National, Regional and Local Conferences organised by the Sea of Faith Network (UK)

Sea of Faith is a registered charity, no. 1113177

The Sea of Faith Network

SOF 2019

We alone create our religion and our faith


Listed below are descriptions of the workshops, seminars and discussion groups that are available in the Forum sessions at this year’s conference.

Please choose your 1st, 2nd & 3rd preferences for each session and then complete this online form, or this printable PDF form without delay.

You may also simply send an email, clearly listing your three choices for each session to Please be sure to include your name in the body of the email.

Numbers are limited, usually to a maximum of about 15. Places will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, so please select three workshops in order of preference.

 1    ISSUES OF “RELIGIOUS FREEDOM"                                                                                        Barbara Burfoot

Genital mutilation of children, non-stun animal slaughter and other issues of “religious freedom"

Discussion on issues where there is a conflict between things now considered important like the rights of women, children and animals and established religious norms are presented by some as issues of religious freedom.  How should these issues be resolved?  What are the limits of religious freedom?  Potential participants are encouraged to look out for current news items raising these concerns.

2     WORDS, WORDS, WORDS … OR GOD IS NO THING                                                                     Michael Hell

I expect to talk for 10-15 minutes, which may extend if people want clarification along the way. I expect it will lead to a discussion because I have not read this approach to the problem of God anywhere else, though Lloyd Geering says something like it in "the world to come", his book for the new millennium.

3     STORY-TELLING AND FAITH:  PART I, THE BOOK OF RUTH                                                    David Lambourn

David Lambourn and Martin Spence are offering a ‘two-hander’ exploring the story-telling qualities of two Biblical texts, over the first two sessions.  Each passage is quite distinct and two very different but complementary discussions are anticipated, each following a short introductory talk.  Participants are encouraged to read the texts beforehand (available on here on the conference website)

4     SOF AND SOCIAL MEDIA: SEA OF FAITH FOR C21st                                                                       Simon Mapp

Forum for discussion of ideas from participants for PR and marketing the Network– exploring YouTube, Instagram etc.

5     PAST PERFECT:  FREEDOM FROM PERFECTION IN LIFE & FAITH              Stephen Mitchell

. . .  talking about his book followed by discussion.

We seem to be obsessed with perfection.  It permeates our conversations, language, advertising, films and religion and has roots deep in the beginning of our civilization. Past Perfect unravels some of the confusion surrounding our use of the word and shapes an understanding of God that is free of this notion.  

6    DAME IRIS AND THE FANTASTIC VICARS                                                                                       Frank Walker

Some aspects of religion in the novels of Iris Murdoch

The discussion will include reference to the following books by Iris Murdoch: The Sea The Sea; The Time of the Angels; The Philospher's Pupil; The Book and the Brotherhood; Nuns and Soliders; - also Helen Wodehouse's One Kind of Religion.

7      THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT – WHERE ARE WE NOW?                                                           John Gamlin

 We will begin with a short introduction followed by exchange of thoughts leading to a consideration of the possible futures and what action is needed to minimize the adverse consequences. This will include a look at the social, financial and political implications of a changing world.

There is a mass of material on this topic as well as regular newspaper articles in the quality press. However, I suggest you could also look at the following: The Sixth Extinction by Kolbert; Climate Change by Boyd and Tompkins; Ten Billion by Emmott; Ethics in the last Days of Humanity by Don Cupitt.

8   FROM RE TO RE AND WORLD VIEWS – AN OPPORTUNITY NOT TO BE MISSED                           Allan Hayes

Last September after two year’s work the Commission on Religious Education issued its final report. Noting that something must be done if RE is not to “wither on the vine”, it proposed replacing RE with a national course Religion and World Views to be provided in all UK maintained schools, religious and non-religious. Government is reluctant to act - I will argue that we should seize the opportunity.

9    RELIGIOUS NATURALISM                                                                                                                    Ron March

An investigation, exploration and evaluation of what Religious Naturalism can contribute to our understanding.

