Religion is a significant anchoring system for social and cultural identity around the world and shapes political and economic processes in many countries. Belonging to a religious group provides marked cognitive and emotional value, and is intrinsically bound up in how a person feels about themselves, their identity and their affiliated community. As a result it can be a difficult topic to address.

In this section we have chosen a selection of material to explore the different ways which religion, faith and belief affects our lives. The subject area is vast, so we have made sure that each of the sections below can be explored on their own.

Apart from the Equality Act 2010, religion or belief for public bodies is also covered by Article 9 (freedom of thought) of the Huma Rights Act 1998.

Who/what is covered by legislation because of religion or belief?

  • People belonging to a religion that has a clear structure and belief system.
  • Denominations or sects within a religion such as Protestants and Catholics within Christianity.
  • Belonging to a smaller religion or sect such as Rastafarianism.
  • A philosophical belief which is about a substantial aspect of human life such as Humanism.
  • Case law has expanded the definition of belief. Philosophies such as vegetarianism, human rights and environmentalism have been judged to be protected under the law, subject to certain criteria.
  • You are protected if someone discriminates against you because they think you belong to a particular religious group.
  • You are protected if you are treated unfairly because you are friends with someone who belongs to a particular religious group.
  • Physical or verbal abuse (including stirring up hatred) towards a particular person because of their religion, is a criminal offence.
  • Note that the right to freedom of expression can be restricted to protect the rights of others where an employee expresses views that discriminate, harass or incite violence or hatred against other employees.

How does religion intersect with race?
There is a paucity of research on the intersection of religion and race, yet, the two can become inextricably linked due to social ‘norms’ attributed to specific racial groups in society. For example, racial profiling of Muslims (or those with seemingly Muslim appearance) in the UK post 9/11. Dr Stefano Bonino of Durham University for example has argued that this makes members of Asian communities feel like they are a “suspect community” with an expectation that they would be disproportionately subject to stop and search and questioning while travelling. This can undermine a person’s and a community’s sense of equality and feelings of belonging to society. Bonino argues that these kinds of policies risk undermining pluralism and discussions about diversity. It also has wider implications for how discrimination towards those perceived as Muslim, manifests in workplaces – for example hiring practices.

There is some research which shows how religious beliefs serve as a coping mechanism for marginalised communities. This is an area which is often overlooked – the cognitive and emotional significance of religious belief in the formation of valid personal identities in societies which have undermined them. Academics such as Stewart (2002) have theorised that the role of religion and faith in identity integration is a crucial issue for cultural minorities. Identity integration is about achieving self-understanding/awareness as a composition of intersecting identities that influence each other. This is often difficult for marginalised groups to achieve due to historical racism, or segregation policies aimed at those with disabilities and violent opposition from power structures towards self-determination. Put simply, how you choose to ‘define’ someone often says something about what society considers significant. An individual is a composition of identities – race, religion, gender, disability, age, sexuality etc., but often we are reduced to one aspect. This can have a negative affect on a person’s sense of self – as in the case of racial profiling of those of the Muslim faith.

How can we progress beyond the historic roots of religious discrimination?

There are many people who are developing programmes and project in this area, to build links and understanding across and within religious communities. I have selected the example below because it provides an overview of the subject area and also considers future generations.

Eboo Patel (Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core) says that young people can become architects of greater religious understanding and that it is not just a question of ‘unlearning’ hate-driven prejudice of previous generations. A podcast and transcript are available regarding this issue at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Belief and interpreting our world – communication
Developing understanding between different faith and belief communities is an important step forward in reducing conflict and discrimination. The Ted Talk by Dr Devdutt Pattanaik provides an example of how our individual theories of the world and how we perceive our place in it has historic, mythological roots, which can potentially lead to miscommunication in our day-to-day interactions with others. The video can be used to help those who want to develop an understanding of pluralism and cultural diversity.

References and sources
Bonino, S. (2015) Visible Muslimness in Scotland: Between Discrimination and Integration. Patterns of Prejudice, 49 (4). pp. 367-391
Sanchez, D., & Carter, R. T. (2005). Exploring the relationship between racial identity and religious orientation among African American college students. Journal of College Student Development, 46 (3), 280-295.
Stewart, D. L. (2002). The role of faith in the development of an integrated identity: A qualitative study of black students at a white college. Journal of College Student Development, 43 (4), 579-596.