Modelling the influence of place on individual health outcomes – Sadler Seminar Series, 28th February 2-4pm

The next Religions and Public Health Sadler Seminar Series will take place on Tuesday 28th February, 2-4pm at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (29-31 Clarendon Place) University of Leeds. Number 25 on the campus map: )
Wheelchair access is at the rear of the building.
Getting to the University:

All Welcome.

Professor Alison Heppenstall and Dr Myles Gould, School of Geography, University of Leeds

Modelling the influence of place on individual health outcomes

This seminar will present an overview of two contrasting methodological approaches from human geography; multilevel modelling (MLM) and agent-based modelling (ABM). A brief outline of each of the approaches will be given as well as an overview of new and existing datasets that are readily available. Through examples, the utility of these approaches for asking new questions and creating new insights into health and religion will be demonstrated. There will also be consideration of the debate in medical sociology, public health and health geography of the relative importance of individual/compositional and contextual/place ‘effects’ as determinants of health.



Faith in Global Health: Life Before Death (Sadler Seminar Series) Professor Jim Cochrane (Cape Town)

All welcome to the next Sadler Seminar: Religions and Public Health – Sharing and Learning Across Diverse Geographical Settings


Speaker: Professor Jim Cochrane (Cape Town)


Date: Tuesday 21st February

Time: 2 – 4pm

Venue: Leeds Humanities Research Institute, 29 – 31 Clarendon Place, seminar room 1


This seminar draws on evidence gathered in the US and Africa to demonstrate what can be achieved when faith communities and health communities are aligned. Whilst health asset mapping methodologies offer new possibilities for thinking about wellbeing, health assets in themselves are of limited value until they are intentionally leveraged. The significance of ‘agency’ and its relationship to the ‘leading causes of life’ approach to wellbeing is explored and their relevance to global health development argued. 

Community Religions Project: Be Curious

Come and find out more about research at Leeds!

Saturday 25th March 10am-4pm in the Michael Sadler ground floor foyer (University of Leeds) – signs and guides available from Parkinson Court

As part of the annual ‘Be Curious’ Festival, the Community Religions Project will be holding a one day interactive research exhibition. This will be a great chance to engage with the Community Religions Project archive and our student researchers – and is for anyone interested in our religiously diverse community of Leeds.

Help us identify ‘mystery buildings’ in our 1970s photo archive, and to build our knowledge of contemporary religious activity in Leeds. What exciting and unexpected events are happening in Leeds? What changes have you seen while you have been living in Leeds?

Students will be recording some ‘oral history’ accounts from visitors and everyone will have the chance to contribute their experiences, views and memories as part of our growing archive. Over time you might see your contribution added to our website:

Please contact Mel Prideaux ( with any enquiries.

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How Long Is Now? Reflections on Berlin, Deep Time and Planetary Futures

Stefan Skrimshire is a lecturer in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds, UK. He was a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam for ten weeks over the summer of 2016. During this time he lived in East Berlin. The research undertaken during this fellowship is being written up as a journal article and considered for review.


Walking westwards along Oranienburger Strasse in Berlin-Mitte, the building-high mural How Long Is Now dominates the horizon, eclipsing nearby landmarks. It is, as I learned, a now legendary artwork adorning the derelict art centre Kunsthaus Tacheles (‘straight talking’ in Yiddish). The building embodies what is true for the city as a whole, at least as it is initially experienced by an outsider: wearing on its sleeve a succession of external and internal revolutionary changes. Once an SS centre and Nazi prison, the building sits a stone’s throw away from the impressive Neue Synagogue (one of the few places of Jewish worship in Berlin to have survived the pogrom of 9–10 November 1938), it was a public building in the GDR and—post-unification—a squatted arts centre, then a public sculpture park. Today, it is a ubiquitous memorial and perhaps nostalgic (‘ostalgie’) glance back at Berlin’s recent, creative past.

The Tacheles mural: melancholic sigh of resignation or utopian gesture?

