The Rev Dr Peter Hayler Assoc. Vicar at Great St Mary’s and Chaplain to University Staff, Cambridge, reflects on the difference between multi-faith and inter-faith perspectives.
As Chaplain to University Staff at Cambridge, I have been working amidst the multi-faith realities of the diverse University community in Cambridge since 2009. In partnership with colleagues we are currently working for a more intentionally co-ordinated and collaborative multi-faith chaplaincy to serve the University.
Multi-faith is a demographic reality. The fact that people come to Cambridge from all over the world means that it is a multi-faith community. As a body in receipt of public funding, the University works to fulfil the public duties incumbent upon it in the face of the Equalities Act 2010 and to guard against the liabilities of discrimination, harassment and victimisation through good policy, guidance and practice. Because Religion and Belief is a legally protected characteristic, we have grown our own version of ‘religious literacy’: a calendar of festivals and seasons, a multi-faith series within the annual Festival of Ideas, and an ongoing series of Face-to-Faith conversations. These actions inform the University community and give opportunities to those who would explore the phenomenon of religious plurality.
A second legal driver also exists and, metaphorically speaking, seems to run somewhat perpendicular to the public equality duties. The ‘Prevent’ duties that are designed to safeguard the University against violent extremism include the prior permissioning and balanced planning of outside speakers, the monitoring of prayer facilities and the provision of ‘sufficient’ chaplaincy. A sociological response to all this would be the observation that the duties that accrue from both these legal drivers are managed in a formally rational way, inevitably giving rise to bureaucratic responses within the institution. Formal rationality barely stops to consider values or virtues… which are at the heart of all expressions of religious belief or individual spirituality.
Inter-faith, on the other hand, is about people of different traditions setting shared goals and working together, whether on the basics of understanding one another’s traditions through practices like Scriptural Reasoning, or on other aims, through other forms of dialogue or action. Values and virtues are uppermost is these sorts of pursuits. Participants grow in their appreciation of different values systems, and are sometimes surprised to find that they have things in common with their inter-faith friends. Buildings can be shared, hospitality can be enriched, humanitarian outreach can be strengthened.
My work of chaplaincy situates me in the midst of all this. I know the foundations of my own faith tradition, and I bring time-served experience to the specific context with a real religious sense of calling, but I absolutely have to inhabit the constraints of the polity of the secular institution in which I serve. It is vital that I believe that this can be for good, despite the different directions in which the different drivers pull me. It is equally vital that I look for collaborative opportunities and encounters, with people of all faiths and none, and through which these goods might be brought to fruition.
The Rev Dr Peter Hayler is the Associate Vicar at Great St Mary’s and Chaplain to University Staff, Cambridge.