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LSE’s updated term names are a sign of progress, not virtue-signalling

By Lorna Doyle

Is LSE’s decision “woke”, or simply a change that follows naturally from a society progressively less entwined with religion?

The London School of Economics (LSE) has recently adopted new labels for its academic terms, leading to accusations of virtue-signalling and submission to the “Church of Woke,”  The change acknowledges LSE’s international standing and seeks inclusivity through appealing to global norms as opposed to terminology inherited from the Church. While this is a very minor alteration in favour of secular education that acknowledges the cultural diversity of Britain and its diversity of students, the announcement has attracted an onslaught of abuse from a handful of Tory MPs claiming that the decision compromises British heritage and culture.

Not only is the change intended to increase accessibility on a cultural level, it is an attempt to accommodate LSE’s international standing and influence. In a statement published on the school’s website, the explanation follows that “it is important that external stakeholders can clearly understand the School’s senior leadership positions and management structures.”

Aside from routine changes, such as “Director” becoming “President,” the backlash focuses on the move away from term names that follow the Church calendar; Michaelmas and Lent terms have been neutralised to “Autumn Term (AT)” and “Winter Term (WT)”, while Christmas and Easter holidays have been swapped for “Winter Break” and “Spring Break”. 

What this bid for neutrality represents is not a ruthless and deliberate erasure of ‘British culture’, but an acknowledgement of British culture that is true to reality. The last census determined that there is an active decrease in the number of people identifying as Christian in England, Scotland, and Wales, with higher numbers reporting “no faith”, now the largest identity under religion. It follows naturally that administrative details should reflect a post-Christian Britain, rather than desperately clutching at nostalgia. While the political climate in this country is still heavily influenced by the Church, the move by LSE to adopt secular terminology is attentive to its changing social landscape and diversity. The cry of outrage against an insignificant detail such as one university’s move towards establishing a more inclusive environment seems nothing more than the futile grasping of straws by those who seek to deny the diversity of this country.

In an article published in The Guardian in 2016, Kwame Antony Appiah condemns the idea of “western civilisation” and his distrust stems from the attempt to define a culture of “the west.” To conflate geographical boundaries with religion, he suggests, marks a great political obstacle: “European and American debates today about whether western culture is fundamentally Christian inherit a genealogy in which Christendom is replaced by Europe and then by the idea of the west.” To elevate belief over practice and community, then, is a social fallacy.

Investigating the elements of culture that establish identity and vice versa, Appiah questions nationality and its relationship to ancestry, stating that “to be a nation, it is not enough to meet an objective condition of common descent; you have to meet a subjective condition, a condition that lies in the hearts and minds of its members” To form a “nation” around ancestry, there must be enough willpower by those with shared heritage to act as such. 

In the words of Appiah, “Britons once swapped their fish and chips for Chicken Tikka Masala, now, I gather, they’re all having a cheeky Nando’s.” To suggest that the security of the Christian faith in Britain, and therefore its heritage, is reliant on the cosmetic details of the academic calendar name does not corroborate with the fact of a decreasingly religious population. Instead, it operates as another narrative strategy intended to reduce the definition of “Britishness” and to justify intolerant attitudes to race, immigration, and minority religions.

Given that Britain is no longer a majority Christian country, the logic follows that the structure of our institutions should change in accordance with that.


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