Insights from the dashboard: A church of social justice

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Insights from the dashboard: A church of social justice

How have churches dealt with the concept of social justice in an ever more unequal Europe? And how does the EARS dashboard help us understand it?

The question of social justice is an ever-relevant topic in global affairs. As countless studies have shown, over the last decade levels of inequality across the world have grown substantially.[1] Yet this trend has further accelerated during both the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result of the war in Ukraine.[2] [3]

With more and more people facing poverty, all major political and social institutions are being forced to provide an answer to the problem. Churches in Europe, of all denominations, are no exception. By looking at the EARS dashboard, we are able to track how churches across Europe have sought to explain and to combat the growth of poverty over recent years.

Economic inequality and wealth distribution

The EARS dashboard provides users with a series of topics that article summaries have been tagged with. These topics help users to narrow down their searches and make the most of the dashboard’s bank of articles. Among these topics is economic inequality. Since the creation of the database, 465 articles have been tagged with this topic, with 71 in the last year.

Meanwhile, the dashboard also collects tags relating to global developments. These developments help us to understand how religions relate to the wider trends in global affairs. For the topic of social justice, the tag wealth distribution is particularly relevant. This topic has been tagged on 174 occasions since the dashboard started, including 70 times in the last year.

By using our Topic Venn, we can see that there is plenty of overlap when it comes to articles being tagged with both economic inequality and wealth distribution. In fact, of the 174 articles on wealth distribution, 101 of them also included the economic inequality tag. This helps us to understand how the existence of economic inequalities in European societies is, in many cases, not only seen as an economic or demographic argument but also a moral one about whether the way we distribute income is just.

Leading the way – Pope Francis and social justice

The Topic Venn tool can be used in various ways to help our analysis. As well as by contrasting topics and global developments, we can also view which topics are tagged together. Looking at economic inequality articles, we can see that 227 of the total 465 summaries include the keyword leadership.

This overlap alludes to a key fact in the question of religion and social justice: the role of leadership. If we use the & button, we can narrow down our results to summaries which use both the economic inequality and leadership tags, giving us the 227 results.

We can now use another tool, the word cloud, to help us better analyse these results. As we see in the screenshot below, one individual is mentioned regularly in our results – Pope Francis.

If we then look at our economic inequality articles, we can add Pope Francis to the ‘entities’ search filter, giving us 40 articles. These articles are published in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Italian, and Dutch, and demonstrate the consistent position that Pope Francis has taken over the years on the question of poverty.

Equally, when we combine Pope Francis with the term wealth distribution, we get a return of 33 summaries. These include coverage of Pope Francis’ speeches in which he condemns the “lust for money and power” which causes inequality in the world and calls for vaccination to be extended to all people.[4]

As is clear, the dashboard allows us to find information from across Europe that can add evidence to our ideas about religion. Upon becoming pope in 2013, it was expected that Francis would be an advocate of social justice and would put a greater focus on the issues of poverty.[5] By using the dashboard, we can support this contention, tracking the development of the issue over a number of years.

Churches and the cost of living

As well as allowing us to isolate news relating to individuals or institutions, the dashboard permits us to see how topics rise and fall in relevance over different time periods. In terms of the question of social justice, the dashboard helps us to understand how churches have responded to the cost of living crisis in Europe.

We can see that following both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the question of economic inequality became more relevant for European religions during the winter of 2022.

As covered by articles published by EARS at the time, and relying on dashboard entries, European churches took numerous actions to help those struggling, ranging from policies to help with energy poverty to schemes to help the poorest in society.

These different church schemes help to explain how in October, November, and December 2022 there was a marked increase in summaries referencing economic inequality in the dashboard. In particular, this is evident in December. And if we narrow down our search to just this month, we see that in particular various church figures across Europe used their Christmas messages to highlight the issue of poverty. This ranged from the pope, to a Finnish bishop, the Albanian Orthodox Church, and the head of the Spanish Episcopal Conference.[6] [7] [8] [9]

An international perspective

Ultimately, the purpose of the EARS dashboard is to aid users in widening their horizons and improve their understanding of religion and society in Europe. As this article has sought to demonstrate, the dashboard equips users with the tools to help make best use of the summaries available. By using our tools, filters, and tags we can escape a focus on individual nations and see how trends emerge across the continent.

Learn more on the EARS dashboard

The EARS dashboard allows you to gain insights into a large number of topics, including abortion. It is a free tool that allows you to make connections like those described above, and to find out about relationships between interesting subjects across Europe. Please visit the dashboard to learn more.

Freddie Scott

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[1] Rising inequality affecting more than two-thirds of the globe, but it’s not inevitable: new UN report | UN News

[2] COVID Has Made Global Inequality Much Worse – Scientific American

[3] Combined Effects of War in Ukraine, Pandemic Driving Millions More into Extreme Poverty, Senior United Nations Official Tells Second Committee

[4] Paavi Franciscus tuomitsi perinteisessä jouluyön messussaan ihmisten vallan- ja rahanhimon | Yle Uutiset

[5] Francis, a pope of the poor – The Washington Post

[6] Paavi Franciscus tuomitsi perinteisessä jouluyön messussaan ihmisten vallan- ja rahanhimon | Yle Uutiset

[7] Veliaj dhe Kisha Orthodhokse shërbejnë drekën për njerëzit në nevojë: Gjëja më e rëndësishme nuk janë tullat dhe llaçi, por të kemi njëri-tjetrin

[8] Turun piispa Mari Leppänen: Tavalliset ihmiset kysyvät, miksi en enää pärjää – kirkon diakonia auttaa nyt sähkölaskujen nujertamia ja Ukrainan uhreja –

[9] Omella: “Quiero estar cerca de las familias con las neveras y los bolsillos vacíos, de los que solo han encontrado puertas cerradas”