A recent report highlighted the importance of religious groups such as Christian Unions and Islamic Societies at UK universities.
The findings of the Faith and Belief on Campus: Division and Cohesion report by Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations and Religion and Society think tank Theos noted that there are 888 faith and belief societies with an approximate membership of over 18,000 students, and indicated that such groups provide vital support and community for members, in particular for lonely and distressed students, as well as providing a place to practice religion while studying at university.
Simon Perfect, a researcher at SOAS University of London, said:
Universities are central places for learning the value of living alongside people with different identities and beliefs. If we can get universities where this kind of dialogue and understanding is very strong, that has very beneficial repercussions for wider society.
However the report identified a problem amongst different faith and belief societies; a strong lack of reaching out to other religious groups. The lack of interfaith collaboration was labelled as ‘not living up to potential’ and accredited to such groups concentrating efforts elsewhere, such as proselytisation which Mr Perfect commented even happens outside nightclubs in the cases of some Christian Unions, and ‘less interested in sitting on a panel and giving students of a different faith or belief a public voice’. Earlier this year, at the University of Southampton, ISOC held an event asking questions to both a Muslim and a Christian, comparing and contrasting answers, emphasising the findings of the report, which stated that across the country there is a ‘strong appetite’ for such work.
Societies were prompted to ‘explore ways of increasing the frequency with which they collaborate with other such societies’ and to set realistic targets such as ‘organising at least one small-scale collaboration…per term’ in the concluding recommendations of the report. Though the report also encouraged students’ unions to aid this mission, with one option appointing a religiously literate ‘permanent member of staff a religion or belief brief’ to assist with the organisation and invitation of different faith and belief groups.