‘Epoch’ is a frequently overplayed concept in historical studies (one suspects that their endings and beginnings happen too neatly) but one can’t avoid sensing that, in Berlin, epochs both overtake and lag behind themselves. The impulse to forget and to remember (the excess of which, Nietzsche once said, leads to a kind of historical indigestion) seem to be held in dialectical tension, rather than regulating one another by their successive replacement. The city’s constant reconfiguring and reinterpreting of social spaces, their functions and meanings, recalls what Reinhardt Koselleck, the German theorist of history, called the “contemporaneity of the noncontemporaneous,” meaning that we live in multiple and overlapping histories rather than one dominant and “homogeneous” time sequence.

Denied a question mark, How Long is Now is half melancholic sigh of resignation, half utopian gesture. On the one hand it laments the quality of lived time as a continual perishing of the instant, the present moment. On the other, it suggests the eternal significance that the present moment might hold for us. Perhaps it also hints at something like Walter Benjamin’s critique of history. Benjamin sought a radical alternative to the perception of history as a one-way street, as an empty succession of ‘nows’. This latter we can associate with a still dominant philosophy of progress, dialectical progression in the service of some ideological future or another. For Benjamin the messianic power of ‘now’ would be the antithesis of this approach to history, in its reaching backwards into the past, redeeming its ghosts, laying bare what was once lost.

Do people expect the future of humankind to be a long one? Why does it matter?

The connection was, for me, serendipitous. Benjamin’s memoire Berlin childhood around 1900 reflects a child’s ability to recover urban images of the past as utopian objects for new use in the present. He is therefore the thinker that came to mind when the mural first arrested my vision. And a reminder of Benjamin’s critique of “homogeneous, empty time” also became a conceptual anchor for my research fellowship at the IASS in Potsdam. The fellowship marked the first stage in the development of a monograph in which I will explore the relationship between Christian eschatological (end-times) belief with contemporary environmentalist narratives of the future.

A contemporary question this project seeks to engage with is: do people expect the future of humankind to be a long one? Why is that an important consideration, and on which philosophical or religious grounds? In this first stage of the research, I wanted to approach the question by understanding the recent trend of ‘deep future’ thinking in environmental discourse. Deep future refers to the imagination of the longer term (hundreds of thousands of years) future impacts of human behaviour upon the planet. My interest in this trend came about largely through my engagement with the currency of the idea of the Anthropocene epoch—the idea that human activity has shifted Earth into a new and distinctive geological state, which would be distinguishable to some far future observer of the planet.

The time horizons that matter

What has always fascinated me about this discussion has been this thought experiment: the science fictional far-future explorer who discovers the human story through our fossilised traces is used in order to engage the ethical and cultural as well as scientific significance of the Anthropocene. For really what is being asked of the environmentalist is that he or she rethinks some far more fundamental questions about what time we live in. Which time horizons (of which length and depth?) matter to us—now? What does the ‘time of humanity’ signify, now that human time is seemingly implicated, through its environmental impacts, in the vast temporal stretches of geological time? Should we care about what legacy humans are leaving to the deep future? How have concepts of human origins and destinies, which are so essential to theological and humanist narratives, become troubled in the light of our far future imagination?

Such questions require new thinking in the fields in which I work: theology and philosophy. But here they provoked me to engage more directly with the concept of time in popular environmental discourse. Why, and how, do environmental reporters, campaigners, and ethicists engage with the much longer timeframes now provided by Earth systems analysis? How does one imaginatively inhabit those timescales? The first clue that emerged from my research in Potsdam was that manifestations of deep future imagination in futurology and popular science (I focussed on two examples in the USA: The Long Now Foundation and the popular science publications of Curt Stager) are based on a confident moral premise of the Anthropocene concept. For such authors, to see further into the planetary future ought to generate greater care for the immediate (human) future; projecting a vision of some far future explorer like us, discovering our legacy to the planet, ought to motivate an ethic of planetary stewardship. Second, they are premised on an unquestioned (or as yet unchallenged) assumption that the survival of the human species is the ethical principle from which all other considerations ought to flow.

