Re-Imagining Religion and Belief

21st Century Policy and Practice

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Christopher Baker, Beth R. Crisp, Adam Dinham
  • Bristol, England: 
    Policy Press
    , December
     152 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


It certainly is not news that religion has grown in much of the world despite predictions of immanent secularization. More interesting, however, are the ways in which religion and belief have changed and decentralized in many parts of the world. Re-Imagining Religion and Belief: 21st Century Policy and Practice brings together a collection of chapters examining the ways in which changed religious practices and beliefs impact policy considerations and everyday practices. While focusing largely on Europe—with the exception of two chapters on Australia—editors Christopher Baker, Beth R. Crisp, and Adam Dinham argue that policymakers should tend to the changing and persistent nature of religion, with an eye toward religion’s capacity to think differently about social problems.

In contrast to the 19th and 20th centuries, the 21st century brings about a new type of modernity, in which globalized capitalism and the fluidity of populations and ideas confront European secular paradigms with religions and ideologies for which it had not, up to this point, accounted (5-6). Re-Imagining Religion and Belief begins from this assumption about the state of religion in the modern world, hoping to offer an account of how policy makers and social scientists can think, given this reality. This book is divided into three sections. The first part grounds the study in data from the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council Re-Imagining Religion and Belief project (11), and goes on to consider how public expressions of religion challenge secular paradigms. The second section examines the ways in which legal systems and approaches to religion shape perceptions and consumptions of those religions (11). The third-and-final-part takes a forward-looking stance and seeks to examine the potential for changes in religion and belief to shape communities and contribute to policy conversations. 

Published by the Policy Press Research imprint of Bristol University Press, this anthology takes a heavily policy-oriented focus. This, however, does not mean that conversations around theology or religion are underdeveloped. Mark G. Brett’s contribution (chapter 7) on post-colonial theology and its potential as a resource for thinking about land and property policy in Australia is an example of the ways in which this volume takes lofty ideas and gives them real-world applications. For scholars of religion, such a grounding in policy will offer creative potentials and avenues for further exploration. Outside of religion, however, this anthology provides an excellent group of authors with which to think about religion as it relates to public places. Law students, and others interested in policy, would benefit from the challenges to the contemporary ways of thinking about religion and secularism. 

Of particular interest throughout the anthology is the positive outlook taken toward religion’s capacity to contribute to social progress. Grace Davie’s afterword points to a general perception that religion is often perceived as little more than old hierarchies and traditions, which are themselves incompatible with social progress (185). While specialists in religion and belief account for the changing nature of these categories, those in the social sciences and policy studies would do well to take into account how the fluid modes of being religious and, simultaneously, secular might contribute to progress on a broader scale. Connections between religion and human rights serve as fertile ground for interrogating how religion can contribute to conflict resolution and prevention (189). Consistent throughout the book is an outright rejection of not only the explanatory scope of a secularization thesis, but also the potential for a strict secularism to guide public policy. For the authors represented here, policy should take into account the presence of religion, or face blow back from religious groups. 

Readers ought to take Re-Imagining Religion and Belief as an invitation for interdisciplinary conversation. Religion is a persistent reality that, while changing in many ways, will continue to affect policy outcomes. Policy makers and social scientists would do well to consider how societies can change laws, perceptions, and cultures to account for the persistent reality of religion, while also finding ways to incorporate and cooperate with religious groups and perspectives. To my mind this book offers an example of the type of work the editors hope to encourage, with multiple disciplines coming together considering how religion and belief bear on real world issues.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Creighton Coleman is a doctoral student in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

Date of Review: 
July 29, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Christopher Baker is William Temple Professor of Religion and Public Life in the Faiths & Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London and Director of Research, William Temple Foundation.

Beth R. Crisp is the Discipline Leader for Social Work in the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University, Australia.

Adam Dinham is Professor of Faith & Public Policy and Director, Faiths & Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London.



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