Religious Literacy for Organisations – online training programme launched by EY. Tuesday 8th November 2016

Tuesday 8th November 

EY launched our breakthrough online training programme Religious Literacy for Organisations at their More London HQ. This was the culmination of 18 months work which we have done through our partnership with Coexist House. The event was hosted by Senior EY Partner Kamran Malik and Professor Adam Dinham and outlined the content and approach of the course. The other speakers were Sir Roger Gifford  the UK Head of Skandinaviska Enskilda Bank since 2000 and former Lord Mayor of London in 2012-13 and EY’s Head of the National Equality Standard Arun Batra. 

Attendees included business leaders and Diversity heads from the public and private sectors as well as representatives of the religious communities.  The programme is now available through religious

For information about the RLP’s Executive and Senior Manager seminar training please contact :  David Karat:

Papers presented at the event by Adam Dinham and Sir Roger Gifford are copied below


Wednesday 16th November

The Commission on Religion and Belief, chaired by Baroness Butler Sloss held a ‘year on’ seminar at Portcullis House addressing the impact of the report. During the presentation the Religious Literacy for Organisations Programme was commended as a strong example of the response to the Commissions call for greater religious literacy in public life. The following panel discussion featured senior public figures including Tim Farron MP, talking about the tensions between their faiths and their public roles.  It was hosted by the Woolf Institute.



A recent policy briefing paper, Religion, Conflict and Security, written  by Professor John Wolffe and Gavin Moorhead for the Open University, concludes:

Poor religious literacy is a widespread and substantial problem inhibiting effective assessment and response to religion-related security challenges.



Adam Dinham

There have been widespread calls for Religious Literacy in the last year, much of which picks up on my research over the last six years which underpins the training we’re launching today.

The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life makes it absolutely central, recommending it in every public setting you can think of, and influential leaderships from Lambeth Palace to Downing Street are getting to grips with what it means.

So we’re delighted to be working with EY to produce this breakthrough new programme – we believe the first of its kind. Religious Literacy is critical because we’ve largely lost the ability to talk about religion and belief, just as we need it most. We assume we’re post-religious and secular, without knowing what that really means, or what the real religious landscape looks like. Yet billions of people around the world are religious – 84%. Millions of those are in workplaces in Europe and Britain. Globalisation and migration put us all in to daily encounter with an increasing diversity of religion and belief. Tragically, a lot of this renewed prominence has been about violence. 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo have had the effect of making many people anxious about religion and belief. A number of legal cases have also drawn attention to religion as problematic and difficult.

Religious Literacy says it’s important to take these risks seriously. But there are opportunities too – internal to your organisation, about bringing the whole person to work, and nurturing diverse but cohesive teams…And external too, in sensitive relationship management wherever you’re doing business.

It’s important too because on religion and belief we are now where we were on race in the 60s, gender in the 70s and sexual orientation in the 80s and 90s. Getting any diversity agenda shaped up takes time and can be difficult, as MacPherson reminds us in relation to institutional racism, thirty years or more after the first legislation. Religion starts from its own distinctive place too – the challenge here being to move away from a focus on religion as somewhere between irrelevant and problematic – a risk to be managed – to seeing it as a critical part of inclusive diversity practice.

Awareness and acceptance of this are the starting points because, like race and gender, religion and belief are easy to trivialise as politically correct, or nice but not necessary. But we know from experience in these other areas of identity that workplaces thrive where they are not only diverse but also skilfully welcoming of that diversity. That goes deep.

I was listening only this morning to a piece on the radio about the gender pay gap in financial services, which we know isn’t a simple matter of paying less to women doing the same work. It’s a complex matter of women ending up in less well paid roles than men because of different and deep rooted expectations about their respective roles in the rest of their lives. This depth of difference applies to religious identity too.

Religious difference translates into differences in lived experience and world views, in the contours of family and social life, in obligations and priorities, and in differences in gender, age and family roles. It’s unhelpful to judge these as better or worse. They are just differences, and equality and diversity invite us to design work places which understand and respect them. So how do we do it? Well, this training package is a framework to help organisations think through their own religious literacy, in their own way, according to their own needs and situations.

It has four parts: analysis; attitude; knowledge; and skills.

By analysis we mean giving you the tools to work out a critical understanding of the real religious landscape where you are. The religious landscape has changed dramatically in the last half a century. Traditional religion continues but declines. Christianity is realigning away from Anglicanism and towards Pentecostalism and the black majority churches. Ancient, almost forgotten forms are resurgent, like Druidism and Wicca, and informal modes are growing, like spiritualism and belief in angels and souls. Non-belief is increasing too with between 25% and 50% reporting as religious nones, and non-religious beliefs like atheism and secularism are a growing feature too. The story is of change rather than decline, and all of these things are happening at once.

