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Centre Blog

Sophie Gilliat-Ray: Research Update

15 May 2023

In the first of our series on research updates from Centre staff, director Sophie Gilliat-Ray discusses issues of diversity, inclusion, and exclusion in relation to religion in the workplace and in public life more generally.

Here’s the transcript for Sophie’s vlog:

Welcome to the Islam-UK Centre at Cardiff University…and to one of our regular research updates. My name is Sophie Gilliat-Ray, and I have been working in the field of ‘British Muslim Studies’ for nearly 30 years. But I also have a long-standing interest in religion in public institutions, and especially the work of chaplains. As you might expect then, one of my favourite projects explored the work of Muslim chaplains in Britain. But as a social scientist, I am also concerned about theoretical questions around issues of inclusion and exclusion, and thinking about how particular social and religious groups might be directly or indirectly marginalised from institutional structures and arrangements. In my recent research, I have been bringing some of these interests together to think about ways in which chaplaincy in Britain can be more accommodating of diversity.

This question is really important because 2021 Census data tells us that less than half of the population in Britain identify as Christian…and yet…there has been a 12% rise in the number of people who report having ‘no religion’. Similarly, there has been an increase in the number of people who identify as Muslim in Britain. The 2021 Census data means that we must consider issues of diversity, inclusion, and exclusion in relation to religion in public institutions in an entirely fresh way.

For example, the category ‘no religion’ can actually be a very positive identification that reflects a vast array of identities, and rich considered ideas about life which just happen to be independent of belief in God or any other spiritual reality. Currently though, prisoners who identify as having ‘no religion’ are categorised by the Prison Service as people without beliefs…which is a slightly different thing. The outcome is that their pastoral care needs are not reflected in the composition of chaplaincy teams.

In relation to the growth of the Muslim chaplaincy profession, my research has uncovered ways in which existing educational and economic arrangements mean that Muslim chaplains can struggle to as they try to develop their work. They are not on a level playing field with their Christian counterparts. So I have been exploring some of the examples of good practice in relation to chaplaincy education…ways in which the curriculum might be ‘decolonised’ and made more accessible to chaplains who are relative newcomers to the profession.

Finally, in our increasingly digital world, stimulated of course by the COVID-19 pandemic, we can usefully think about ways of making chaplaincy provision more accessible beyond particular institutions. For those who are housebound, or geographically isolated, it’s worth thinking about the development of virtual technology and the use of smartphone applications to bring pastoral care to people who might be otherwise excluded from chaplaincy services.

So, to sum up, my recent research critically evaluates issues of inclusion and exclusion in chaplaincy against the changing religious landscape of British society. I am hoping that one of the outcomes of my work will be a fresh and exiting future for the chaplaincy profession, and the development of more equitable and responsive structures and arrangements. Thank you so much for listening