Is religious diversity duly celebrated at the University of Edinburgh?

The University of Edinburgh is home to people of many different faiths and beliefs which is reflected in its multiple  religious societies. The Edinburgh University Students’ Association website lists ten different societies centred around different religions and even more are represented within the university’s interfaith and belief group.

The Chaplaincy in Bristo Square is heralded as a diversity hub, open to people of all faiths and none. It hosts meetings of many of the university’s religious societies as well as groups for mindfulness, dance, yoga and more. It is equipped with an auditorium for students to study and spend time in and a ‘sanctuary’ complete with mats and cushions for religious worship. The Chaplaincy boasts a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, and is a space where the university’s efforts for religious diversity and equality are plain to see.

Ali Newell, the Associate Chaplain of the university, spoke passionately about the university’s efforts in interfaith and belief work. When asked about the university’s work to provide for its students of religious minority, Newell cited the  large team of honorary chaplains of different faiths who are always available to students.

The Chaplaincy involves an interfaith and belief group who meet every two weeks. Discussions are held on topics such as morality, scripture, religious practice and community engagement. Newell spoke about the communal interfaith peace pilgrimage that takes place every year in Spain where participants walk an old religious route. However, this pilgrimage does not reach the traditional Christian destination, so as not to isolate but to create a communal experience. The purpose is to walk together, share spiritual practice and learn from one another.

When it came to what the university could do to further accommodate religious diversity, Newell stated that importance lies in “awareness raising”. The interfaith work that the Chaplaincy has embarked on is especially important as, in Newell’s words, it allows participants “looking for common ground” but realising that it is also “okay to be able to voice differences”.

Omar Shabana, president of the Islamic society, had a similar sentiment about the university and its approach to religious diversity. Shabana was full of praise for the university and its supportive accommodation for religious minorities.

Shabana spoke about the main objectives of his society. This includes providing Muslims with “a home away from home”, projecting Islam “as what it truly is, not what it is portrayed as in the media” and “serving the community”.

It has been easy for him to access a prayer room or mat or find food that fulful his dietary requirements. He did mention that many catered accommodations do not offer halal options, but that this can often be circumvented by reaching for the vegetarian option. There are also sometimes options provided at King’s Building and at Teviot but this is only after a request.

Shabana noted how the Chaplaincy is a great space that operates without “any bias” and that it is a great place to have “all of us in one space”. The Chaplaincy allows them to “push for coexistence and not have the mentality of us and them”. He also noted that although the many different people who spend time in the building have their differences, that does not mean they don’t deserve respect.

While religious inclusion is a value the university boasts and works to uphold, it seems as if it could be doing more to ensure awareness is being raised about the means in which religious diversity is promoted.

Both Newell and Shabana spoke about how awareness of the religious services on offer is lacking, with Shabana stating that services are available only if you are willing to ask.

It is important that students are aware that there are services and a designated space that is there to support them in their observance of religious practise. It is a wonderful opportunity to generate greater knowledge about other traditions and religions while remaining connected to your own faith and staying close to home.

Check out the Chaplaincy Facebook page for more information.

Image Credit: Lloyd Morgan via Flickr

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