A major study on religious diversity in the UK has proved the need for interfaith work after finding more animosity between people of different religions than between people of different ethnicities or races.
The findings were revealed in a report for the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute titled ‘How We Get Along: The Diversity Study for England and Wales 2020’, which was published on Monday.
Surveying 11,000 adults, researchers found being Muslims remained a “trigger” for prejudice, with Muslims far more likely that Jews, Hindus and Sikhs to be the only representative of their faith in a workplace.
Dr Ed Kessler, the institute’s founding director and principle investigator, said: “Muslims are the most targeted in terms of prejudice and also the group that most religious groups felt most uncomfortable about a close relative marrying.”
The study found “little evidence supporting stereotypes that Jewish and Muslim people only mix with their own” – slaying a popular myth – but said non-Muslims were more likely to work with one another. One in five Jewish people work with at least one other Jew, whereas only one in eight Muslims can say the same.
Despite a plethora of interfaith initiatives in recent years, religion is still “a final frontier for prejudice”, say the authors, and “a greater driver of personal prejudice in England and Wales than racism and xenophobia”.
In a note of caution, they said that working from home during the coronavirus lockdowns “threatens to compound the issue”, but added that there was some good news, in terms of people’s thoughts about diversity.
Three times as many people agreed that ethnic diversity is good for Britain than disagreed, with a correspondingly positive view of migrants, but less people thought religious plurality was a good thing – as few as four in ten.
In what the authors described as a “key finding” the report also showed that while almost three-quarters of people would feel comfortable with a relative marrying an Asian or Black person, less than half said the same about someone from Pakistan.
Investigator Dr Julian Hargreaves said: “The good news is that there is a strong consensus in our findings that diversity is good for our country… However, of these three forms of diversity, acceptance of religious diversity lags significantly behind.”
Kessler said homeworking risked “people go back into isolated silos… Creating new opportunities for friendships should be a key ingredient of public policy”.
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