The best research is transformational. Our recent project on faith-based social action has been personally affecting, and made me re-examine my own religion beliefs. I’m one of what I imagine to be a sizeable number of Hindus (and Sikhs and Muslims) in the UK who would define themselves as engaged in cultural but not necessarily religious practice. We’re like Christians who celebrate Christmas but don’t go to church; our commitment might be superficial but at least it’s consistent.
Our recently completed research article indicates there’s an impressive portfolio of social action currently undertaken by Christian groups in Southampton. This is more than likely replicated throughout the country, thanks to national franchising systems (like CAP), ecumenical networks (like Pioneer) and replicable social action models (like Street Pastors and Basics Bank).
These are highly focussed, slickly run and transparent anti-poverty projects backed by excellent governance and monitoring systems. From our research, it doesn’t appear that minority faith groups are undertaking similar work. Instead, their anti-poverty social action is more informal, collective and ad hoc. There’s ample evidence (from our own study, for example) that Muslim groups in particular are actively concerned with poverty relief among their own “communities”. The extent of such concerns among other minority faith groups is something our small scale research failed to uncover.
This brings me to my own faith beliefs. Hinduism offers me great solace and has spiritual nourishment. To what extent, however, is sewa mainstreamed in Hindu religious practice? To my knowledge sewa is more of an afterthought to most Hindus in the UK, granted token acknowledgement through highly publicised sewa days but not perceived as central to our faith. Where is UK Hinduism’s “faith in action”?