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Religious diversity: rethinking religion
Religious diversity: rethinking religion

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2 Variety and vibrancy of religion in London

In the 2011 England and Wales Census, 817,000 individuals (or 1.5% of the population) identified as Hindu (White, 2012). But Hindus are not distributed equally across England and Wales. In fact, over half the Hindu population of England lives in the greater London area, with a concentration in the north and west (GLA, 2012).

Near the North Circular ring road around London is one of the largest Hindu temples to be found outside of India, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. This impressive structure is popularly known as the ‘Neasden Temple’ and was built between 1992 and 1995 with materials and craftsmen imported from India.

Activity 2

For your next activity you will watch a video tour of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London given by Yogendra Narendra Shah.

As you watch, think about the reasons the Indian community made such an impressive temple at this location. What are they saying about their culture and beliefs? What kind of statement is this community making about their residence in Britain?

This video activity has been filmed in Google 360 – it is best viewed in Chrome, Edge or Firefrox browsers. In these browsers you can change the camera angle to pan around the scene and explore the building more fully. In other browsers, you can still watch the video but it will look distorted and you will not be able to change the camera angle.

Google 360 video of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Right click on the link and select ‘Open link in new tab’.

Discussion

What struck me most was the immense size of the building, as well as the intricacy and care of the artwork both inside and outside. The temple was built at great expense and using logistical ingenuity. This is a community that is making a statement about its permanence in Britain. These ethnic Indians are establishing their commitment to Britain, and to their own religious beliefs and culture, in a very visible way.

Yet it is not an entirely inward-looking community. The Neasden Temple also goes out of its way to welcome thousands of school children and other visitors each year. It invests in making its world view more understandable and accessible to those outside of their community.

How are we to read these big religious public spaces? What meaning do they hold for their associated believers and practitioners? And what messages do they give to those who are not part of their community? These are some of the issues you will be introduced to briefly in this short course. They are explored more fully in A227 Exploring religion: places, practices, texts and experiences.