…one is left with nagging questions. Does Williams lose himself in translation? Like the phenomena he seeks to explore, Williams is often complex, even inaccessible. He clearly struggles to make himself comprehensible. His highly, perhaps overly, nuanced discussions of complex issues are easily misunderstood and misrepresented. The irate response to Williams’s closely argued comments on Sharia in 2008 is perhaps a warning to all academics of the dangers of trying to apply theory to real social and political situations. Fine distinctions, readily accommodated within the academic world, are easily collapsed by the popular media. Journalists facing tight deadlines rapidly scan carefully crafted texts with their highlighters, looking for potential headlines, rather than absorbing their deep structure and distilling their significance.
There is, however, a more fundamental question. What does one do with this analysis? Reading this work expanded my vision, correcting my understanding of at least two points, and enhancing my appreciation of several others. But I wondered whether I or anyone else would behave differently as a result. How does all this analysis affect the Church’s engagement with the social questions of our day? How does it further political debate about and engagement with the Big Society?
Many in the Churches, for example, are concerned about loss of national religious identity. What can be done, they wonder, to defend religious rights without asserting religious privilege? How can the language of faith reconnect with the language of our culture?