Dialogue in Lockdown: Online Dialogue and its Lessons Amidst Rising Popularism

In March 2020, the UK government imposed a national lockdown in an attempt to halt the spread of Coronavirus. The measures came into force overnight causing people to adapt rapidly to a new and unprecedented situation. Faith groups responded quickly broadcasting services online and setting up systems of support for members of their community. In Birmingham, a number of interfaith events were initiated using online meeting platforms such as Zoom. This paper will analyse three online interfaith dialogues that I was involved in. The first was a series of weekly dialogues I hosted, the second was an interfaith iftar hosted by the Bishop of Birmingham, organised by myself and the third were youth dialogues run by The Feast youth organisation. The events will be described and analysed taking into consideration their structure, content, and philosophy, drawing on dialogue theories to explore their methodologies and intended outcomes. The analysis of the events considers the challenges and opportunities of developing constructive group dialogue online, power dynamics that were exposed, and how access and familiarity with software raised issues of inclusion. Safeguarding is discussed with reference to the intersection between safeguarding and power to control conversation. The paper was written as Black Lives Matter protests took place challenging the effectiveness of online activity to counter popularism and prejudice. The physical protests came shortly after several major religious festivals were obliged to be held online, consequently, the paper will conclude with a reflection on this phenomenon and the connection between online and offline activity.
Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith

Canon Dr Andrew Smith has been involved in faith-based youth work and interfaith dialogue since 1988. He brought these two disciplines together in 2000 by developing a model of youth dialogue that forms the basis for the work of the charity The Feast. Dr Smith is a regular speaker on interfaith issues both in the UK and overseas.