Identity and belief in Modern Britain

Date: 15th April 2015
12 sessions
Wednesday  6pm —8pm
Venue: WEA, The Mill, Lodge Lane, Derby DE1 3HB

In collaboration with the Derby Branch of the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA): a course delivered by staff from the Centre for Society, Religion and Belief University of Derby

An examination of changes in British society exploring a range of contemporary issues relating to changing identities and belief systems. These changes will be set in a wider context in which globalization, political change and economic forces are shaping Britain and producing new forms of identity and belonging.

Week 1 (15 April)          Introduction: Belief and identity in Britain today    Dr Simon Speck

An introduction to the course providing a context for the themes, ideas and discussions covered over the next 11 weeks.  We will be considering how we can understand the transformation of belief and religious affiliation that has taken place in Britain and the West over the last century.

Week 2 (22 April)          Only joking? Humour and society                    Dr Simon Speck

Humour seems to be everywhere in contemporary British society: it is an essential personal attribute (just think of the “GSOH” of the Personal Columns) and the mainstay of mass-media entertainment. But it is also something that can cause great offence and be a matter of public scandal. How can we understand this? What does humour tell us about ourselves, our society and our values?

Weeks 3 + 4 (29 April + 6 May)  Alternative spiritualties and their place in the modern world Andrew Fergus Wilson

An examination of the rise of alternative spiritualties which will also seek to challenge the assumption sometimes made in academic circles that they simply represent the entry of religion into the consumer age.  We will explore the idea that alternative spiritualties represent a meaningful response to an unfair and uncaring world.

Week 5 (13 May) Introduction to Islam                          Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor

An introduction to Islam during which we will discuss its main beliefs and  practices as well as important concepts such as ummah or a global Muslim community and jihad. We will examine modern debates about the faith such as gender relations within the faith, radicalisation and media depictions. Finally we will explore similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity.

Week 6 (20 May)           British Islam    Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor

Focusing on British Islam we will explore British Muslim history and the hybrid British-Muslim identities of young Muslims. We will also examine Muslim women’s roles and contributions within British society using quantitative and qualitative evidence to support discussions.

Week 7 (3 June)            Less Christian, more secular and more multi-faith?  Identity and belief in census data and debate                    Professor Paul Weller

The 2011 Census gives us data on how individuals responded to census questions concerning their religion or no religion. We will unpack some of the key census data on religion and open up discussion on the interpretation of this data.

Week 8 (10 June)          Religion and belief, discrimination and equality: getting better, worse or different?                                         Professor Paul Weller

Until the early part of the 2000s, outside of Northern Ireland, there was no domestic law on religion and belief, discrimination and equality. Over the past decade, new laws have been brought in culminating in the Equality Act 2010, in which religion and belief are now protected alongside eight other aspects of identity. Does the existence of law, policy and practice on religion or belief mean there is now less      reporting of unfair treatment than a decade ago?

Weeks 9 + 10 (17 + 24 June)     Women, thought and action in the public sphere

                                                                                 Professor Alison Scott-Baumann

Exploring the history of western philosophy, we will examine why women are still undervalued  by men and by themselves. This can be traced back to Aristotle and his binary logic in which men are positive and strong and women are negative and weak. We will discuss what we can all do about this.

Week 11 (1 July)           Migration and identity: attitudes to a changing nation, city,  town, neighbourhood or street?                                 Dr Phil Henry

The phenomenon of chain migration is not new but its relevance and the potential political and public fallout associated with it is taking on a range of meanings like never before. In this case study we will examine how Roma migration into the UK is one of many social phenomena that highlights the power of identity and its         consequences. Is the blurring of the boundaries between social and political discourse creating moral panics, and what is the norm: do we really know?

Week 12 (8 July)           A summing up                                                Professor Paul Weller                   

A plenary session to bring together thoughts and ideas from the last few weeks


From the University of Derby:

Dr Simon Speck is Programme Leader in BA Sociology and BA Social & Cultural Studies
Mr Andrew Fergus Wilson is Assistant Head of Social Science
Professor Paul Weller is Professor of Inter-Religious Relations
Professor Alison Scott-Baumann is Professor of Society, Philosophy and Belief
Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor is Research Fellow in Faith and Education
Dr Phil Henry is Director of the Multi-faith Centre and Lecturer in Sociology


Course cost: £25

To book a place call 01332 291805 or email


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