Human activity delays next ice age by 50,000 years, well beyond likely extinction

My second observation was that such confident moral starting points belied a kind of ‘uncanniness’ that has crept into environmental discourse and which seems to accompany this sort of temporal shift. For it is not so much the ‘long view’ that troubles moral reflection. Rather, its juxtaposition alongside the more immediate ethical concerns of environmental and social justice. Despite the historian Chakrabarty’s now canonical reflections on what the Anthropocene means for thinking about history, stating that we must “think human agency over multiple and incommensurable scales at once,” what this means in practice for environmental activists and policymakers has never been successfully articulated. At the outset of my research at the IASS I found a fascinating example of this ‘uncanny’ temporality close to home. In a research paper for Nature (January 2016), co-authored by Potsdam’s own professor Joachim Schellnhuber (director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research), it was confirmed that human activity has delayed the next “glacial inception” by 50,000 years. Humans have cancelled the next ice age in other words—due under ‘normal’ circumstances to occur in around 50,000 years— neatly confirming the Anthropocene thesis.

But consider an interviewer’s synopsis of Schellnhuber’s proposal: “On the positive side, we can sigh with relief that we have called off the next two ice ages that would represent a very difficult challenge for civilisation. However, temper that relief with the growing likelihood that if we don’t wake up to climate change, it is unlikely that humanity will exist on Earth in anything like fifty thousand years!” (Envisionation January 2016). This juxtaposition of temporalities illustrates what the literary theorist Timothy Clark calls “Anthropocene disorder”: that “unstable emotional tone” produced by attempting to think of big picture narratives of the far future alongside and within the traditional parameters of environmental ethics.

What impact do different beliefs about time have on environmental activism?

Finally, over the course of my stay in Berlin and Potsdam, I found these observations leading me back to some of the classic critiques of ‘secular, modern time.’ This has meant returning to texts of Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, and Charles Taylor to examine them in a new light. For those thinkers the legacy of secular modernity’s concept of time was a notion of linear, forward motion, shorn of the Christian belief in an end point, the eschaton. In the modern period the focus on time as unending process took on, in Arendt’s words, a backwards and forward facing infinity, the individual moments of history shorn of any existential significance.

These thinkers were critical of how such modern time would endorse and facilitate the logic of factory labour and the ‘unending growth’ paradigm of global capitalism. But its warning is relevant to my specific context too. The suspicion that Anthropocene imagination represents a deep-seated and paradoxical desire to place the human back on centre-stage in the planet’s history could extend to this reflection on the deep future as the indefinite continuum of ‘nows.’ It might be reflected in the desire to view that far future in terms of human time, as is the case with the ‘Clock of the Long Now’ in the US (a clock driven by solar energy and buried deep within the Earth, designed to endure for the next 10,000 years). Exploring what alternative beliefs about time (including a return to theological notions of messianic and apocalyptic time) are levelled as a critique of this assumption, and what meaning they hold for environmental activism, will be the next stage in my research.

The Shiloh Project

On 13 January 2017, the Centre for Religion and Public Life hosted a focus group for organising research and events on the topic of rape culture, religion and the Bible. In attendance were Emma Nagouse (University of Sheffield), Valerie Hobbs (University of Sheffield), Katie Edwards (University of Sheffield), Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds), Jessica Keady (University of Chester), Caroline Blyth (University of Auckland) and Nechama Hadari (independent scholar). Following a presentation by Jessica Keady with the title, ‘The Role of Female Impurity in Rape Culture Discourse: The Rape of Dinah in Genesis 34’ we discussed strategies for tackling the difficult and insidious topic of ‘rape culture’.

In our view this has become pressing, due to the significant part that religions can play in both confronting and perpetuating the myths and misperceptions that lie at the heart of rape cultures – namely, cultures that conceptualise gender violence as an ‘inevitable’ or even profitable outcome of normative social gender roles. Moreover, religious texts, traditions, and beliefs can exert powerful influences on people’s understanding of gender relationships, shaping their responses to gender violence and rape culture within their own socio-cultural contexts.

Our first step has been to set up what we have called ‘The Shiloh Project’. The name alludes to the story of the rape of the women of Shiloh in the final chapters of the biblical book of Judges (see our website for more details). The Shiloh Project is a joint initiative set up by three leads, one each from the Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and Auckland (NZ). We are committed to fostering research into the phenomenon of rape culture, both throughout history and within contemporary societies across the globe. In particular, the Project will investigate the complex and at times contentious relationships that exist between rape culture and religion, considering the various ways religion can both participate in and contest rape culture discourses and practices.

