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TRISTRAM HOOLEY [Derby]: Discrimination, Equality and the 'Non-Religious': Part 1

20 April 12

Duration: 10.41, access the visual presentation of this and Part 2 presented by Sariya Contractor at the bottom of this page.

Tristram Hooley introduced Sariya Contractor and himself as members of a team working with Professor Paul Weller at the University of Derby, conducting research for the Equality Challenge Unit in Higher Education whose website carried the subsequently published paper. The research had included literature review, stakeholder consultation, a national online survey (responses 3077 staff, 3935 students), and 7 case studies of institutions. The focus had been on participation and access, accommodating religious observance, discrimination and harassment, and good relations.

The key issues that emerged were:

  • Most participants would be willing to provide further monitoring data around religion and belief. The current lack of this data offers challenges in understanding religion and belief in the sector.
  • Alcohol plays an important role in the student (and to a far lesser extent the staff) experience. This intersects with religion and belief identities in sometimes problematic ways.
  • Some staff were unsure how to balance the sector’s commitment to freedom of speech with sensitivity to individuals’ religion and belief positions.
  • Many issues relating to religion and belief emerge in the context of the curriculum. 

He wanted in this presentation to concentrate on respondents who said they had no religion, and those who professed no religion but said they were spiritual.






No religion













Those who described themselves as spiritual or having no-religion were…

  • more likely than most other groups to feel uncomfortable with (officially) disclosing their religion or belief.
  • less likely than most other groups to feel that their course was not sensitive to their belief position.
  • less likely than most other groups to feel that their institution makes no provision for their dietary requirements.


  • A few staff with no-religion expressed a lack of certainty as to how they should handle religious issues that emerged during teaching and learning.
  • A few people with no-religion disagreed with the accommodation that was made around diet for people with religious beliefs.
  • In institutions where attempts have been made to limit alcohol some people with no-religion felt that their perspective was not being respected. 

With regard to religious observance, those who described themselves as spiritual or having no-religion were less likely to join a belief-based society (e.g. secular and humanist student societies) than most other groups.

Furthermore, a few non-religious students found public observances of religion challenging and unwelcome (e.g. around festivals), and a few non-religious people raised concerns about the incorporation of religious observation in institutional business (e.g. prayers and hymns at graduation) .

With regard to discrimination and harassment,

  • A few non-religious objected to the use of religious venues for institutional events or religious symbols on institutional publications.
  • A few individuals with no religion objected to the allocation of (publicly funded) space to religious groups.
  • Many of these issues were particularly highlighted in faith based or faith informed HEIs.
  • Where there was compulsion to attend an event with a religious element non-religious participants expressed greater concerns. 

Under the category of “good relations,”

  • Staff who described themselves as spiritual were more likely to disagree with the statement “my place of work values freedom of speech” than any other group. 
  • A few people with no-religion said that they felt that “inter-faith” activities excluded them. 
  • Some tensions exist between religious groups and members of other protected characteristics (e.g. gender, race, sexuality). Some people with no-religion highlighted these issues.

Tristram Hooley finished his part of the presentation with the survey’s conclusions:

  • Our survey suggests that there is a large and identifiable group of people who describe themselves as having no-religion in HE.
  • Our survey suggests that there is a larger than expected group of people who describe themselves as having a spiritual belief in HE.
  • There are a range of ways in which their belief position interacts with their experience of HE.
  • There is a vocal minority of people with no-religion who expressed a wide range of concerns about their experience.

Click here to read more about and access other podcasts from the event.

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Associated file:

Non-Religious Presentation - Contractor and Hooley.pdf

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