Zaki Cooper: Religion has a key part to play in ensuring economic recovery

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The Independent Online

If the venue for the speech seemed unlikely, that is because religion and economics sometimes make uneasy bedfellows. Prelates often react with complete ignorance or acute suspicion when it comes to business and markets. And the corporate world, a cornerstone of modernity, has often viewed religion as anachronistic and irrelevant.

But there are two interesting roles that the Church and other faith groups in Britain can play in the current downturn, one practical, the other intellectual. Faith communities have a key role to play in helping those struggling with the effects of the downturn. With unemployment widely forecast to rise to three million by the end of this year, the "social capital" provided by faith groups will be crucial. Their role in providing social, economic and welfare support for the unemployed and those struggling financially will be even more key than usual. The well of volunteering which takes place through faith groups – estimated at 23 million hours of voluntary service from members of the Church of England – can help those adversely affected by the recession.

And even though the economic downturn will be bad news for productivity and growth rates, it could be good news for religion. Religious affiliation often grows at times of great uncer-tainty. In the 1930s in the wake of the Great Depression, Church attendance increased in Britain. It could be that, as our economic wealth decreases, our spiritual wealth will increase.

Second, as anxiety grows through society, faith leaders can play a key role in calming nerves and highlighting the importance of ethics in capitalism. This stream of thinking is starting to permeate debate. Politicians, so wary of "doing G-d", are using the language of ethics in their pronouncements. Nowadays their speeches are littered with mentions of values and "moral capitalism". As the G20 takes forward its agenda, its leaders should not lose sight of the important role that faith can play in addressing the recession.

This is taken from an remarks given by Zaki Cooper in a JustShare Debate in London this week, How Would Religion Regulate Financial Markets?