The workshop will take the form of a discussion looking at how Religious Naturalism understands religion, belief, faith, spirituality, suffering, death, right and wrong, human beings - also what are the limtiations of Religious Naturalism.

Suggested reading: Religious Naturalism, Sofia 112, June 2014 and online: Religious Naturalism and the Menace of Evil,; The Atheistic Religious Naturalism of Crosby, Goodenough and Rue; Religious Naturalism - worldview grounded in the sciences; Welcome to Naturalism.


The session will explore how Hopkins draws on Shakespeare’s great tragedies, The Bible and his own poetic aesthetic in order to work through the great crisis of his life. The session will take the form of a short presentation and will then involve group work focused on looking closely at the 6 sonnets in question.

11    STORY-TELLING AND FAITH. PART II, THE RESURRECTION IN LUKE                                         Martin Spence

Martin Spence and David Lambourn are offering a ‘two-hander’ exploring the story-telling qualities of two Biblical texts, over the first two sessions.  Each passage is quite distinct and two very different but complementary discussions are anticipated, each following a short introductory talk.  Participants are encouraged to read the texts beforehand (available on here on the conference website)   

12   A CASE FOR SOLAR ETHICS                                                                               Chris Smith and David Belcher

Reality is a mystery about which we have no absolute knowledge. We can often find ourselves confused when our conscious, deliberate thoughts, based on the limited perceptions of our individual, physical senses come into conflict with unconscious, intuitive feelings. Is there a case for the spontaneity advocated by solar ethics? Talk & discussion.

13    THE ASCENT OF OUR IMAGINATION                                                                                           Trevor Davies

The evolution of consciousness brought anxieties, but imagination evolved too and so we acquired gods bringing reassurance.  Some seek substitutes through hero worship (a theme of a 2016 workshop on celebrities); others worship ideas and things, and some despair leading to addiction (drugs, gambling, abuse) or mental ill-health.  

What of the future?  I am influenced by Yuval Noah Harari, well known as the author of Sapiens, and now, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, London: Vintage, 2017.  Come prepared for verbal conflict to a workshop illustrated by PowerPoint.  Leave your milkshake at home.

14   WITTGENSTEIN TLP PART 2:  ELEMENTARY PROPOSITIONS                                   Simon Mapp

This workshop is for those who tackled Part 1 last year. It will work through a booklet produced by Simon in which he writes:  "Any proposition can be broken down into ‘elementary propositions’ which are by definition, according to Wittgenstein, purely logical – and to understand the given proposition is to know what it is if it is true – because a proposition cannot be both true and false – there can be no internal or external negation within."

15   JUDGING RELIGION: A DIALOGUE FOR OUR TIME                                       John Holroyd

John will talk about his forthcoming book which focuses on the character and validity of ethical evaluations of faiths as they are understood and misunderstood today. John believes that our time offers remarkable opportunities for understanding each other's religious and non-religious quests in a plural world. John has taught Religious Studies and Philosophy in London schools for over 25 years.

16   BRIEF ANSWERS TO THE BIG QUESTIONS                                                                                    John Pearson

We shall discuss a number of the key issues considered by Stephen Hawkins in this book compiled from his writings. Each, in their way, is integral to the Conference Theme – Is That All There is?  We shall address the following chapters; Is there a God? - How did everything begin? - Will we survive on Earth?  - Is there other intelligent life in the universe?  - Will artificial intelligence outsmart us? - How do we shape the future?

The book discusses many of today's challenges, including the biggest threats to the planet (ranging from the steady progress of climate change to a one-off asteroid collision). Given time, we may look further still into this thought provoking book?

17   THE QUAKERS AND HERMENEUTICS                                                                                       James Priestman

"So far as our Christian sects today are evolving into liberality, they are simply reverting in essence to the position which Fox and the early Quakers so long assumed." (Henry Joel Cadbury, 1953)

How did early Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) use the Bible and to what degree should their approach to hermeneutics be valued by members of the Sea Of Faith Network? Introductory talk and discussion.