What does it mean to live in a multi-faith society?

A multi-faith or a multi-cultural society is where lots of different faiths live side-by-side, like the UK. Living alongside people with different religions and traditions can be a wonderful experience, but it can also have its challenges. Problems can arise when there is a lack of understanding, so it is important for people from different faiths to come together and engage in discussion in order to better understand one another.

Explore the issues

Watch Shola as she explores religious and non-religious teachings life in a multi-faith society.

The Church of England

Some people regard the UK as a Christian country. Historically, the vast majority of British people were Christian and many of the UK’s traditions, laws and values are based on Christianity. An example of this is school holidays, where schools close during Christian celebrations like Christmas and Easter. The Church of England remains the officially established religion of England, with the Queen as its head.

In the UK, people enjoy religious freedom and there are many opportunities for people to prosper financially. This has meant that Britain has become home to people from many different parts of the world, who bring with them different cultures and religions. The UK has a long history of welcoming people from other countries and is now home to people from all the world's major religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Throughout the UK, especially in large cities, you will see many religious buildings such as mosques, temples and gurdwaras alongside Christian churches and chapels, in which people practise a variety of different faiths.

Interfaith dialogue

Interfaith dialogue can take many different forms. It could be young people of different faiths having casual discussions about their beliefs and religious practices. Religious leaders of different faiths might gather to discuss their responses to a specific issue, such as the treatment of refugees or climate change, and they may all campaign together as one united voice.

Interfaith dialogue and discussions often happen on social media. There are many online forums that enable people from different faith communities across the world to discuss matters of belief, religious practice, and to share their perspectives on many different issues.

Southall in West London is home to a large Punjabi community. The railway station there is one of the few in England to have bilingual signage.

Census results

Religious life has changed enormously in the UK. It is now a much more religiously diverse and multicultural society, made up of people of many different faiths and those who have no faith or religion. Every ten years, the government conducts a census. This is a questionnaire that all households must complete so that the government can get a good idea of the types of people who make up the population.

The census for England and Wales in 2011 showed that, although around 59% of the population identified as Christian, around a quarter said they had no religion. The figures also showed a diversity of other faiths; Islam is the largest faith group after Christianity, with 4.8% percent of people identifying as Muslim.

Words of wisdom

What do religions and non-religious literature and texts have to say about life in a multi-faith society? Click the picture below to explore wisdom and teachings.

Escaping persecution

There has always been a range of religious people living in the UK. Jewish people for example began settling in British towns and cities over a thousand years ago. Over the centuries, Jews have often fled here to escape persecution in other countries. Today there are large Jewish communities in London and Manchester in particular. Islam is the largest non-Christian religion in the UK and is also the fastest growing faith in the world today. Many Muslims first came to busy port towns in the nineteenth century to find work and better prospects to make a living. Some Muslims have come to the UK to escape war, oppression or persecution. In recent times, Britain has welcomed Muslim refugees escaping oppressive regimes in countries like Pakistan or those fleeing from the ravages of war in Syria.

Some would say that religious diversity gives people of different faiths opportunities to engage with each other. This is called interfaith dialogue and there are many interfaith networks that encourage people from different communities to meet and join in discussions together. Sometimes these interfaith networks are established organisations and may involve anyone; from local communities to the most important religious leaders, or even governments. Interfaith networks could also exist as simple, informal meetings or gatherings held in places of worship or community halls, arranged by local people.

Religious diversity

For many, this religious diversity is something to be celebrated, showing that the UK is a country in which people can truly exercise their right to religious freedom.

However, some people worry that the way of life they have known is becoming lost or overwhelmed due to the presence of many religions. Some people may also worry that religious difference can lead to divided communities, where people live and socialise separately according to their beliefs, rather than being together as part of a wider community.

Muslim girls on a fairground ride at the Southwark Eid Festival in Burgess Park, London.

Multi-faith society in pictures

Buddhism – Buddhist practices in the UK

Buddhism – Buddhist practices in the UK

Some of the practices, ideas and images of Buddhism have become popular in the UK. Mindfulness and meditation, for example, are rooted in Buddhist tradition and have become widely used in non-religious ways to help people to deal with stress and control emotions. What might some of the advantages and disadvantages be of non-religious people adopting parts of religious practices, ideas and images in their own way?

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