On 23rd February 2016 Lord Grade of Yarmouth led a short debate in the House of Lords to ask Her Majesty’s Government “what steps they are taking to increase understanding of the Middle East.” The Bishop of Worcester, Rt Revd John Inge, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, drew attention to our consistent lack of understanding of the Middle East. In the brief time available to me, I should like to highlight one area of that lack of understanding—the religious dimension. What concerns me is the lack of religious literacy in our society even among opinion formers and decision-makers. By religious literacy I mean, as his grace the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury put it recently, not just propositional knowledge but emotional intelligence that enables us to understand the place of faith in other people’s lives. Only with that sort of knowledge will we understand the ideological drivers to discord and violence that poison life in the Middle East, and not just between Israelis and Palestinians. How many understand the disenfranchisement and disenchantment felt in Sunni heartlands, for example?As religion becomes more and more central to questions of peace in our world, religious literacy in this country is decreasing and religious education is in a pretty poor state. I commend initiatives like that of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has engaged consistently with the Al-Azhar University in Cairo to promote understanding between people of faith. What plans do the Government have to promote religious literacy so that it reaches all parts of our society, not least all parts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
We have the expertise necessary; witness the long-standing and excellent interfaith programme of the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University or the impressive work of the Woolf Institute in the same university. I suggest that deep religious literacy is a fundamental precursor to understanding the Middle East and more crucial still to winning over the hearts and minds of those committed to violence.