Creed and credence

March 30, 2017

In the article “They have eyes but cannot see the ‘hostility’ religious students face” (News, 23 March), a researcher argues that institutions should embrace religious diversity on their campuses. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews summarises one issue that I have with religion within university study: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews xi, 1).

As a professor, I do rigorous fieldwork to present testable evidence on which to base my claims to “truth”, and even then I make such claims very conditional. If a student then claims something to be true because they hope that it is and have God’s assurance (as did Tony Blair, for example), am I expected to give that the same credence and standing?

I accept that some students have religious needs – the prayer room is across the corridor from my office. Those needs should be met by the students’ union, as are other belief-based activities, such as politics societies. Religion is a choice, which is why it is not an equality issue like disability, race, gender or sexual orientation, although I accept that there is discrimination based on religion. That is why I oppose my university’s policy of holding all award ceremonies in consecrated Christian churches. One of those is Nelson’s church at the former Royal Naval College in Greenwich, which is redolent of the imperialism that oppressed the ancestors of many of our students. Graduands should not be forced to submit to that experience, although their families do enjoy the Painted Hall, despite its sexualised images.

Ian McNay
Professor emeritus
University of Greenwich

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