details of
Jewish organisations have, of course, long appeared in
the annual Jewish Yearbook (Massill (ed), 2001). The
Buddhist Society's Buddhist Directory (Parsons (ed),
2000) offers regularly updated information on Buddhist
organisations. The various Christian denominations also
produce handbooks and directories, and the Christian
Research Association's UK Christian Handbook (Brierley
(ed), 1999) offers a detailed overview of the Christian
community in the UK.

But prior to the first publication of Religions in the UK, a
number of religions had never produced comprehensive,
authoritative or regularly updated directories. For
example, there had been no comprehensive and
publicly-available Hindu or Jain directory. Although, in
respect of Sikh organisations, the International Directory
of Gurdwaras and Sikh Organisations (Shergill, 1985) and
The Sikh Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) in the United Kingdom
(Sikh Cultural Society of Great Britain, 1989) were
published, these were not regularly updated.

There were a number of attempts to produce Muslim
directories, including The Directory of Mosques, Islamic
Centres and Other Muslim Organisations in the United
Kingdom and Ireland (Rahman, nd); The Mosques in the
United Kingdom and Eire and Prayer Timetable Ali. M
(1991); and the List of Mosques, Islamic Centres and
Islamic Associations of the UK (Linkers, 1993). But most
were not comprehensive in coverage and few appeared
in more than one edition until the emergence, more
recently, of The Muslim Directory, UK (Darr (ed), 2000)
as a more authoritative and regularly updated
information resource.

The directory process and methodological issues

Religions in the UK is an attempt to combine
independently researched and compiled, but self-
defined, contact information on religious and inter-faith
organisations, with introductory overviews that allow
directory users to locate these contact listings within
accessible and accurate descriptive portraits of the
religions and their principal beliefs, practices and
organisational forms in the United Kingdom.

The directory product is now widely used by a wide
range of institutions and sectors of society. But it is the
processes that underlie it that are of critical importance
to any utility that the product may have established. In
respect of the overview texts, the goal has been to
produce texts in which insiders can recognise
themselves, but which outsiders can also find intelligible
and accessible. In working towards this goal, the project
has been grappling with a variant of what is more
broadly known as the "insider/outsider" problem in the
study of religion.

McCutcheon (1998:2) outlines the problem thus: "In a
nutshell the problem is whether, and to what extent, someone
can study, understand, or explain the beliefs, words, or
actions of another." From a different angle, there is also
a problem of whether and how far one who lives within
a set of beliefs, words and actions can make these
understandable and accessible to another who is not
themselves an insider.
The directory's introductory overviews attempt to work
creatively with this problem by evolving a dialogical
product in which insider diversities, and insider and
outsider perspectives are brought into creative tension
with one another. As explained in the preface to the 1997
edition, "The materials about each religious community are
the product of a lengthy, extensive and careful process of
consultation and debate which has involved both religious
practitioners and academic experts..." (Weller, 1997: 8).

In the work leading to the 1993 edition of the directory,
for the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh textual materials this
methodological approach involved the establishment of
Project Consultative Panels whose members physically
met together to discuss and critique initial drafts
produced by the project staff. Other consultative panels
worked primarily by correspondence and telephone. In
all cases, membership of the consultative groups
reflected the diversities of tradition and movement
within each religion, and then also diversities of gender
and age. Each consultative group also included at least
one scholar expert in the religion concerned but who
was not themselves a practitioner of that religion.

The consultants who worked on the first edition are listed
in the acknowledgements section of that edition (Weller,
1993: 8-12). As explained in the most recent edition of
the directory: "The 1993 edition established texts which
were recognised and affirmed by consultants both from within
and from outside the religions covered in the directory as
providing an accurate portrayal of the traditions and
communities concerned." (Weller, 2001: 644). Following
on from this, the 1997 edition: "...updated and, where
necessary, provided additional balance to the written texts so
that, based upon six years of consultative and editorial
processes, they could be regarded as being as reliable a
portrayal as possible" (Weller, 2001: 644) The consultants
for the 1997 and 2001 editions are listed in Weller
(1997: 697-702) and Weller (2001: 643-650).

The processes involved have, of course, been far from
simple. In addition to the significant variation and even
conflict of comment and perspective that can exist
among diverse project consultants, the role of the editor
in adjudicating on conflictual feedback and/or providing
alternative drafts is a complex and often, at least
potentially, ambiguous one. The "insider/outsider
problem" can never fully be overcome, even within a
dialogical approach to the production of a text. But that
it is possible to work positively with such a dynamic can
be seen from feedback received from "inside" the
religious traditions and communities that affirms a
significant degree of self-recognition has been achieved
in relation to the portrayal provided by the text, when
coupled with a range of testimony from "outside" that
indicates a satisfactory degree of accessibility and
intelligibility has been attained.
Towards the future of the directory project

Since 1998, the directory has also been available as
Religions in the UK: On-Line by means of subscription
access through MultiFaithNet, an internet resource on
religions and the relationships between them, originally
also produced through the University of Derby's
Religious Resource and Research Centre with the
support of Derby University Enterprises Ltd. Additionally.
directory information is used, under licence, within the
KnowUK database produced primarily for use in public
libraries by Bell and Howell electronic publishers.

