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The British Academy Debates: does religion do more harm than good?



Date: 16th February 2016

Time: 17:30 - 19:00

Venue: Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building

As part of the British Academy Debates on faith, this panel will explore the position of religion in today’s world. The finger is often pointed at religion as the source of many conflicts, but is this really the case? Does the pursuit of religious freedom for some always mean restrictions on others? How do we balance religious freedom with fairness and equality for all?

Chaired by Professor Helen Berry, Dean of Postgraduate Studies, Newcastle University


David Aaronovitch
Journalist, author and broadcaster 

Professor Tina Beattie
Professor of Catholic Studies, University of Roehampton

Professor Ian Reader
Emeritus Professor, University of Manchester

Dr Malise Ruthven 
Author, Islam in the World and Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning

Chairing the debate will be Helen Berry, who is Professor of British History and Acting Dean of Postgraduate Studies in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Newcastle University. Educated at the Universities of Durham and Cambridge, she is a prizewinning Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Fellow of the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Helen has published widely on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history and her most recent book, The Castrato and His Wife (Oxford University Press, 2011) was a Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week.’ She has a particular interest in the history of gender, sexuality and the family, and is a Theme Champion for ‘Past into the Present’, a research strand at the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal (NISR).  For more information, please visit her website

Malise Ruthven is a writer, journalist and teacher, focusing on religion, fundamentalism, and especially Islamic affairs. He is the author of Islam in the World, Fundamentalism: the Search for Meaning, and A Historical Atlas of the Islamic World, for which he won the 2005 US Middle East Outreach Council Book Award.

Tina Beattie is Professor of Catholic Studies and Director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing at the University of Roehampton in London. Her research focuses on the relationship between the Catholic tradition and contemporary culture, with a particular interest in issues of gender, sexuality, psychoanalysis, human rights and theology and the arts. She is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4 and other media. Her most recent book is Theology after Postmodernity: Divining the Void – a Lacanian Reading of Thomas Aquinas (OUP 2013).

David Aaronovitch is the former president of the National Union of Students, BBC programme editor and executive, and joined the Independent in 1995. At the beginning of 2003 he switched to the Guardian and the Observer, and in June 2005 to The Times where he is a columnist. He writes on politics, international affairs, culture, problems of democracy, literature and the arts. David has presented and appeared in numerous TV and radio programmes, including Have I Got News For You and Question Time. He has won the What The Papers Say 1998 award for a writer about broadcasting, the 2000 Orwell prize for journalism and the What The Papers Say 2003 Columnist of the Year award. David is also the author of two books Paddling to Jerusalem, which won the Madoc prize for travel journalism, and Voodoo Histories - a modern history of conspiracy theories - published in early May 2009.

Ian Reader is Professor Emeritus at the University of Manchester, where he was for several years Professor of Japanese Studies. He was previously Professor of Religious Studies at Lancaster University and has held academic appointments in Japan, Scotland, Denmark and Hawaii.  He has published several books on issues such as religion in Japan, pilgrimage in global contexts, and religion and violence.  His current research areas include conflict and competition between religious groups in Japan, the relationship of pilgrimage, travel and tourism, and the decline of religious institutions in modern society, especially in relation to Japan.