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Title: 'The secular delusion'? : how religious students negotiate their faith in a university context
Author: Reid, Lydia Jane
ISNI:       0000 0004 5369 3306
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2014
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Universities have traditionally been thought of as “secular enclaves” (Bryant, 2006: 2) that have the capacity to liberalise or even eradicate personal religious beliefs. Despite this assumption, religious activity on university campuses shows no sign of declining, due in part to the failings of the secularisation thesis and the rise of religious pluralism. In the media more recently, there have been frequent references to religious organisations on campus, in particular to clashes between Christian societies and Student Unions, and between Islamic and atheist societies. The management of religion on university campuses has also become a political issue with the Prime Minister David Cameron intervening on recent guidelines (proposed by Universities U.K.) advising that external religious speakers be allowed to segregate student audiences based on gender. As a direct result of Cameron’s intervention the advisory comment was removed. In light of the above, the aim of this thesis is to explore how Christian, Jewish and Muslim students navigate the terrain of the university and whether such an environment is challenging or conducive to their faith in terms of degree content, interactions with peers and involvement in relevant societies and/or chaplaincies. This thesis also explores student reactions to the New Atheism, a label attributed to a group of provocative authors – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens – all of whom are united in their belief that religion is irrational, false and evil. Often described as the chief proponent of the New Atheism, Richard Dawkins has also recently shown his support for UCL’s atheist society in their disagreement with the Student Union over the uploading of a satirical religious cartoon to their Facebook page. The research which forms the basis of this thesis was carried out between 2011-2013 and features the use of qualitative semi-structured interviews and the presentation of New Atheist extracts from Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and Harris. Over 30 participants were included in the project with a minimum of 10 students from each (Islamic, Christian and Jewish) faith group. The multi-faith angle of this project offers a unique insight into how different faith groups navigate the university, with some common issues emerging across all faith groups as well as faith-specific issues. Sociological research in this area has tended to focus on Christian students and this has meant that certain concerns (such as dietary provisions and prayer space) have tended to be overlooked by researchers. The findings of this research project are multi-layered and complex. Religious students differed in terms of their expectations of higher education institutions: some students viewed the university in purely educational terms (and as having no religious function), while others saw the university as a place for both educational and spiritual development and where personal faith could be integrated with their academic studies and social life. The experience of religious students in using chaplaincies and societies was also mixed, with some students reporting fears of being “judged” by other members of the same faith group. There also appeared to be intra-religious tension across all faith groups but this was more prevalent among the Christian and Islamic societies due to denominational differences. Inter-religious (as opposed to intra-religious) tension emerged particularly in the students’ responses to the New Atheism. Rather than seeing New Atheist literature as a direct challenge to their own faith, the participants recognised that “other” religious believers might be guilty of the New Atheist’s accusations – therefore highlighting a surprising degree of convergence between religious participants and New Atheist arguments.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: New Atheism ; Religious Societies ; Universities ; Secularisation ; Secular ; Religion ; Students