In August 2001, the Derby end of the project (together
with that of MultiFaithNet) passed from the University of
Derby to the Multi Faith Centre at the University of
Derby. The Centre is itself a project that has dialogically
emerged from a decade of relationship-building around
a bottom-up idea that, based upon a self-help
fundraising campaign with matched funding from the
Millennium Commission, it is hoped will, in 2003,
commence construction of a unique building. As the
Centre is built, it will provide a physical base and focus
for its already existing programme of activities
concerned with religions and the relationships between
them, and the directory project will find a place within
these activities.

As has been the case following the publication of each
new edition, the project and the collaborative
partnership that has thus far sustained it will need to be
reviewed by the project partners in terms of both the
past lessons learned, and the future issues to be
considered. The future of the project is already a central
part of the Centre's business plan. But in whatever way
it is carried forward, it does seem that any future for the
project is likely to entail greater use of electronic media.
For example, the possible development of a CD-ROM
version of the directory is likely to offer an important
means of mutual support between paper-based and
electronic publication, bringing with it a potential for
regular updating as well as for the incorporation of
visual dimensions.

But in whatever the format the directory appears, for as
long as it continues to embody the methodology that has
so far informed the project, then the "insider/outsider"
dialogical process will remain at its dynamic heart. It is
this dialogical process that gives the project and its
product whatever distinctiveness and authority it is able
to establish for itself through its reception within the faith
communities and its usage beyond them.

Bibliography

Alt, M (1991), The Mosques in the United Kingdom and
Eire and Prayer Timetable, Ambala Sweet Centre, London.

Brierley, P (ed) (1999), The UK Christian Handbook
2000/2001, Christian Research Association, London.
Darr, N (ed) (2000), Muslim Directory, UK, 2000,
Muslim Directory, London.

KnowUK, at http://knowuk.co.uk, Bell and Howell,
Cambridge.

Linkers (1993), List of Mosques, Islamic Centres and
Islamic Associations in the UK, Linkers, London.

Massil, S (ed) (2001) The Jewish Yearbook, Valentine
Mitchell, London.

McCutcheon, R (ed) (1999), The Insider/Outsider Problem
in the Study of Religion: A Reader, Cassell, London.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (1981), The
Official List, Part III - Certified Places of Worship, Office of
Populations Censuses and Surveys, General Register
Office, London.

Parsons, R (ed) (2000), The Buddhist Directory: Buddhist
Groups and Centres and Other Related Organisations in the
United Kingdom and Ireland, 7th edition, The Buddhist
Society, London.

Rahman, G (ed) (nd), The Directory of Mosques, Islamic
Centres and Other Muslim Organisations in the United
Kingdom and Ireland, Council of Mosques UK and Eire,
London.

Shergill, N (1985), International Directory of Gurdwaras
and Sikh Organisations, N.S. Shergill, London.

Sikh Cultural Society of Great Britain (1989), The Sikh
Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) in the United Kingdom, Sikh
Cultural Society of Great Britain, London.

Ward, G (series ed); Dandelion, B P (associate editor,
UK); Poggi, I (associate editor, Ireland) (1990), Religions
Directory International: A Comprehensive Guide to the
World's Religions, Churches, Denominations, Temples,
Synagogues, Religious Organisations and Spiritual Groups.
Volume I: UK and Ireland, Apogee Books, Detroit,
Michigan.

Weller, P (1998), "Multi-Faith Information Resources:
Religions in the UK and MultiFaithNet, in The Bulletin of
the Association of British Theological and Philosophical
Libraries, Volume V, No. 2, June 1998, pp.19-33.

Weller, P (1998), "MultiFaithNet: Religionen on Line", in
Kirste, R; Schwarzenau, P; and Tworushka, U (eds),
Religionen im Gesprdch 5: Die Dialogische Kraft des
Mystischen, Zimmermann Druck und Verlag, Balve,
Germany, pp. 513-519.

Weller, P (ed) (1993), Religions in the UK: A Multi-Faith
Directory, University of Derby, Derby.

Weller, P (ed) (1997), Religions in the UK: A Multi-Faith
Directory, University of Derby, Derby.
Weller, P (ed) (2001), Religions in the UK: A Directory,
2001-3, Multi Faith Centre at the University of Derby
Derby

Weller, P (ed) (2002) MultiFaithNet, at
http://www.multifaithnet.org

								
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