Does religious literacy reduce prejudice? - 24th October 2013

Steve Miller

What is the reality of religious discrimination in the UK and Europe? If we were just relying on the popular press we might be worried that a tidal wave of ethnic and religious hatred is sweeping across Europe – and indeed our popular press is often blamed for causing some of it. 

The reality is varied. Name-calling on the bus, unfair treatment at work, arson attacks on places of worship - many of us could tell stories of discrimination, ignorance or hatred, many of which never get reported. Should we be worried? What can we do about it?

At a meeting last week the new UK group of the European Network on Religion and Belief began to try to unravel fact from fiction. With perspectives and hard data from the University of Derby , University of London and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission the big picture became clearer, raising some challenges, questions and themes:

All are equal. We need to get our heads around the legal landscape of religion and belief that treats all belief systems equally. Just as it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their religion, a person can’t be given any special privileges over those who have non-religious belief systems or no belief system. 

More than law. The law can do some things but it’s not a universal panacea and won’t ‘solve’ human rights abuses by itself. The Human Rights Consortium takes a sociological perspective on human rights rather than a legal perspective.  For those of us working at more grass roots levels the implication of reducing discrimination is that it is as much about changing behaviours, attitudes, knowledge and structures as it is about changing the law.

Perceptions of prejudice. Education, employment and the media continue to be areas of life where people report unfair treatment.  Minority religions – particularly those with clear external symbols – do continue to report unfair treatment.  But it’s not just restricted to minority religions – Christians are becoming increasingly concerned about such things like the employer practices regarding Sunday working.

Understanding the roots. The University of Derby helpfully introduced the idea of a spectrum of unfair treatment from naivety, through prejudice, hatred and disadvantage to direct and indirect discrimination and institutional discrimination.  Understanding these different places on the spectrum can help us to thing of appropriate interventions and strategies for change.

This leads to a question: Does religious or faith literacy training have a role to play? Increasingly this is seen as a possible solution to the problem of unfair treatment, changing perceptions across society, but there are widely varying approaches to such training, and no hard evidence exists regarding the impact that it may have. Can you help us build a picture of what’s going on? We’d love to hear your stories and examples. Can you tell us: Does faith literacy training work?  Are you offering religious or faith literacy training and who to? What approaches are successful?  What kind of evidence do you have regarding its impact? Message ustweet us or tell us on Facebook

Steve Miller

24th October 2013 

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