Humanist Students Southampton is a university society for atheists, humanists, and agnostics. They hold events that range from speakers, socials, debates, workshops and, as of this year, support group meetings for apostates or those considering leaving religion. President of the society, Tabassum Rahman, and Vice President David Stanley, explain more:
What are the meetings?
Our Leaving Religion Meetups are a support group for those who have left or are leaving religion, and those who are having doubts. The meetups provide a private and safe space in which people can listen to and talk with others who have gone through the same, or similar things, as themselves.
Why would someone need such a support group?
Leaving a religion can be a difficult process. If you’ve lived your life thus far through the lens of religion, with religious ideas and concepts guiding or dictating your decisions, then no longer believing in those ideas and concepts can leave you disoriented and frightened. How are you now meant to go about living your life, navigating moral decisions you should encounter? Additionally, if your family and friends still hold those beliefs, if your former religion does not take kindly to those who would leave it, then to leave the religion can cause problems on a social level.
Unsurprisingly, some who leave religion are ‘closeted’. They have not told their family or all of their friends, and they may feel obliged to maintain appearances, such as worshipping, fasting and celebrating, so as to ward off suspicion. In some unfortunate cases, people are ostracised by their families or communities for having left their religion.
What happens at these meetings?
The meetings take the form of a traditional support group, with chairs in a circle, hearing from others about their stories or problems, and having the opportunity to share your own. The meetings take place in a private location on campus – those wishing to attend must contact the society for the location – and are an hour in length. Afterwards, we head to Scoops to have conversations in a more open and relaxed setting. You don’t have to attend both halves of the meetings, you can choose to only attend one or the other depending on your preference. The university’s volunteer Humanist Pastoral Carer, Dave Pilgrim, will also be on hand in the first half of the meetings and can be contacted and met with outside of the meetings.
What is the ultimate aim with these meetings?
The society exists to provide a community for non-religious students on campus. Some non-religious students are not in a comfortable place, and these meetings can help them meet like-minded people who may have gone through the same struggles that they are currently going through. They can get access to any help and support that they need, and just generally help them gain more confidence as non-religious persons or Humanists. Being non-religious should not be a strenuous aspect of a person’s identity. A majority of people in the UK are non-religious and the same can be said for the vast majority of young people in the country. What we want for all non-religious students, is for their irreligion to not impact their daily lives. These meetings will hopefully make that dream one step closer to reality.
When are the meetings?
We held a pilot meeting at the end of last year – which was very well received – and we’ll be restarting the meetings during Freshers’ this year. They’ll be held roughly once a month on Saturday lunchtimes, with the first on Saturday 6th October. Please contact us on Facebook or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more details!