Where Does Religion Fit into Diversity and Inclusion?
People have been fighting about religion since the dawn of time (sometimes before depending on which religious text you are reading from), but what is it about religion and a differing of faiths that creates such tension and anger? What makes us feel that in a society where we try to live by inclusivity and diversity that so much hatred is cast upon those who have a different belief to us? We want to know where religion fits in to diversity and inclusion, which is why we are going to discuss it here further. From religious stereotyping to teaching future generations, how do we combat religious hate and start respecting those around us, no matter what their religion?
As with most stereotypes and biased opinions, they are usually formed by your parents or your social structure as a child and “inherited” by the next generation. So how is the government and the education system trying to combat this? What are they teaching in our schools?
Religion and the Curriculum
In state schools across the UK, it is compulsory to teach religious studies. While it isn’t on the national curriculum, it is a statutory requirement of ALL primary schools and secondary schools. The topics religious studies covers includes learning about different religions, understanding how different cultures are formed in line with specific religious guidelines and how religion impacts on each and every pupil in a state school. A key element of religious studies in secondary school is that a pupil is actively encouraged to explore their own faith or spirituality. They are encouraged to develop their sense of self and are exposed to different belief systems so that they can decide for themselves what they do and do not believe in.
However, being taught religion at school is not a cure all for religious bias, this is often put upon a child by their support system or parents. Caregivers and peers play a huge part in modelling behaviour to children that they often take with them into adulthood, so by projecting certain views against a particular religion will stick with a child and form the idea of their own beliefs as they grow up.
Religious stereotyping is basically an image that you project in your mind when you hear a specific religion or belief system and something that is often unconscious but nevertheless occurs on a regular basis. For example, when people think of a Buddhists, they will conjure up an image of a zen like calm personality in a Japanese garden. Sometimes these stereotypes will affect your behaviour towards a person and will make you change your attitude towards them, but not always for the worse. For example, if you are made aware that someone is a Christian then you are more likely to curb your swearing and be more thoughtful of the tales you were about to discuss from last weekend.
Religious stereotyping, unconscious or not, is not conducive to a world of inclusivity and diversity as it just puts up barriers that might not even exist.
Tackling Those “Loud and Proud” Opinions
As we have already suggested, many religious biased views come from historical opinions that have been “inherited” by older generations. This issue is frustrating AND hard to tackle simply due to parents and grandparents having such a strong influence in younger generations. The education system is doing all it can to realign these views in young children and businesses are implementing unconscious bias training into their workforce to help combat the issue in adults.
For some parts of the UK, the religious bias can come about from a lack of exposure to those with different belief systems. Parts of suburbs in London and Birmingham have thriving micro hubs of specific religions such as Muslim and Jewish people who work in the community, volunteer for charities and are all round citizens of their local geographical area. However in contrast, there are parts of rural England, specifically in the South West where entire communities have little to no exposure of diverse groups or those with other religions. This can create a bubble of misinformation and lack of understanding which needs to be combatted.
Teaching Future Generations
In order to fully include and accept other people’s religious opinions, we need to start by celebrating diversity and inclusion at a young age. Helping children to understand that every belief is valued, that no religion is greater or lesser than the other and that everyone’s faith system (or lack of) should be respected is key to ensuring that we stamp out xenophobic and hateful opinions relating to religion. Inclusion and diversity should not just be limited to the colour of your skin or your sexual preference, it should cover what you believe in and what you stand for as well.
What About Inclusion in Religions?
While we have extensively covered how to combat biased opinions and hatred of specific religious groups, it is also worth noting how certain religions are forging paths for others and implementing their own inclusion and diversity policies.
One good example is the C of E church who has historically had a difficult time aligning the LGBT community with biblical liturgy. However, in the last 30 years they have made progressive steps to welcome members of the LGBT community to become ordained as ministers, Bishops and to wed their partners in a civil ceremony while still serving the church. Of course, there is still a long way to go before all corners of the LGBT community are fully accepted into the C of E church but there are many positive policy decision and influential role models that have helped to bring inclusivity and diversity to the Church.
So what have we learnt about religion and where it fits on to inclusion and diversity? Well to begin with we need to break down the archaic stereotypes that are being passed down through the generations and are instilling a sense of anger and hatred towards those in religious minorities. We also need to tackle unconscious bias in our adult society who are influencing the younger generations. In the 'internet-age' we live in there is so much information available, arming yourself with it is the best way to tackle ignorance.