Faith and spirituality means different things to different people at different times. Our Interfaith Adviser has attempted to shed some light on this complex subject by answering some of the most frequently asked questions.
If you have any other questions, get in touch with our Interfaith Adviser, at [email protected]
What faiths are represented by the University population and how do they compare in size?
The University of Westminster has a very diverse student population and this is one of its defining features. There is every faith present, and some are more visible than others. We do not currently monitor the faith background of students, so it is only possible to estimate the relative sizes of each group.
What is faith?
The word “faith” has different meanings for different people and so is often very personal and highly subjective. It is at least a collection of beliefs* that form the basis of a “life stance”. This may be an evolutive appreciation of metaphysical concepts, or tried and trusted processes that form habitual action commonly enhancing efficiency.
* Contextual definition: A “belief” is an idea, opinion or judgement, held to be true or valid under certain definable conditions, that is capable of being expressed but is not possible to be tangibly proven true or valid.
Do you have to come from a particular country to follow a particular faith?
No, because faith transcends national borders, although certain cultural practices or customs are indigenous to particular regions. When a recognisable set of beliefs are adopted by a community, it forms a religion, the practice of which may vary from place to place as it becomes influenced by the environmental context.
Is religion important?
Yes. Religion is very important, and ignorance of its bearing on political life is especially dangerous, whether on a interpersonal or international level. For many, it offers a sense of belonging, a way to make sense of the world which provides a meaning and purpose to life, or a relief from an otherwise unbearable situation.
Can you stop following one faith and begin following another?
Yes. As one gains knowledge or is influenced by others, one's maintained collection of beliefs can alter. It can happen suddenly, due to a single life-changing event, or gradually, in the eclectic experimentation with various beliefs and practices. Sometimes this can attract hostility or persecution from those one leaves behind.
What is the oldest religion?
Most people would agree that Hinduism is the world's oldest religion. Some might say it is Judaism, Paganism, Vodun or Zoroastrianism. This depends on how the historical origins of a practised “faith” can be credibly verified, then inform the understanding of it as an organised religion in a widely acceptable way.
Do I have to be religious to get help/support or advice?
No, but almost everyone has faith in something, even if it just giving a friend the benefit of a doubt. It is certainly not necessary to be part of a religious community, as a typical request for help might be about just that – where to find a group who share similar characteristics.
How can I get involved if I want to help support students/staff?
The Faith and Spirituality team is at a stage of consolidating its numbers. However, we are pioneering a framework that still offers opportunities for volunteer assistants, who do not need to have a relevant qualification or track record of experience. We use a formal agreement but it is suited to fit around individual availability.
Can I attend a religious group if I don't follow/belong to that particular faith?
Some groups may insist on participation or have minimum requirements which exclude those who do not fit their criteria. Others may lure innocents to meetings with the intention of converting them. It is a good idea to check with the group beforehand to avoid giving or taking offence at misunderstandings.
Are there different clubs/societies for the various faiths?
Yes. The Students' Union runs many clubs and societies, some of which are faith-based or mixed with ethnic, cultural, political etc interests. Otherwise there are many groups around London that offer events and activities to join in with, and most local places of worship or community centres can provide further information.
Does the University have links with religious groups in the community? And what are they?
Yes. The Faith and Spirituality team are actively involved in their respectively communities, some for many years, and are able to provide guidance on this. The University respects the diversity of religious expression and this is recognised in its policies. Many University staff have their own links to religious groups.
Does the Faith and Spirituality department celebrate the work they do? And how do they keep everyone happy?
Though not always visible on campus, the department does celebrate the various festivals in the religious calendar and help students and staff to celebrate them also. This can be a sensitive matter when they conflict with academic or other commitments. The ideal of keeping everyone happy begins with keeping oneself “content”, as this brings us closer to equanimity and the virtue of temperance we aim for.