Religion should be incorporated into “reality” television shows in order to increase understanding of other faiths, the Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed.
The Most Rev Justin Welby, who was enthroned in March, warned of “dangerous” consequences if religion disappeared from television schedules. Broadcasters who force religion to the margins are helping to “cultivate ignorance”, the Archbishop said.
He praised the ITV documentary series, Strictly Kosher, which featured an internet-dating Rabbi and a flamboyant fashion boutique owner based in Manchester’s orthodox Jewish community, for “stitching” religion into everyday life.
Referring to the growth of reality TV shows from Castaway to I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, he told the Radio Times: “Over the past decade, a little English word has become synonymous with broadcasting that puts ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances: ‘reality.’
“In this context, reality can often mean people putting their lives on hold, flying off to a desert island, and taking part in bewildering challenges. But there is another kind of reality broadcasting - one that I think delves far deeper into the questions of who we are, what we are, and why we are.”
He told the magazine: “It’s essential that we support broadcasting that teaches us about those around us. The marvellous portrait of Manchester’s Jewish community in ITV’s Strictly Kosher is one example of how the media can help us to see the people around us as they really are.”
Some viewers accused Strictly Kosher of perpetuating Jewish stereotypes in order to create “docu-soap” entertainment. ITV called it a “unique insight into the culture and character of a community linked by faith.”
The Archbishop also praised the Chanel 4 film Islam: the Untold Story, which gave viewers “an opportunity to appreciate the rich and fascinating history of the Muslim faith.”
He said: “Telling stories about ourselves and others, in a way that celebrates the full scope of what it means to be human: that for me is what makes a reality show.”
The Archbishop said that for adults over a certain age, “who received little in the way of religious education at school - especially of an inter-faith variety - religious broadcasting is likely to be their best guide to the different faiths, not just of the people they see on the news but of the people they meet at the school gates, or queue next to at the post office.”
He said: “Some people these days firmly believe that faith and religious life should be kept behind closed doors. But if broadcasters were also to adopt the view that religion is something separate and private, rather than stitched into our public life, then we could set off down a dangerous road.”
The Archbishop argued: “We would be cultivating ignorance where what we need is insight, and prejudice where we most badly need open minds. We live in an increasingly multicultural society. Knowing, understanding and celebrating the faiths of our neighbours will help us all to flourish.”