This article considers the growing range of religiously oriented policy demands on higher education institutions in the UK and the responses universities make to them. It sets this in the context of public anxiety and ambivalence about faith, taking the higher education sector in Britain as emblematic of wider concerns about religious faith and its place in the public sphere. Specifically, the article looks at four key policy ‘arenas’: equalities and diversity; widening participation and social mobility; student experience; and fostering good campus relations. Drawing on interviews with university Vice-Chancellors, Pro-Vice Chancellors, operational staff and students, we explore how these policies are viewed, how they have been responded to, and how religion and belief are engaged with. We consider what this means for perceptions of religion in the academy—and beyond. We conclude that the quality of conversation about religious faith is generally poor, although different parts of the higher education sector respond to it differently. We outline these differences and argue that universities are well placed to encourage a better quality of conversation about religion, inside and outside the academy, which helps unpick public anxiety and ambivalence, supporting a more intellectually rooted, informed, and helpful engagement with religious belief in the public realm.
- SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship