By JAMES WALTERS
Queen Elizabeth I ended decades of bloody religious warfare in England with the memorable resolution that she “would not make windows into men’s souls”. It’s a maxim that encapsulates many of our modern British assumptions about the place of religion: un-interfered with in private, tempered down in public. Continuing in the line of female icons who balance British tenacity and religious reserve, Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess echoed the sentiment in a comment on principles, “They are like prayers, noble of course, but awkward at a party”.
But the neat categorization of religion’s appropriate role in both public and private life are being radically unsettled in Britain today, partly through the erosion of the Anglican expression of Christianity (more than 20 per cent of British churchgoers now attend new, Pentecostal or independent churches), but primarily through the growth in size and impact of British Islam. The number saying they are Muslim in the UK census rose by over a million between 2001 and 2011.