While confidence in the state wanes during a crisis, faith groups play an increasingly important role.
In recent years, the UK government has had to address rising tensions due to austerity measures, terrorist attacks, an influx of refugees and other complex issues. Local Jewish, Muslim, Christian and interfaith initiatives have been a source of help and social cohesion during these crises.
The researchers at the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute believe the social and economic challenges created by the crises have allowed a new form of citizenship to emerge. They identify individuals that work at a local level across political, religious and ethnic boundaries without recognition to change the state of the community.
“They receive much less media and public attention, even though they are refashioning citizenship productively, much more so than angry protest voters, and illustrate alternative forms of civic responses to challenging times,” the report states.
The “quiet citizen” was found to be especially prevalent in faith communities. These citizens are very aware of local issues and work in grassroots initiatives to address these problems. They often donate their time and efforts freely to improve the situation and should receive greater recognition, the report says.
The role of religious groups
The report “Trust in Crisis: the emergence of the quiet citizen” shows how people in four cities – London, Rome, Paris and Berlin – reacted when confronted by a crisis which challenged their faith in the state. Crises included issues from refugees and terrorism to political nativism and dissatisfaction with the Establishment.
The researchers found the reach of faith communities and their networks was vast. It is mostly based on volunteers donating their time and using spaces such as mosques and synagogues to carry out their community work. Their work, alongside that of local activists and community workers was clearly seen in response to the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.
Other long-term crises also highlight the importance of organised religion in community work. The researchers called attention to Rome and Paris where church resources are used to support refugees and to London, where religious groups work side-by-side, supplying food banks.
However, the researchers believe the government fails to realise the full potential of these communities in responding to a crisis. They advocate for a greater appreciation of local faith groups and the potential of their work, which – while being less vocal than political protests and marches – does more to foster “productive citizenship”.
The report also calls for the “quiet citizen” to feature more in media coverage and policy considerations, for greater investment in local resources and for the government to promote contact across social divides.