Multi-faith space study launched

A pioneering architectural study into the history and impact of multi-faith spaces has been launched by a University of Manchester team with a meeting of representatives from the UK’s major faiths.

Drs Ralf Brand, Andrew Crompton, Chris Hewson and Rev Terry Biddington - Chaplain to Higher Education in Manchester - will visit spaces in airports, hospitals, prisons, universities, crematoria and shopping centres set aside to allow the public to practice their faith.

It is funded under the Religion and Society Research Programme - an initiative led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

They hope to find out how buildings and areas used for multi-faith spaces can promote tolerance between different religions.

Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Paganism, Baha’ism, Druidism will all be represented at the 15 April focus group at St Ethelberga’s centre for reconciliation and peace in London.

Also present will be academics, a former head of BBC religion and multi-faith specialists with experience in an airport, higher education, prison and an Immigration Removals Centre.

The meeting will guide the research team on where to carry out their research and the issues which are important to the different faiths.

As the project unfolds, the team will visit spaces in the UK and abroad, carrying out detailed assessments of the buildings and the people who design, maintain and use them.

A PhD student, Christina Lacey, has also been recruited to research the history of multifaith spaces from the seventeenth century onwards to inform the investigation.

Dr Brand, who is based at The School of Environment and Development, said: "More and more attempts - with the encouragement of various authorities - are being made to accommodate religious diversity through the provision of multi-faith spaces.

"They first emerged as single functional rooms in airports, universities, hospitals or shopping malls.

"But more recently, the concept has been expanded to buildings in which different religions have their own sacred spaces with some shared facilities for secular purposes.

"And plans are underway for innovative multi-functional building complexes, where members of different faiths can pray, shop, relax, learn and play."

The project will also produce the UK’s first compendium of multifaith spaces and good practice guide, an interactive website, a design studio at the Manchester School of Architecture and a traveling exhibition.

The Rev Terry Biddington said: “This focus group will allow people from diverse backgrounds to give the project a valuable steer.

“If we are to learn more about finding ways for different religions to coexist in a space or range of spaces, then that will involve some difficult and sensitive discussions.

“This meeting will certainly be a fascinating and important start to that process.”

Dr Crompton added: "What we aim to discover is if these spaces encourage pluralism or merely house difference.

"Are they really good investments and if so how, can they be designed to be better suited to their task?"

Journalists are welcome to visit St Ethelberga’s after the focus group has finished.

The research team will survey the exterior and interior design of 36 multifaith spaces in the UK and 12 overseas. In addition, they will visit 14 of them to examine in more depth their history, management arrangements and their societal effect.

Visit the project website at http://www.sed.manchester.ac­.uk/archit­ecture/res­earch/mfs/

Visit the Religion and Society Research Programme on www.religionandsoci­ety.org.uk and the Arts and Humanities Research Council at www.ahrc.ac.uk .

For media enquiries contact:

Mike Addelman
Media Relations
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567
michael.addelman [a] manchester.ac (p) uk