Religious Identity and Superdiversity

It’s become a new buzz word thanks largely to the work of the social anthropologist Steve Vertovec – ‘superdiversity’…..but what does it reveal that we don’t know already? And what might the idea of complex, interwoven identities that flow and change have to say to the way we think about city life, about identity and about faith in the ‘liquid’ city?

Within the life of the 21st century city even our diversity has become diverse. There are for example more than 300 languages spoke in London schools and almost 200 self-defined religous identities. We live perhaps in a both-and society rather than an either-or world reminiscent perhaps of what Homi Bhabha calls a ‘third space’ – the place where who we are is not fixed or fenced off but in continuous process of becoming in relationship with others. And yet we also live in societies that are more starkly divided along ethnic and religious lines than ever before. A resurgent ‘orientalism’ has accompanied what Samuel Huntingdon called the ‘clash of civilisations’ in the mid 1990s, the ‘othering’ of the so called ‘war on terror’, the rise of far right street movement like the English Defence League in the UK and rising levels of Islamophobia….What role might religous faith have to play as we wrestle with diversity, the fear of difference and struggle to forge a liberative cultural politics of difference?

Does faith entrench fixed and forever identities – build up a kind of religious bonding social capital – OK for those on the ‘inside’ but excluding those whom we perceive to be ‘different’ or ‘other’? Alternatively might it be the case that outward facing and dynamic faith based identities can build links, a kind of religious bridging social capital? What’s life like in your city? Is superdiversity just another bit of grandiose academic jargon or does it grasp a new level of diversity within our diversity and invite us to think afresh about the cities we call home?

The debate featured above focuses on ‘Religious Identity in a Superdiverse Society’ and is part of the ‘Religion and Society’ programme in the UK….along with the video there are transcripts that invite further questions….See what you think…