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Male holding poster saying 'Stop racism in our world'

Professor Mike Higton, from our Department of Theology and Religion, has been appointed to the newly formed Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice in the Church of England. Here, he speaks about the role he hopes to play.

In April, the Church of England published a landmark report, From Lament to Action. It was produced by the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce, and it set out a demanding agenda for change in all areas of the Church’s life.

The newly formed Commission for Racial Justice is meant to pick up where the taskforce left off. Guided by our chair, Lord Boateng, we will be working over the next three years to implement the report’s recommendations, and to push forward the work of anti-racism across the Church.

Focus on theological education

My own contribution is likely to focus on ‘theological education’ – the process by which people are trained for various kinds of leadership in the Church.

That is a natural fit for me, and for Durham. The University is already the validating institution for much of the Church of England’s formal theological education, through the ‘Common Awards’ scheme, and I am the academic lead for that scheme. I am used to interacting with the Church’s training institutions, scrutinising their academic standards, and asking questions about the educational experience that they offer to their students.

Welcoming and diverse

There are two sides to the anti-racism agenda in this context. We want to ensure that the Church’s theological education is welcoming to – and shaped by – a truly diverse range of students, especially those from a Global Majority Heritage / UK Minority Ethnic background. And we want to ensure that the education that all students receive, regardless of background, brings them into contact with a wide variety of voices, and equips them to work sensitively with multiple communities and cultures.

This will mean looking at curricula, pedagogy, assessment, institutional cultures, spaces for discussion, complaints processes, and more – all the different dimensions of the theological education experience. It will mean interrogating the ways in which existing practices, resources, and cultures inhibit diversity or perpetuate forms of marginalisation and exclusion. It will also mean finding innovative ways of working that acknowledge and overcome these problems.

A big agenda...

This is a big agenda, but there is a huge amount of work for us to draw on. Much of the analysis that we need, and much of the innovation, already exists. We will, for instance, be able to make use of lots of material on decolonising the curriculum and on anti-racist pedagogy, including some of the thinking and innovating that’s happening here in Durham and in our partner institutions around the Church.

Our task as a Commission is not so much to come up with brilliant new ideas as to support good work wherever it is taking place, to make sure that such good work spreads, and to work out how to embed it more deeply in the Church’s educational culture. As a member of the Commission, therefore, my most important task will be to listen to those already involved in the work of anti-racism, and to learn from their expertise – and then to do what I can to ensure that such expertise is taken seriously around the Church.

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