Connecting Generations: Generations X,Y and 'We'
Mirella Yandoli, the Church of Scotland's Interfaith Officer reflects on Scottish Interfaith Week and its theme of 'Connecting Generations'.
In my line of work I often come across the defence 'This may well be important for England but Scotland is not diverse!' to explain why a church or its Minister is not engaging with the topic of interfaith relations. With under six million inhabitants, only a fraction of the minority faith population that live in the UK can be found living in Scotland. For instance 5% of the UK's overall population is Muslim however this percentage drops to 1.45% in Scotland. The Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faith groups each account for around 0.6% of the Scottish population and the Jewish numbers have dropped to 0.1% of the population, around 4,000 people. So if we were to look at these statistics in isolation or compare them with that or their English neighbours then you can easily accept that Scotland is not a place to go and observe multiculturalism.
However the rate of demographic change has been significantly faster for Scotland than England given how much more culturally and ethnically homogenous it has been until relatively recently. In just ten years the overall Muslim population has doubled and is projected to double again by the next census in 2012. The size of the overall population probably makes this change feels more noticeable to the resident of both the Southside of Glasgow and Inverness and certainly for the residents of the Outer Hebrides which received widespread media coverage when it was announced that construction of its a Mosque had begun. Diversity is also, and I say this time and time again, not solely a matter of numbers. Looking into Scottish history, you do not need to delve too deeply to find stories and facts that disturb the well-trodden narratives of tartan, kilts and homogeneity. There was the so-called 'Black Prince' of Perthshire, a Sikh heir to the throne in the Punjab who was abducted by the British Empire, brought to Scotland as a child and lived like royalty not knowing his true roots until he reached adulthood. There were the Muslim lascars working in the shipyards of Glasgow in the 1880s and there was a Jewish Chair in Hebrew teaching Free Church Ministers in 1641. I have used these facts in various ways in an 'interfaith quiz' and it's interesting to see people's perspective of their own history change in front of you.
This dramatic change, Scotland's narrative as a hospitable and welcoming country and the advantage of its size are all factors that have contributed to a strong and vibrant interfaith scene. This week is Interfaith week which started in 2004 here and in Australia. England followed suit in 2009 and is run by the UK's Interfaith Network.
Interfaith Week presents a valuable opportunity to have a look at the kinds of activities taking place across Scotland but also track the changes over the years. I've noticed things get bolder and more creative. Some events firmly stick to a similar format of formal dialogue or religious leaders meeting for a photo opportunity, but the variety of events on offer show that different generations and sections of the public are beginning to take an interest. So this year, with the theme of 'connecting generations' as part of the Scottish Government's 'Year of Young People' I was wondering how Interfaith Scotland would attempt to bridge the gap of alternative expectations and sometimes conflicting approaches to bringing communities together.
Because let's face it, interfaith dialogue and relations is often a pursuit of those who are retired and able to give up their time, not only to their faith community but also representing their faith in dialogues and collaboration. However with the world such a scary space at the moment I have also seen a rise in interest amongst young people who need to explore what it means to have a faith in a secular world that often portrays faith as an object of curiosity.
At the launch event of Scottish Interfaith Week in Aberdeen's Town House this theme was put explored at length. We were invited to look within faith traditions for inspiration such as L'Dor V'Dor in Judaism (from generation to generation) and challenging knowledge to move up the generations as well as down. The role of the Gurus in Sikhism was highlighted to show how Guru Nanak challenged the religious authorities of the time to empower both young and old. There were music and dance performances and, probably the most moving of all, the presentation of artwork contributed by a local primary and secondary school as well as one from an individual artist that showed a Jewish religious elder sheltering a child from another ethnic background. This painting, pictured above, captured the spirit of the theme beautifully. It challenges us to reach across our categories and the expectations placed on them. The child, whilst being sheltered is looking squarely back at the viewer and demanding respect and equality. It struck me as an important expression of how young an old had different roles to play for each other; protection, wisdom and experience met with courage, defiance and vulnerability.
This article is written by Mirella Yandoli who has been the Church of Scotland's Interfaith officer for the past two years. Her role is to develop and expand Scotland's national Church relationships with other faith communities as well as help to educate its members and leaders about the interfaith landscape. A key issue is helping to connect members with their individual and community responsibility in tackling hate speech and prejudice in a Scottish context where these issues are not always so visible. Mirella is a Woolf Institute alumna having completed the University of Cambridge MSt in The Study of Jewish-Christian Relations.
Back to Blog