A three-volume edition (on global, Christian and biblical perspectives on rape culture) to be published by Palgrave Macmillan is in progress and we have, following our focus group meeting, set up a website. Please see:

For anyone wishing to contact us, our email is: and our Twitter handle @ProjShiloh

In time we will put out a call for contributions to our website and for participation in a range of consciousness-raising and academic activities. Our official launch will be on Monday 8 May 2017 at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies. Things have got off to a dynamic start!

Sadler Seminar Series 2016/17, Centre for Religion and Public Life, University of Leeds

Religions and Public Health: bridges and barriers to improving global health outcomes


This seminar series will interrogate methodological and theoretical questions about the complex ways that religious world-views and institutions shape understandings of and outcomes related to health. We will ask:

  • How can we develop better translations across different paradigms for thinking about wellbeing (e.g. from the spiritual/holistic to the biomedical)? What are implications/consequences for health providers and health seekers?
  • Where desired, how can we increase PH awareness amongst religious actors, including with respect to contributions they already make, as well as linking them more effectively to PH systems in their localities?
  • How can we be open about the difficulties/chasms between religious and ‘secular’ actors – where can these be reconciled, and where can they not?

Through careful selection of contributors, both academic and non-academic, and drawing upon the University of Leeds’s strong traditions in the study of health, the research agenda we develop will clearly focus on the most relevant questions to enable us to understand the opportunities and limits for engagements between religions and public health globally, incorporating qualitative as well as quantitative methods.


 Seminar 1 – Religions and Public Health: Outlining an Agenda

Date: Thursday October 27th 2016, 2-4 pm

Location: Worsley Seminar Room (9.50)

The aim of this first seminar is to bring interested parties together to begin to examine what a research agenda on ‘religions and public health’ might look like. The seminar will be led by Professor Emma Tomalin and Dr Joannna Sadgrove, who will briefly outline their work to date this area and explain why they have convened this seminar series. We invite individuals from across different university faculties to participate.

Seminar 2 – The Multiple World View Encounter: Health, Religions and HIV

Date: Wednesday November 9th 2016, 1-3 pm

Location: Blenheim Terrace Seminar Room (G.02) House No. 11-14


 Seminar 3 – Religions and Public Health: Sharing and Learning across Diverse Geographical Settings (Date/location TBC)

Seminar 4 – Religions and Public Health: Austerity, Neo-liberalism and welfare – shifting roles for faith actors (Date/location TBC)

 Seminar 5 – Religions and Public Health: Bridging gaps, Recognising Barriers (Date/location TBC)

 Seminar 6 – Religions and Public Health: Mental Health (Date/location TBC)

 Seminar 7 – Religions and Public Health: Social Isolation and its Impact on Health (Date/location TBC)

 Seminar 8 – Religions and Public Health: End of Life Care (Date/location TBC)

 Seminar 9 – Religions and Public Health: Developing and Integrating Quantitative, Spatial and Qualitative Methods (Date/location TBC)

 Seminar 10 – Places of Worship as ‘Healthy Settings’ (Date/location TBC)

For further information please contact:

Dr Joanna Sadgrove –

Professor Emma Tomalin-


BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group (Socrel) Annual Conference, Leeds 2017



Wednesday 12th July – Friday 14th July 2017

University of Leeds

On the Edge? Centres and Margins in the Sociology of Religion

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Keynote Speakers:

Professor Bryan Turner (City University of New York)

Professor Kim Knott (University of Lancaster)

Professor Philip Mellor (University of Leeds)

(Two further keynotes, TBC)


The Sociology of Religion, as a distinct sub-discipline, has had a complex relationship with ‘mainstream’ sociology including experiencing periods of centrality and marginalisation. Beginning as a chief concern of the founding fathers of the discipline, but later relegated to almost insignificance until the so-called ‘resurgence of religion’, these changing fortunes have contributed directly to scholarship that can be dynamic, multi-faceted and responsive. In our search to understand the roles for religion in contemporary society, as scholars we frequently draw on multi-disciplinary methodologies and share a disciplinary platform with geography, politics, social policy, theology, anthropology, history and literature, to name but a few.  But where does this leave the sociology of religion as a distinct discipline?

