The Birmingham Conversations was set up in 2014 with the aim of bringing together select groups of people of all faiths an none to discuss issues of faith and public life. It was felt that some of the more contentious issues of how faith is lived out rarely get discussed at other interfaith events and the desire was to create a space and methodology that would allow these to be discussed constructively.
The aims of the Birmingham Conversations are:
The basic methodology
is to invite participants who represent different faiths and interest groups, up to a maximum of 30 people. They are asked to commit to the whole process, usually meeting once a month for six months with each meeting lasting three hours. The agenda is left deliberately flexible with a broad starting question that is then unpacked and explored by the group over the period of the conversation. A planning group made up of people from different faiths is set up who plan future sessions based on what has gone before. At the end of the process the findings are made available in a variety of ways and disseminated, usually through an initial public symposium and then shared on-line. A detailed paper outlining the methodology can be downloaded here Designing for Discussion
To date there have been five Birmingham Conversations:
'The Visibility of Religion' in conjunction with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
From each of these conversations there have been reports published to share our findings with members of the public, academics and policy makers and to encourage others to join in the conversations. Click on the links to access the reports and resources.
In 2018 we published a Resource based on 'Living at Peace in a world of Conflict'. This is a six session course that can be downloaded for free and then used to run your own Birmingham Conversations.
During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020/21 the Birmingham conversations moved on-line using Zoom to stay connected and continue our work of bringing people of different faiths together.
From March-June 2020 we met each week to discuss how our faiths could inspire us as we thought about solitude, grief, endurance, hope, joy and much more.
In July we met three times to discuss prayer, each week having speakers from different faiths share something of a prayer that had great meaning for them. For example one week we looked at the Lord's Prayer and the Mool Mantra.
In January 2021 we took the themes of Silence, Light and Words to open up conversations and understanding. Once again we had two speakers from different faiths each week developing the theme and then put people into groups to share their own thoughts and ideas.
Andrew Smith, the Director of Interfaith Relations, led these conversations and in 2021 had an article published in the Journal of Dialogue Studies entitled "Dialogue in Lockdown: Online dialogue and its lessons amidst rising popularism".
The Birmingham Conversations now has a Youtube channel where you can listen to speakers from different backgrounds opening up topics for discussion.