Interfaith learning in Christian and Muslim higher education colleges
- Professor Kristin Aune, Professor of Sociology of Religion, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
- Professor Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor, Professor in the Sociology of Islam, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
- Dr Lucy Peacock, Research Fellow, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
- Dr Hafza Iqbal, Research Assistant, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
August 2023 – March 2025
Interfaith learning in Christian and Muslim higher education colleges asks the important question: How can we create a positive college climate for student engagement across religion and worldview diversity?
The UK higher education (HE) sector sits at the crossroads of three challenges facing student cohesion:
- Research revealing that higher education institutions (HEIs) can be sites of prejudice, particularly towards minorities,
- Policies intended to protect students from harm, such as the 2015 Preventing Violent Extremism guidance, have inadvertently stigmatised Muslim students,
- Disputes around freedom of speech in HE are widespread.
Research has found that in the face of these challenges, students tend to segregate themselves by religion or worldview group. Whilst religious student societies are vital for nurturing religious identity and forming friendship groups, students lack the support to pursue interfaith activities.
While researchers and practitioners have made efforts to address these issues within the context of mainstream UK universities, theological colleges remain overlooked. The power of Christian and Muslim colleges in the UK, which produce many of our future religious leaders, to shape students’ engagement with, and attitudes towards, religion and worldview diversity must not be underestimated.
This project thus meets an urgent need to understand how students at UK Christian and Muslim HE colleges make sense of religious diversity. It is the first research of its kind to examine how different college climates enable or impede positive attitudes towards those of different faiths and worldview perspectives though four research questions:
- How do UK Christian and Muslim college students approach religion and worldview diversity, in terms of attitudes and behaviour?
- How do students’ attitudes and behaviours in relation to religion and worldview diversity change during their time at UK Christian and Muslim HE colleges?
- How do different aspects of UK theological college life affect students’ interfaith learning and development?
- What are the implications of our learning for the future of interfaith work in UK theological colleges and other educational settings?
The project’s beneficiaries include: Students, insofar as their experience of a college climate respectful of faith and faith diversity is enhanced; College staff, especially those responsible for religious literacy and faith provision, including chaplains; Faith-based organisations beyond the colleges, whose interventions might benefit from research identifying facilitators and impediments to positive college relations.
The project will enable beneficiaries to better understand how to create a college climate for religious diversity, how to foster interfaith engagement and dialogue between students and between staff and students, and how to better support Christian and Muslim students (and those with other worldviews) while they study.
The project will deliver five outputs: A 12,000-word research report, sharing findings and recommendations to benefit theological colleges and religion or belief organisations; An online webinar, actively engaging project beneficiaries; An academic journal article; Two mainstream media conversation pieces. Outputs will be shared on this page as they become available.