The purpose of this conference is to investigate the boundaries and borders of sociologies of religion in an expansive and inclusive way. We want to ask, what do the centres of the sociology of religion look like in the 21st Century, and where are the margins and borders? Where are the new, and innovative subjects, methodologies and collaborations in our subject and how are they shaping the discipline?  How well do Sociologies of Religion intersect with other sociologies, such as of class, migration, ethnicity, sexuality and gender, and what are the effects? What about the geographical centres and margins of this historically Western-orientated sub-discipline, in our ever-changing world characterised by postcoloniality, globalisation and transnationalism? To what extent have any alternative Sociologies of Religion from the “edge”, to use a term proposed by Bender et al (2013), re-interpreted or re-configured the concerns of the centre? Importantly, what light does the Sociology of Religion shed on the more general study of centres and margins in religious and social settings/institutions and identities/subjectivities? Ultimately we want to question where these expansive and multi-directional boundaries leave us as ‘sociologists of religion’ and as a distinct study group and highlight the challenges and the opportunities.

We invite you to engage in these conference questions from your particular area of research.

To deliver a paper, please send an abstract of no more than 250 words, alongside a biographical note of no more than 50 words. We will also be accepting a limited number of panel proposals. To deliver a panel, please send an abstract of no more than 500 words alongside a biographical note of no more than 50 words for each contributor.

Please send abstracts to the attention of the conference organizers: Dr Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds) and Dr Jasjit Singh (University of Leeds) at

Abstracts must be submitted by 9th December 2016.

Conference Bursaries:

A limited number of bursaries are available to support postgraduate, early career, low income or unwaged SocRel members to present at the conference. Please visit for instructions, and to download an application form, and submit your bursary application along with your abstract by 9th December 2016.

All presenters must be members of SocRel.

Selected authors will be asked to contribute to an edited volume.

Key Dates:

Abstract submission closes: 9th December 2016

Decision notification: 20th January 2017

Presenter registration closes: 10th March 2017

Early bird registration closes:  2nd June 2017

Registration closes: 24 June 2016


Please note that after Friday, 2nd June 2017, a £50 late registration fee will apply to all bookings.

Should you have other questions about the conference please also contact the conference organisers, Dr Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds) and Dr Jasjit Singh (University of Leeds) at

For further details, visit the SocRel website. For further details about the BSA visit









An Evening Research Event!

….with Presenters Nechama Hadari and Nancy Tan

When? 3-5pm, Thursday 3 November

Where? The Cinema Lecture Theatre (Room 2.31), Clothworkers North Building, University of Leeds

Drinks and light kosher refreshments will be served

About the Presenters:

Nechama Hadari holds a doctorate in Religion and Theology from the University of Manchester. She has written on the rabbinic philosophy underlying problems in contemporary Jewish divorce law; the halakhic status of coercive treatment of anorexia nervosa sufferers and, most recently, post-Holocaust theology and the problems of trying to use Holocaust theology as a paradigmatic Jewish response to conflict and atrocity.

Nancy Tan is Associate Professor in Hebrew Bible in the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She works on interpretations of women in the Hebrew Bible. Her current interests lie in promoting Contextual Interpretations for the marginalized in her community. She is at present working on a project of re-interpreting the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28) for the disabled, as well as on a bilingual book on feminist interpretations of the Bible for Hong Kong. She is on sabbatical leave and holds the post of Visiting Research Fellow with the University of Leeds.

About the Presentations:

Nechama Hadari’s presentation, ‘Women, War Crimes and Jewish Texts’ will take as its starting point two Hebrew Bible descriptions of conduct during war: descriptions we might, in our present-day context, find ‘challenging’ or ‘problematic’. The first is the hypothetical description in Deuteronomy 21:10-14, of what should happen when a soldier of the victorious Israelite army finds a ‘beautiful woman’ among the vanquished enemy captives. The second is the infamous narrative (in 2 Samuel) in which David sees and takes a beautiful woman who happens to be the wife of one of his own soldiers. Hadari uses these two texts as a basis for exploring whether or not the Jewish ethical and legal tradition has anything to contribute to contemporary discussion of ‘war crimes’ – including a question which seems to have resurfaced recently: whether a political or military leader is answerable to his men for what he asks them to do when an order he gives is morally or strategically questionable.

