Background Information

Purpose

1. The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life has been convened by the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, to:

  1. consider the place and role of religion and belief in contemporary Britain, and the significance of emerging trends and identities
  2. examine how ideas of Britishness and national identity may be inclusive of a range of religions and beliefs, and may in turn influence people's self-understanding
  3. explore how shared understandings of the common good may contribute to greater levels of mutual trust and collective action, and to a more harmonious society
  4. make recommendations for public life and policy.

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Chair

2. The commission is chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE, formerly President of the Family Division of the High Court. She is supported by Dr Edward Kessler MBE, founder and executive director of the Woolf Institute, as vice chair.

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Patrons

3. The commission has four patrons: Professor Lord Parekh of Kingston upon Hull, emeritus professor of political philosophy at the universities of Hull and Westminster; Sir Iqbal Sacranie OBE, formerly secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain; the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Lord Williams of Oystermouth, master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and formerly Archbishop of Canterbury; and the Rt Hon Lord Woolf, CH, formerly Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

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Steering group

4. Baroness Butler-Sloss is assisted by a steering group whose members are Dr Shana Cohen, deputy director of the Woolf Institute; the Rt Revd Professor Lord Harries of Pentregarth, emeritus Gresham professor of divinity, honorary professor of theology at King's College, London, and formerly Bishop of Oxford; Dr Edward Kessler MBE, founder and executive director of the Woolf Institute and fellow of St Edmund's College, University of Cambridge; and Professor Tariq Modood MBE, professor of sociology, politics and public policy at the University of Bristol, and founding director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, University of Bristol.

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Membership

5. The commission's membership reflects a range of backgrounds in terms of religion, conviction, occupation, age, gender and geographical location. Each member serves in an individual capacity and not as an official representative or delegate of an institution. There is a full list of members at paragraph 10 below. Meetings of the commission

6. The commission will meet for six weekends over a period of two years, November 2013-June 2015. A pre-commission day event was held on 30 September 2013 to finalise terms of reference and modes of operation, and agree a preliminary schedule of themes and issues to be discussed at the weekend meetings, as well as agree an outline programme of work. The six weekend meetings are to be held on 22-24 November in 2013, 24-26 January, 16-18 May and 7-9 November in 2014, and 30 January-1 February and 17-19 April in 2015. Each weekend meeting will be centred on specially commissioned papers.

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Local and national hearings

7. There will also be five local public hearings arranged - in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and Leicester. In addition, there will be two national public hearings - one in London and the other, focusing on young people, in Birmingham. At each the Chair will be accompanied by 3-4 Commissioners. On each occasion there will be a series of private meetings at which individuals or organisations will be invited to give evidence, followed by a larger meeting with people involved in an open discussion and airing of views. A broad range of views will be sought, including those of - for example - editors of local papers and borough or city councillors with lead responsibility for community cohesion. The commission will also issue a general call for evidence from individuals and organisations. All evidence taken from the hearings and the general call will be fed into the final weekend meeting of the Commission before the final report.

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Reporting

8. The commission will report near the end of 2015.

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Funding

9. The commission is funded by grants from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the Open Society Foundation and the Woolf Institute.

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Full list of members

10. The full list of members of the commission is as follows:

Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, executive secretary for Pentecostal and multicultural relations at Churches Together in England and director of Respect Enterprises Ltd

The Very Revd Dr Ian Bradley, principal of St Mary's College, St Andrews and reader in practical theology and church history at the University of St Andrews

The Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE, formerly President of the Family Division of the High Court (chair)

Dr Shana Cohen, deputy director of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge

Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association and a director of the Religious Education Council

Shaunaka Rishi Das, director of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Hindu chaplain at the University of Oxford

Professor Gwen Griffith-Dickson, vice-principal of Heythrop College and director of the Lokahi Foundation, and formerly professor of divinity at Gresham College

Mark Hammond, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and visiting professor of public administration at Canterbury Christ Church University

The Rt Revd Professor Lord Harries of Pentregarth, emeritus Gresham professor of divinity, honorary professor of theology at King's College, London, and formerly Bishop of Oxford

Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal, lecturer in Sikh Studies, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham

Dr Edward Kessler MBE, founder and executive director of the Woolf Institute and fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge (Convenor and Vice-Chair)

Professor Francesca Klug OBE, professorial research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics and former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Professor Maleiha Malik, professor of law at King's College, London

Professor Tariq Modood MBE, professor of sociology, politics and public policy at the University of Bristol and founding director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, University of Bristol

Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, community imam in Leicester, co-chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum and assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain

Professor Lord Parekh of Kingston upon Hull, emeritus professor of political philosophy at the universities of Hull and Westminster

Brian Pearce OBE, former director of the Inter Faith Network for the UK

The Revd Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, director of the Contextual Theology Centre at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, London, and assistant priest at St Peter's Church, Bethnal Green

Rabbi Dr Norman Solomon, senior associate at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, and former president of the British Association for Jewish Studies and the Birmingham Inter-Faiths Council

The Revd Dr Robert Tosh, formerly head of religious broadcasting at BBC Northern Ireland.

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Secretariat

11. Day-to-day management of the commission's business is supported by a secretariat at the Centre for Policy and Public Education at the Woolf Institute, led by Mohammed Abdul Aziz, the Centre's director. He was formerly senior adviser for race, religion and community cohesion at the Department for Communities and Local Government. He is assisted by Robin Richardson, a former director of the Runnymede Trust, and Austin Tiffany, research assistant at the Woolf Institute.

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