SRHE seminar 29th May – Religion and Belief in Higher Education

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Religion and Belief in Higher Education
Date – 29th May 2014, 10.30-15:00
Venue – SRHE, 73 Collier Street, London, N1 9BE
Network – Access and Widening Participation
Whilst Higher Education Institutions in the UK are primarily secular they serve an increasingly diverse student body including religious students from both the UK and overseas. However, despite the establishment of religion or belief as a ‘protected characteristic’, with a requirement on institutions to develop policies and practices to ensure these students are not discriminated against, little is actually known about their experiences on campus. This seminar draws together three papers exploring the experiences of religious students and how their experiences shape their religious and other identities as well as their sense of belonging on campus. It will be of interest to academics and practitioners developing policy and practice in the fields of Access and Widening Participation, Equality and Diversity. and student support

Christianity and the University Experience in Contemporary England: Dr Kristin Aune

What role does Christianity play in university students’ lives? While some contend that faith has become a minority interest in the UK, especially amongst young people, a sizeable group of students (at least half) claim affiliation with a religion. Christianity is the largest student religious tradition. How does Christianity shape students’ experiences, and how does being at university influence Christian students’ faith identities? This paper reports on findings from ‘Christianity and the University Experience in Contemporary England’, a three-year project run collaboratively by Durham University, the University of Derby and the University of Chester. The project, funded by the AHRC & ESRC’s Religion & Society programme, involved a nationwide survey of 14 universities (completed by over 4,500 students) and 100 one-to-one interviews with students and those working with them at five contrasting case study universities. The paper explores what it means to be a Christian student, describing students’ faith practices, beliefs and commitments and addressing how their religious identities change and develop during their time at university.

Ethnicity and Class in the Christian Student Experience: Dr Kristin Aune

For Christian students, religion is a key facet of their identity. Christianity shapes, and is shaped by, students’ university experiences. Yet Christianity is only one part of students’ identities. Other factors including gender, ethnicity, class and sexuality affect, and are affected by, their university experiences and religious identities. The paper presents qualitative and quantitative findings about the significance of class and ethnicity in Christian students’ lives. It argues that these social differences can be sources of identity and community on the one hand, and conflict and exclusion on the other. Drawing on theories of social capital, the paper argues that often both occur simultaneously: Christianity facilitates a ‘bonding’ between similarly positioned insiders that marginalises others who are different, but also enables ‘bridging’ to external and diverse groups.

Religious students stories of not belonging on campus: Professor Jacqueline Stevenson

The paper focuses on the social and academic experiences of Christian, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish students studying in one UK higher education institution. Through their stories the paper highlights the critical events that inform a sense of belonging or ‘otherness’; the places/spaces/people that are of most significance and how religion helps to build, or work against, belonging or ‘otherness’; the strategies the students adopt to develop a sense of belonging on campus or elsewhere, including ‘passing’ as non-religious; the emotions generated during these struggles to belong (amongst both staff and students); and the emotional consequences of a lack of belongingness. The paper concludes by drawing attention to the ways in which the institutional lack of recognition, disregard for, or blocking off of emotion not only delegitimizes the students need for belonging but colludes in privileging reason over emotion.

Dr Kristin Aune is Reader in Sociology at the University of Derby, where she directs the Centre for Society, Religion and Belief. She has published widely on gender, feminism and religion, and her recent books include Christianity and the University Experience in Contemporary England (with M. Guest, S. Sharma & R. Warner, Bloomsbury, 2013) and Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today (with C. Redfern, Zed Books, 2013).

Professor Jacqueline Stevenson is Head of the Centre for Social and Educational Research across the Lifecourse at Leeds Metropolitan University. The Centre brings together researchers and research students with common social justice concerns who have an interest in developing participatory methodologies. Her own research focuses on student resilience, students’ sense of belonging and how students think about their future ‘possible selves’.

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