Nancy Tan’s presentation, ‘Towards a Feminist Hermeneutics of Genesis 1:26-28 for People with Social Communication Disorder’, explores disability theology. This theology has developed out of feminist criticism and resists the marginalization of disabled communities. And yet, few disability theologians engage with biblical texts from a feminist biblical perspective. This paper challenges patriarchal biblical interpretations that disability theologians have used to define the image of God as exclusively relational. Tan argues, instead, from a feminist hermeneutic of resistance by examining scholarly approaches to the ‘image of God’ (Genesis 1:26-28) from the perspective of those with impairment in terms of social communication.

This will be a stimulating and thought-provoking event for all those interested in biblical and gender criticism, Jewish and Christian interpretation. Please publicise widely!

Sex in the Family – new book by Dr Johanna Stiebert

We are really pleased to announce that the new book by Dr Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds) First Degree Incest and the Hebrew Bible, has been published by Bloomsbury and is available to buy.  As the publishers explain: 

“‘Incest’ refers to illegal sexual relations between family members. Its precise contours, however, are culturally specific. Hence, an illegal incestuous union in one social context may be a legal close-kin union in another. First-degree sexual unions, between a parent and child, or between siblings, are most widely prohibited and abhorred. This book discusses all overt and covert first-degree incest relations in the Hebrew Bible and also probes the significance of gaps and what these imply about projected sexual and social values. As the dominant opinion on the origin of first-degree incest continues to be shaped, new voices such as those of queer and post-feminist criticism have joined the conversation.

It navigates not only the incest laws of Leviticus and the narratives of Lot and his daughters and of Amnon and Tamar but pursues subtler intimations of first-degree sexual unions, such as between Adam and his (absent but arguably implied) mother, Haran and Terah’s wife, Ham and Noah. In pursuing the psycho-social values that may be drawn from the Hebrew Bible regarding first-degree incest, this book will provide a thorough review of incest studies from the early 20th century onward and explain and assess the contribution of very recent critical approaches from queer and post-feminist perspectives”.

The book is available from the publishers (at the moment, with a 10% discount) and other book sellers now!


Re-imagining a True Social Order: how the First World War shaped Quaker social action

By Dr Rachel Muers


In May 1918, Quakers in Britain gathered in London for their annual meeting. The times were turbulent. The death toll from the war continued to mount, it was the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and many people and organisations in Britain were discussing radical social, political and religious change. Quakers themselves were embroiled in more immediate controversy. A national Quaker body had recently published a pamphlet attacking conscription, without submitting it to government censorship; during the 1918 meeting, three leading Quakers were put on trial for this breach of the Defence of the Realm Act, found guilty and sent to prison when they refused to pay fines. Some Quaker men were in prison for refusing all forms of war service. Many more had taken up alternative service as conscientious objectors; and, despite the Quaker tradition of opposition to militarism, about a third of Quaker men of military age had joined the armed forces.

In their 1918 meeting, alongside dealing with the immediate issues of war, censorship and conscription, British Quakers approved a short statement on the ‘Foundations of a True Social Order’. This text has had a lasting influence on British (and wider) Quaker approaches to social action. It has been reprinted in official publications throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century; it has been discussed and quoted, directly or indirectly, whenever Quakers consider their approach to a social issue. It’s short enough to quote in full:

  1. The Fatherhood of God, as revealed by Jesus Christ, should lead us toward a brotherhood which knows no restriction of race, sex or social class.
  2. This brotherhood should express itself in a social order which is directed, beyond all material ends, to the growth of personality truly related to God and man.
  3. The opportunity of full development, physical, moral and spiritual, should be assured to every member of the community, man, woman and child. The development of man’s full personality should not be hampered by unjust conditions nor crushed by economic pressure.
  4. We should seek for a way of living that will free us from the bondage of material things and mere conventions, that will raise no barrier between man and man, and will put no excessive burden of labour upon any by reason of our superfluous demands.
  5. The spiritual force of righteousness, loving-kindness and trust is mighty because of the appeal it makes to the best in every man, and when applied to industrial relations achieves great things.
  6. Our rejection of the methods of outward domination, and of the appeal to force, applies not only to international affairs, but to the whole problem of industrial control. Not through antagonism but through co-operation and goodwill can the best be obtained for each and all.
  7. Mutual service should be the principle upon which life is organised. Service, not private gain, should be the motive of all work.
  8. The ownership of material things, such as land and capital, should be so regulated as best to minister to the need and development of man.

