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Supporting Faith and Belief Student Societies: A Guide for Students’ Unions

Supporting Faith and Belief Student Societies: A Guide for Students’ Unions

This guide advises students’ unions on how to develop their faith and belief societies, drawing on our research into religion in universities. (2020)

Universities are often perceived to be secularising spaces, and students are often assumed to be largely non–religious. In fact, the reality is more complex. Half of the UK’s student population say they have a religion or belief,[1] and research with religious students shows that most say their religiosity stays the same during university, and only a minority say they become less (or more) religious.[2] In addition, a significant number of students participate in faith and belief–related societies, with each university having an average of 6.3 such societies on campus. 

This guidance booklet is aimed at students’ unions, and advises them on how to support their faith and belief societies better. It draws on findings from Theos’ report (produced in partnership with the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University), Faith and Belief on Campus: Division and Cohesion (2019). This research found that these societies make an important contribution to campus life – not only by providing spaces for students to practice or learn about their religion or belief, but also by acting as hubs for charity work, and by supporting students pastorally, combatting loneliness and poor mental health. 

But many of these societies also face challenges that can limit the contributions they make to campus life. The societies can act as great sources of cohesion on campus – but only if students’ unions play a more active role in developing them. 

The guidance shows students’ union staff how to:

1) Map your provision of faith and belief societies

2) Equip your staff in religious literacy

3) Support your societies

4) Connect your societies

5) Generate new societies

It also contains advice on handling freedom of speech issues on campus, and summarises the legal framework for this.

[1] Excluding students who left the ‘religion or belief’ question blank or did not answer the survey question. Advance HE, Equality in Higher Education: Students Statistical Report 2018 (London: Advance HE, 2018), Table 6.5. 

[2] See, for example,Mathew Guest, Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma and Rob Warner, Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 89 (online edition).

Simon Perfect

Simon Perfect

Simon is a Researcher at Theos. He is also a researcher and tutor at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he leads campus–based and distance–learning courses exploring Muslim communities in Britain and in other minority settings.

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