04 Nov 2008

Lessons from the past: Modern religious history explored

Fascinating insights into the history of modern religion in the UK will be revealed by a unique knowledge exchange partnership between The Open University, King’s College London and the Church of England. The project, funded by a £234,000 Knowledge Transfer grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, should bring the Church a better understanding of lessons from its own history and so help to inform Church interactions with wider society.

Over three years, beginning this November, historians Professor John Wolffe (The Open University) and Professor Arthur Burns (King’s College London) will be working closely with the diocese of London and Lambeth Palace Library – the leading national repository for English religious history - on the project, Modern Religious History and the Contemporary Church. They will be unlocking the rich archives in the Library’s care to bring valuable historical insights on current challenges facing clergy, congregations and the broader multi-ethnic community of contemporary London. Seminars to discuss historical insights into modern-day problems will be convened with leading figures in the diocese responsible for formulating both diocesan and national policy, while the project will also establish training programmes for clergy and other local leaders to provide historical perspectives on practical concerns.

The last twenty years have transformed academic understanding of the place of religion in modern English society, and produced a sophisticated appreciation of the dynamics of the Anglican church's relations with both national and local communities, as a pastoral and missionary enterprise, as an influence on public policy, and as a community in an increasingly multifaith environment. This project will enable these insights to be shared with much wider groups of people.

John Wolffe, Professor of Religious History at The Open University, said: “The project will give historians of modern British religion invaluable exposure to the current thinking of an institution central to their work. Much historical scholarship and many of the original documents available in archives and libraries, provide invaluable insight relevant to many current challenges. There are striking contemporary parallels with many of the issues that confronted the Victorian and Edwardian church.”

Arthur Burns, Professor of Modern British History at King’s College London added: ”While knowledge transfer between the Humanities and cultural institutions such as galleries and museums is well established, projects like this will provide invaluable experience in the ways insights from the Humanities can be applied in institutions less directly concerned in the cultural sphere or education.”

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