A recent research project at Leeds, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the ‘Everyday Lives in War’ research centre and undertaken in partnership with Quakers in Britain, has looked at the ‘Foundations of a True Social Order’ and its continuing influence as an example of the ongoing legacy of the First World War. We structured the project as a back-and-forth movement between the historical records and contemporary Quakers – inviting Quakers involved in social action today to reflect on how the history of the ‘Foundations’ text relates to their work and the issues they face. Many of the fruits of our research are now available through an interactive website, where visitors can trace the connections between wartime and present-day Quaker thought and action.

Why is this a ‘First World War’ project? It’s not immediately obvious, just from looking at the ‘Foundations’ text on its own, what it has to do with the war – or why it should have been approved in 1918 rather than at any other time. However, it is the outcome of years of work by a remarkable group of Quakers from across Britain. They had been appointed in 1915, the first annual meeting after the outbreak of war, as a committee to study the relationship between war and the ‘social order’. Over the years that followed, they consulted widely, organised conferences, published pamphlets and books, and drew on their own varied expertise – as educators, political campaigners, employees, business owners, academics – to explore the connection between war and social injustice. The text finally approved in 1918 was based on the findings of one of their conferences.

The ‘Foundations’ text itself draws on several debates and conversations of the time – both theological and political. It picks up some of the common ideas and themes of early twentieth-century Christian Socialism – like the ‘universal brotherhood’ based on the ‘Fatherhood of God’, and the idea of a social order ‘directed beyond all material ends’ towards right relationships. By talking about “a way of living that… will put no excessive burden of labour upon any by reason of our superfluous demands” it picked up the well-established Quaker tradition of avoiding unnecessary luxury in dress and lifestyle, and gave it a social and political emphasis. There are echoes in the text – and not just in its title – of the Labour Party policy statement, Labour and the New Social Order, which was published the following month. For example, the Quaker text stated ‘The opportunity of full development, physical, moral and spiritual, should be assured to every member of the community, man, woman and child’ – and the Labour pamphlet called for a ‘national minimum’ to secure for ‘every member of the community… all the requisites of healthy life and worthy citizenship’.

There is little in the ‘Foundations’ text itself that was really original at the time. What makes it uniquely interesting, I would argue, is its context in this specific religious community – the fact that it was communally owned, with wide consultation and subsequently very wide dissemination, and the fact that it very quickly became a key reference point. Quaker decision-making processes, and the very flat structure of the organisation, mean that for the national body to approve the ‘Foundations’ required a very high level of acceptance of its ideas by ‘ordinary’ Quakers across the country. It also implied that there was an ongoing commitment to put it into practice – and our research has traced some of the struggles in subsequent years to work out what it meant and means, in practice, for Quakers to be committed to this vision of a ‘true social order’. For example, Quakers, individually and collectively, have called for and put into practice various social ‘experiments’, to try to bridge the gap between the vision of the true social order and what is currently possible. Quakers have also found different ways to negotiate the controversial issues around the connection between religious and political commitments. And Quakers’ distinctive decision-making processes – reaching unity without voting – alongside other Quaker traditions, have shaped how the ‘Foundations’ are taken up and worked with.

This in turn raises interesting questions about how we study religious texts – and especially texts that look like ‘official statements’ of the views of a religious group. What can we gain by digging into the processes by which these texts are prepared, agreed, disseminated, discussed and acted on? Does that process sometimes tell us more about the beliefs and attitudes of a group than the texts themselves? How do texts – perhaps looking beyond the obvious example of scriptural texts – function as symbols or focal points for religious communities? These are all fruitful questions for researchers on religion and public life – historically or in the present day.