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[Image] Senate House where the event was held

Non-Religious Identities in Policy and Practice

20 April 12

Friday 20 April 2012, Senate House, London

Scroll down to 'Programme' to access podcasts from this event.


There has been growth in scholarly and popular interest in atheism, humanism and secularism in the UK in recent years, but conferences and seminars have tended to focus upon how to study ‘non-religion’ or debates with religion.

This one-day workshop sought to address the content of non-religious identities as they are lived and legislated, bringing together academics, humanists, atheists, secularists, the media, the third sector and other interested parties [see below for the list of participants], exploring the variety masked by such a broad label and addressing questions such as: if equalities legislation protects ‘religion or belief’, then where do non-religious people stand? What does non-religious practice look like? How might non-religious identities be taken on their own terms? It was sponsored by the Jacobs Foundation-funded Young Atheists Research Project and AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme. 

As a growing body of research is showing, the label ‘non-religious’ covers a spectrum of things. It is being limited academically to include groups and people to whom their difference from religion is of primary importance. Yet, non-religious identities can be and are being understood much more broadly than this in policy and legal contexts, which became evident from the second session of the day. In recent England and Wales equalities legislation ‘religion or belief’ and a ‘lack of belief’ are protected characteristics. One frequently comes across the phrase ‘all faiths and none’ in policy and consultation documents, with little consideration as to what the ‘and none’ might comprise.

The workshop underlined the need for cross-disciplinary work in the area and moderate voices to be heard to a greater extent in public debate. Legal and popular understandings seem to be lagging behind how people live their religious and non-religious identities (the latter seeming not to make sense without reference to the former) and consequent social scientific analyses of the relationship between belief, behaviour and emotion. The solution may well not be to proliferate ‘religion or belief’ protections. The day certainly highlighted what a dynamic and diverse area this is, with scope for much more research.

We are very grateful to radio producer Norman Winter who recorded and wrote up the day for us. The list of presentations is below with links to the podcast and his summary of each talk available. So please do listen to and read more about the day [the full report is available to download at the bottom of this page].

Dr Rebecca Catto, Lancaster, 6 June 2012

Programme (including links to podcasts)

Scene Setting

ANDREW COPSON (Chief Executive, British Humanist Association) – Opening address

DAVID VOAS (University of Essex) – Setting the statistical scene

Law and Policy (Domestic and International)

IAN LEIGH (Durham University)

PETER JONES (Newcastle University)

MALEIHA MALIK (King’s College London)

STELLA COGLIEVINA (University of Insubria)

DAVID POLLOCK (President, European Humanist Federation)

RUSSELL SANDBERG (Cardiff University) [in his absence on the day Rebecca Catto summarised his paper for the audience]

Non-Religious Identities as Lived I

SARIYA CONTRACTOR, TRISTRAM HOOLEY, NICKI MOORE and PAUL WELLER (University of Derby) - ‘Discrimination, Equality and the 'Non-Religious': Reported Experiences and Perspectives from Two Recent Research Projects’ PART 1 and PART 2

MATTHEW ENGELKE (LSE) - ethnography with the British Humanist Association

Non-Religious Identities as Lived II

ANDREW BROWN (Guardian “Comment is Free” Belief) - Stimulating and managing online debates

JULIAN BAGGINI (writer, journalist and co-founder of The Philosophers' Magazine) on researching Welcome to Everytown and everyday non-religious experience

Feedback and Concluding Discussion

LOIS LEE (founder of Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network) – rapporteur


Ainsworth, Peta

Lancaster University

Aston, Katie

Goldsmiths, University of London

Baggini, Julian


Brown, Andrew

The Guardian

Catto, Rebecca

Lancaster University

Coglievina, Stella

King's College London

Contractor, Sariya

University of Derby

Copson, Andrew

British Humanist Association

Cotter, Chris


Dhaliwal, Pavan

British Humanist Association

Eccles, Janet

Lancaster University

Engelke, Matthew

London School of Economics

Goddard, Elizabeth


Haycock, Ellie


Hooley, Tristram

University of Derby

Jones, Peter

Newcastle University

Lee, Lois

Goldsmiths, University of London

Leigh, Ian

Durham University

Malik, Maleiha

King's College London

Massey-Chase, Becca


Mumford, Lorna

University College London

Pearce, Brian

The Inter Faith Network for the UK

Pollock, David

European Humanist Federation

Vautier, Jess


Voas, David

University of Essex

Wallis, Simeon

University of Warwick

Winter, Norman

Radio Producer

Associated file:
Non-Religious Identities in Policy & Practice Workshop 20 April 2012 Report.pdf

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