Thinking more deeply about faith today

By Simon Barrow
August 16, 2013

Fifteen years ago, 'faith' was seen as a virtually spent subject in the public realm, certainly in the view of its many 'cultured despisers'.

Since then, and not least because of the association of religious fanaticism with the growth of post-cold war asymetric conflict, belief and beliefs have become significant talking points again.

Correspondingly, the failure of a hard version of the secularisation thesis to account for the mutation, upsurge and shift of religious allegiances has led to an awareness of the persistent character of faith - by which we may mean religious adherence generally, particular manifestations (faiths and denominations) and the different ways of life open to a sense, apprehension and engagement with transcendence.

All that said, much of the most immediately accessible discourse around faith today is extremely thin, contentious, often poorly researched, and driven by entrenched zealous or antagonistic views 'for' or 'against'

In order to deepen dialogue, 'Faith Today' is one of the five thematic strands of Just Festival, alongside Changing World, Ethics Over Profit, Behind Closed Doors and issues pertinent to the Scottish Independence Referendum. It is being expressed through talk and conversation, art and performance.

Professor Richard Holloway, former Primus and Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church, comments: "Human history has been one of almost constant change. Sometimes the change has been slow and evolutionary; sometimes it has been fast and revolutionary. In the modern era it has been almost unbearably rapid.

"In my own lifetime I have witnessed at least three revolutions, all of which have had a profound impact on religion. The communications revolution has brought the world into our living rooms. This is sometimes described as ‘the death of distance’: everything is much closer, including much we’d rather not know about. The transportation revolution has shrunk the world and brought very different cultural and political traditions together, often uncomfortably.

Also the feminist revolution has challenged male dominance of the institutions of society, including religion. Taken together, these revolutions have had a profoundly destabilising effect on faith communities, most of which trace their self-understanding back to pre-modern male dominated cultures.

"So far I haven’t even mentioned science and the way it has revolutionised our understanding of the origins of the physical universe! No wonder faith communities are in turmoil as they try to calibrate their responses to this revolutionary situation.

"One thing seems clear to me as we contemplate this tumult: there can be no going back. The question is: how can we go forward?"

Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church (corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road) and some 27 other venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

* The conversations, talks and performances related to the Faith Today strand are linked at the foot of this page:

* For more information on Just Festival, visit and

* Ekklesia is a sponsor of Just Festival. Our news, reporting and comment is aggregated at:


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and a media adviser for Just Festival.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.