Khushnuma Anklesaria is a RfPUK trustee, she represented us in the Faith Belief and Incusion Forum and here is her report of the event:
I represented RfPUK for this round table discussion on faith, belief and inclusion. This forum focussed on how Londoners from different faiths and beliefs can be excluded due to aspects of their identities. The aim was to understand the intersections and tensions involved in including different aspects of identity, such as religion and belief, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and age.
Naomi Thompson, Lecturer in Youth and Community Work at Goldsmiths College at the University of London, spoke about how young people face exclusion in religious organisations based on their choice of attire, their sexuality and sexual orientation. The elders at religious institutions may not necessary be open and accepting of change and can be less than responsive about suggestions made by the youth in their faith groups. This dissuades young people from being a part or even continue attendance at these communities of faith. There are some churches that may be predominantly white and people of colour have not been welcomed and vice versa. Across our society, young Muslim men and women are sometimes excluded as a result of ethnic clothing or head scarves. Influence of the media sometimes create certain stigma, relating personal attire with negative connotation such as terrorism and extremism.
What seems to be important is inclusion ‘with-in’ which involves creating spaces and structures so young people are not disadvantaged in comparison to their ‘secular’ peers, and in ensuring that their personal expressions do not exclude them from religious experiences. There are organisations which are overtly inclusive to those from ‘with-out’, these are organisations with a centrifugal mission or an explicit aim to work between faith groups.
Dr William Ackah, Lecturer in Community and Voluntary Sector Studies at Birkbeck College of the University of London, focussed on exclusions amongst African descendants. According to him, issues of faith interfere with other aspects of life. For example: we often see people with spiritual convictions or ethnic persuasion being left out in a corporate environment. There are challenges in areas of faith, sexuality and other aspects that sometimes push people into smaller spaces, and often there is little room to bring one’s whole self to the society due to the fear of exclusion.
Line Nyhagen, Reader in Sociology at Loughborough University, spoke about approaching faith, inclusion and belonging via ‘citizenship’.
There is a need to go beyond a rights-based approach to focussing on life practices. Sense of belonging to a religious institution, community, neighbourhood, and to one’s country should be developed.
There is always linkage between citizenship and religion. Faith provides guidance on how to be a good citizen, among whom respect and tolerance is given and reciprocated.
The aim should be to break down barriers, one of the ways may be taking groups of students to various places of worship. These activities initiate contact and dialogues. Soft secular approach would promote inclusion. Religious institutions should be welcoming to all races and nationalities, and take the lead on challenging negative views in society and opening up to positive discussions.