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Religious Groups in the Public Policy Process in Britain

Daniel Gover, PhD Candidate, School of Politics & IR

Primary Supervisor: Professor Michael Kenny 

Follow Daniel on Twitter: @DanielGover



Daniel has a BA (Hons) in Politics from the University of Nottingham and an MPhil in Politics from the University of Cambridge. In addition to his PhD studies, he works at the Constitution Unit, UCL, where he is researching the policy impact of the Westminster parliament. He has previously worked for an MP at the House of Commons, and is author of a report for the think tank Theos about the political role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. For a complete list of his academic publications, please click here.


Religious groups play an active role in the policy process in Britain. Church leaders frequently speak out on political matters, while religious-based pressure groups have mobilised around high-profile policy issues such as international development and opposition to equal marriage. Recent developments within government – both in its attitudes towards outside interests in general, and towards religion in particular – have created new opportunities for religious groups to participate in the formulation and delivery of public policy. Yet religion’s influence on public policy remains highly contentious. For some, its involvement risks compromising the neutrality of the British state and opening the door to greater discrimination. From others, by contrast, there are complaints that religious actors are in fact being marginalised by a largely secular and religiously illiterate government bureaucracy.

This project will assess the extent to which government has collaborated with religious groups on public policy between 2005 and 2015. It will also consider the consequences of government’s relationships with religious groups, both for the strategies employed by those groups and for policy outcomes. Because the character of group-government relations may vary across departments and issues, the study will compare between three specific policy areas. A central objective of the research is to better understand the role of ideas – including religious doctrine and the attitudes of others towards religion – in explaining religion’s role in the policy process. The research will include interviews with key actors, including government officials and representatives of religious groups.

Religion’s influence on public policy has so far attracted more opinion than empirical analysis. By shedding greater light on it, this project aims to inform popular debate about the role that religion does, and should, play in British public life. Its findings will also have implications for several strands of academic research. First, religion’s role in British society has attracted a significant amount of recent attention. Second, political scientists have recently begun to grapple more seriously with religion, including the role of ideas in motivating religious political behaviour. So far, however, religion’s direct impact on public policy has been largely neglected within this discipline. Third, group-government relations are a central concern within the study of the policy process – for example in “policy networks” – while the role of ideas in policy development is a developing theme. Fourth, the project will offer further insight into the behaviour and strategies of pressure groups.

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