Rowan Williams: Britain is religiously diverse, not divided

Rowan Williams has warned of the danger of anti-Semitism.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has warned that the rise in anti-Semitic activity in some parts of the UK is one of the "most alarming" challenges society currently faces. 

However, he has denied Britain is religiously divided.

In an interview for Cambridge News ahead of a lecture tonight on 'The Importance of Religion in Society', Williams – now Master of Magdalen College – said anti-Semitism appeared to be increasing.

But he added: "I don't think Britain is a religiously divided society – it's a religiously diverse society.

"The division is not so much between Christians, Jews and Muslims, it's between faith communities as a whole."

However, he said that most people of whatever faith rejected violence.

"Quite a lot of the population are being encouraged to feel that there's something really sinister and really menacing about all of this, that there are some blood-thirsty fanatics who want to kill us.

"Of course there are so let's not be under any illusions – but those fanatics would be regarded with the same suspicion and abhorrence by 99.9 per cent of the religious population of the country."

He argued for the continuing importance of religion in society, describing it as "part of the solution not part of the problem".

"The social capital that religious belonging provides is a very important thing in our society in spite of all sorts of doubts and uncertainties about that," he said.

"I'd hope if people recognise that they'd also recognise that it's worth knowing about what religious people actually say and do rather than relying simply on the stereotypes."