One nation, many faiths: representations of religious pluralism and national identity in the Scottish interfaith literature
Sutherland, Liam Templeton
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This thesis presents a specific case study of the developing relationship between religious pluralism and national identity in Scotland by focusing on a particular high-profile group - Interfaith Scotland (IFS) - the country’s national interfaith body, which has received little scholarly attention. This thesis argues that IFS represents religious pluralism as interrelated with contemporary Scottish national identity through its organisation and its literature: representing Scotland as one nation of many faiths. This discourse of unity in diversity presents a structured and limited religious pluralism based on the world religions paradigm (WRP), and is compatible with a civic-cultural form of nationalism. The WRP involves a model of religion which focuses on broad global traditions such as Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, over specific local communities and distinct denominations. These global traditions are defined by coherent, intellectual and ethical dimensions represented as closely equivalent. This paradigm is evident from the governing structures within IFS itself which represents individual religious bodies according to the world tradition into which they can be classified and affords a secondary, non-governing status to those who are not recognised as part of one of these traditions. Their world religions approach is also evident from representations of ‘religions’ in their literature, which emphasise broader intellectual and ethical traditions even in relation to communities outside the major traditions they recognise and the ‘Non-religious’ Humanist movement. This demonstrates their reliance on these categories in depicting Scotland and its population. The chapters of this thesis will explore how IFS depicts the Scottish nation and its population through the category of ‘religion’: the Christian majority, religious minority groups and the Non-religious. It also examines how IFS draws on civic and cultural resources to construct a common Scottish national identity compatible with their structured and limited pluralism. This civic-cultural nationalism is often banal or implicit, reinforcing the conception of interfaith relations taking place within a Scottish national framework through innocuous references to Scotland as a bounded society and the use of common cultural symbols of Scottishness to represent the ‘unity’ encasing that religious diversity. This can be classified as a form of nationalism because it represents the overarching secular national political framework of Scotland as supremely authoritative, as the legitimate basis for the political representation of the population rather than any specific religious identities. IFS’ nationalism was especially evident during the lead up to the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence during which they consistently affirmed the right of the Scottish population to national self-determination without endorsing either position. The key themes of IFS’ expressions of nationalism and the world religions paradigm are related. The conception of religions as of global importance as intellectual and ethical traditions rather than specific political movements at the local level means that religious identifications do not conflict with the territorially limited authority of the nation. Through these discourses ‘religious’ and ‘national’ identities are represented as compatible and non-competitive. This thesis relates to the wider comparative study of the changing relationship between religion, secularism and nationalism in the contemporary world. It makes a contribution to the critical social scientific study of interfaith groups and the role they play in governance, processes of national integration, the reinforcement of national identity in civil society, and the construction of religious identities. It provides evidence that the relationship between nationalism and religion is not always either wholly separated or related to religious exclusivism as with certain forms of religious-nationalism, but that religious pluralism can also be related to forms of nationalism despite assumptions of their incompatibility.