Universities could benefit from being more ‘faith-friendly’, say experts

Research news

Wednesday 08 March 2017

Press contact

Press Team

Universities around the world should not treat religion as a threat or minority interest but as an essential part of teaching and debate on campus, according to academics at the universities of Coventry and Sheffield Hallam.

In a new book, Coventry’s Dr Kristin Aune and Hallam’s Professor Jacqueline Stevenson suggest that universities and students stand to benefit from institutional policies which ensure religion is not marginalised and has a respected place in every classroom discussion. 

The book, Religion and Higher Education in Europe and North America, argues that it’s wrong to characterise universities as secular, and that – contrary to popular opinion – it is a misconception that university makes students less religious.

Dr Aune and Professor Stevenson make a number of recommendations to universities, including religious literacy training for staff, the inclusion of religious perspectives in lectures and seminars, and the statistical recording of data on student and staff religion to help inform policy.

A report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) last year concluded that there is insufficient data available across the sector on student and staff religion to be able to draw meaningful conclusions and effectively inform equality policy.

Dr Aune from Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, said: 

“Ever more diverse student and staff populations in universities have, in recent years, brought religion and belief – and their places on campus – into focus as a matter that deserves renewed attention by the higher education sector.

Religion is present and active on campuses throughout the world, so universities have a great deal to gain by adopting a new faith-friendly approach which embraces religion’s many and varied perspectives for inclusion in debates and discussion, rather than risk marginalising it and making it hide in prayer rooms and religious societies.”

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson from Hallam’s Sheffield Institute of Education, said: 

“Unresolved tensions on campus can have profound implications for the day-to-day experiences of staff and students, for their identities, and for how they think about belonging and fitting in on campus. This needs to be addressed if universities are to act in ways that are equitable.”