Social inclusion and belonging of minority identities in Christian and Muslim spaces


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Previous research has found that attending belief system groups can be beneficial for mental health (Forrester-Jones et al 2018) and can provide social support (Nguyen et al 2013). However, there is a large Christian bias in existing research (Nadal et al 2015), so the research team attempted to explore existing research for Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Humanist belief system groups.

The term ‘minority’ refers to individuals who are outnumbered in their belief system group (Inzlicht et al 2009 in Butera and Levine 2009). We chose minority identities because some research has reported negative and poorer experiences within belief system groups for some minorities (eg, Jacobs & Richardson 2022; Lomash et al 2018). We included LGBTQIA+, disabled and neurodivergent people as well as those from minority ethnic groups.

We searched six academic databases to identify relevant studies. Studies needed to be written in English and discuss the social inclusion or belonging of minority identities, and include their voice or experiences. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke 2006) was used to analyse the findings (or equivalent) of the included studies.

We found 29 relevant studies: 23 explored LGBTQIA+ experiences, three looked at disabled experiences and three exploring ethnic groups’ experiences. Twenty-four studies were in Christian spaces and five in Muslim spaces. However, we found no studies from Hindu or Humanist contexts.

Five themes were discovered across the studies:

The minority believer: this explores past experiences with beliefs and navigating belief system communities with a minority identity.

The perennial outsider: this explores how the individual with a minority identity may be perceived by their belief system community.

Degrees of exclusion: this focuses on exclusion within belief system communities. Exclusion was found to take a variety of different appearances in the dataset.

Pockets of empowerment: this explores spaces, attitudes and beliefs that accept, affirm and empower individuals with minority identities.

It’s complicated: this encapsulates the complexity and idiosyncrasy of discussion surrounding minority identities.

We found that social inclusion and belonging of people with a minority identity in Christian and Muslim spaces is complex, with many instances of barriers hindering full inclusion and belonging. These barriers include pejorative attitudes, physical barriers to accessing spaces and expectations to fit into group norms, leading to exclusion. The majority of the studies we found focused primarily on gay or lesbian populations in churches. The inclusion of gay and lesbian people, and same-sex marriage, has been described as one of the largest and most contentious issues currently facing the Church (Kirby et al 2017). This may account for the lack of other ethnic, disabled or neurodivergent identities in our study.

Stigma and identities as ‘stigmatised’ appears to play an important role in how people with a minority identity present themselves. Individuals may need to hide who they are, assimilate to group norms, play down certain behaviours and/or views, or leave community spaces. This is an attitudinal barrier to full access of some communities, excluding people through pressure to meet norms dictated by ingroup pressure.

Distinct acts of exclusion and inclusion appear to frame the wider notion of social inclusion and belonging; experiences appear to differ by individual community, with practice and beliefs as idiosyncratic. It is possible that the lack of directive policy, guidelines or consensus impacts the practice found. This, in turn, may hinder full inclusion and a sense of belonging if people cannot attend the group they wish to — for example local, familial reasons.

Krysia Waldock is a PhD candidate at the University of Kent and a research assistant at Kent’s Institute of Cyber Security for Society. Their PhD explores autistic people’s experiences of inclusion and belonging in religious and humanist spaces using qualitative methods. They are also a member of the disability conference planning team for Inclusive Church, based at St Martin’s in the Fields. Their other research interests include: critical autism studies, spirituality, intersectionality, participatory research, qualitative methods and cyber security social and educational policy. You can find more about Krysia here, their research outputs here and follow them on twitter at @krysiawally


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Butera and Levine (Eds). 2009. Coping with Minority Status: Responses to Exclusion and Inclusion. Retrieved from here

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