How to talk about religion without feeling awkward

It isn’t always easy or comfortable to talk about religion but it can be valuable in all sorts of ways. Melanie Prideaux, Professor of Religious Studies, shares ways to get involved in conversation about religion, and reflects on how being willing to engage with religion can help to strengthen our community.

A view up the winding path across St George’s Field on the University of Leeds campus. The sun is setting, shining through the branches of an overhanging tree.
St George’s Field, University of Leeds

As places of study and work diversify, having the confidence to talk about our beliefs helps us connect with each other and have better conversations.

We all have beliefs, religious or otherwise that shape the way we behave and respond to the world around us. Despite the Office for National Statistics’ data showing that religion across England and Wales is on the decline, the University of Leeds’ own equality data reports that at least half of our community identifies with a religion.

With so many members of our community identifying with a religion, being ready to talk about religion can help us have better conversations which help everyone feel that they belong. Considering religion also helps us to understand some of the challenges members of our community might experience.

Religion on campus

If you look around, you will notice that religion is visible everywhere on our campus. You can see it in our people, in the art we have on display, in our buildings, and in the courses we teach and the activities we join.

Religion can be experienced through the food that’s available on and around campus, the outfits people wear, the different physical spaces we have and through the breaks we have in our academic year.

Learning how to talk about religion and beliefs can help us understand what matters to others, their values, and how we can better collaborate with one another.

5 things you can do to make it easier to talk about religion

  1. Know what’s out there. Take the opportunity to find out more about religion. Nobody can be an expert on everything related to religion but knowing some basic information makes it easier to start a conversation.
  2. Avoid making assumptions. Religious traditions are internally diverse. Religions, and their believers, are not monolithic – people’s lives don’t always revolve around one single thing.
  3. Engage with people that may have different world views from you. It is always good to talk, and the more we hear about different views on the world, the more we understand our own.
  4. Challenge discrimination, including the side-lining of religious identities and the exclusion of people of faith from activity.
  5. Don’t assume there is a “neutral” position. A position which excludes religion, and people of faith, is not neutral.

Finally: Don’t be afraid to talk about religion and beliefs.

Often, misconceptions occur because we are not aware of views that differ from our own, or because we make assumptions. Instead, take your time to have these conversations and respectfully ask questions. As uncomfortable as they may be, it is the only way that we’ll truly understand one another and strengthen our community.

Recommended reads

If you want to learn more about religion on campus, visit the Community Religions Project which is a resource about religion in Leeds.

The Equality website also shares information and guidance on how to support staff and students in relation to religion and belief.

Melanie Prideaux is Professor of Religious Studies at the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds.

Find out more about the work carried out by Professor Melanie Prideaux.

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The University of Leeds was founded in 1904, and its origins go back to the nineteenth century with the founding of the Leeds School of Medicine in 1831.

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