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October 8, 2010

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The Friends’ Relief Service and Displaced People after the Second World War

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/10/8/Quakers.JPG" height="550px" width="720px" /> Image: Members of FRS 124 leaving Tilbury for Ostend in July 1945, from the Friends’ Library, London. Used with permission of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain

Dr Fiona Reid considers past perspectives on relief work

After the Second World War there were about 10 million displaced people (DPs) in Europe alone. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was responsible for most of them, yet voluntary societies, such as the Friends Relief Service (FRS) played a huge role too.

The FRS was organised by the Quakers, although not all of its members were Quakers. Team members were largely motivated by the belief that humanitarian work was an expression of Christian commitment and they defined themselves against the highly professionalised model of relief work being pioneered by UNRRA. FRS teams often presented an image of themselves as simply good-hearted amateurs doing their best, yet the Quaker training and selection process was rigorous. Unlike UNRRA, FRS teams were proficient in local languages and only 1 in 10 applicants to the FRS was accepted. The Quakers clearly and deliberately understated their own training. But why? Possibly from a sense of modesty, possibly from a sense of moral superiority, or possibly because they simply felt inadequate when faced with the realities of life in a DP camp. Yet this strong world view – erroneous in itself – may well have maintained morale and protected FRS teams from some of the psychological trauma of relief work.

Fiona Reid is head of Glamorgan's History Division. Her research and teaching specialisms include the social impact of World War II and the history of refugees. This entry summarises the conclusions of her research presentation to the history division's War, Violence and Society seminar series, ‘Our Work Is a Mission’: The Friends’ Relief Service and Displaced People after the Second World War.

September 21, 2010

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» Papal Aggression in postsecular Britain?

<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/9/21/ArchbishopandPoperesized.jpg " />

Dr Timothy Jones reflects on Benedict XIV's visit to Britain

In the lead up to Pope Benedict’s recent state visit to Britain, Vatican ecumenical expert, Cardinal Walter Kasper compared arriving in Heathrow to landing in a third world country and talked of Britain’s ‘aggressive new atheism’. His comments were regarded as bizarre diplomatic faux pas. They were reported with barely suppressed glee by the liberal press alongside protests against the child abuse scandal and Vatican policy on HIV-AIDS prevention, remarriage and homosexuality. Cardinal Kasper’s comments, rightly condemned as racist, nonetheless identify a real shift in the religious landscape of Britain.

Opposition to the Pope’s visit was principally from secularists rather than Protestants. While this secular anti-Catholicism had clear parallels with Britain’s historic sectarian anti-Catholicism it is different in key ways. The most interesting difference is the failure of the new atheists to tap into nationalist sentiment. As ticket sales to the Pope’s public appearances attest, most Britons were apathetic rather antagonistic to the Pope’s visit. Britain might not be especially Christian anymore, but neither is it especially secular. Secularists appeared as ideologically motivated in their irreligion as the religionists they opposed.

In their public interactions, the Pope and the leaders of the Church of England were presented on remarkably equal footing. The Roman Church claims to be the one true Church with universal jurisdiction, yet Benedict had tea with the Queen, the head of the Church of England. Perhaps more dramatically, on Friday the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly lead evensong at Westminster Abbey. They processed down the aisle side by side and pronounced the benediction in unison. This ritual display of equality belies recent sectarian conflict.

Scholars are now suggesting that rather than entering a secular age contemporary Britain is better described as postsecular. Society is increasingly organised around secular principles and the country is rarely described as ‘Christian’ anymore. While Christian churches continue to play a social role (one that may be about to be dramatically expanded in David Cameron’s ‘big society’), they are more and more seen as players in a more level ideological landscape that also includes Muslim, Hindu and secular ideologies.

As the Pope's visit has illustrated, the central religious problematic in modern Britain is no longer secularisation, but multiculturalism. And perhaps the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury walking arm in arm down the aisle of Westminster Abbey on the eve of the beatification of John Henry Newman can be read as a good omen for multicultural Britain. After all, Cardinal Newman was contiguously the greatest Anglican and the greatest Catholic in nineteenth-century Britain.

Dr Timothy Jones teaches and researches modern British history and the histories of religion, fundamentalism, gender and sexuality.