To do them justice we need to have a stretchy understanding of religion and belief, and we need to know in workplaces which ones we think count. Which will we take seriously when asked to make accommodations, and when considering inclusive practice? Recognising the reality and diversity of what you’re dealing with is the first step in understanding how widespread, varied and significant religion is for so many of your colleagues, customers and partners. And this is true, regardless of one’s own religion, belief and none.

Next is attitude. Indifference, hostility, tolerance, respect are all positions which might be in the mix. The training is designed to explore the range of stances which might be taken, and how you can locate your own organisation within them. The goal is to work through the assumptions and feelings which can make the conversation difficult, some of which may be quite subconscious.

Then we come to knowledge. This part of the training incorporates four concrete areas for attention, which arise largely out of law on religion and belief.That is partly because it is illegal to discriminate in this area. But also because law is a helpful springboard because it’s often been the forum in which religion and belief issues have become most visible. It shows us where the flashpoints are:

  • manifestations of religion and belief in the workplace – what people wear
  • time off for religion or belief reasons – for example, prayers, festivals, rituals
  • adaptations of work duties – for example, not conducting same sex marriage, or not handling certain foods or drinks

Legal compliance is a given, and our training helps. But it isn’t a legal training. It goes broader because, on it’s own, law hasn’t been especially helpful in enabling work places to know what to do on religion and belief. In fact there is evidence of the opposite because every case turns on its own complex facts, and none necessarily points to the solution for next time.

There is also evidence that if you leave it only to law, you get a turn to rights and away from conversation – exactly the sort of workplace environment which can be unpleasant to work in and prone to divisive ill-feeling.  The risk is also of trivialising religion and belief. We’ve long realised that gender diversity isn’t about introducing women’s toilets! Likewise, religious literacy is not about veils and pork-free microwaves. When difficulties arise, these are often symptoms, not causes, of deeper deficits in designing workplaces which make sense for people from all kinds of backgrounds and in which they can feel included and valued – part of the team.

So we’re talking about shifting from superficial tolerance to deep respect. This is a big ask when many of us have grown up believing that religion – like politics – are topics best avoided in public.

Finally the training brings you to skills. It doesn’t tell you what to do. It shows what sorts of problems have arisen, and how they have been resolved in other situations. That’s designed to help you think through what’s right for your organisation. And the training also highlights practical ways in which this has sometimes been done elsewhere.

I hope this whistle stop tour of this new training has whetted your appetite. I’ll finish by stating for the avoidance of any doubt that this is not about more religion and belief, but a better quality of engagement with the religion and belief which is there anyway. Like race and gender before them, it will take some time for engaging with religion and belief diversity to be understood as good for workplaces and good for business, as well as being the right thing to do. We hope you’ll want to be in the vanguard of that, and we very much hope to work with you.



EY Coexist House launch of Religious Literacy Programme

8th November 2016

Ladies & Gentlemen,

I was born and brought up in Scotland and have lived in England for several decades. I am the son of a clergyman, I was first married to a Jewish wife with whom I have 4 children, and I’ve worked for a Swedish bank for over 30 years. I’ve worked and lived in Japan for 6 years and travelled extensively for work and pleasure.

I have direct, ‘living-amongst’ experience of Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Shintoism and Judaism. And I’m an Anglican by inclination and practice.

Yes, the Church of England has been my handrail for the journey through life but I am familiar enough with several others to understand their efficacy and their ‘handrail’ features. And I have found a knowledge of them a really useful social and business tool. The experience has allowed me to feel comfortable with people whose cultural and religious background is not the same as mine.

What is so exciting about the EY Coexist House religious literacy programme is that it aims to give people an ability to replicate that experience, to be able talk to other people about religious practice without stepping inside their personal space uninvited. They will be able to broach the subject, and find ways of accommodating it, should they wish or need to, in a way which they were previously not able to do.

As many of you will know there has been a remarkable transformation in work practice in recent years. The importance of employee welfare has shot up the CEO’s agenda – due largely to the competitive realisation that a fit and happy, well-adjusted employee is a more productive one, less prone to days off and to sickness or stress.

Great work is being done in this area by, for instance, the Bank Workers Charity with a major drive currently on mental health at work. It is not alone.

And this programme complements such initiatives, opening the door for a proper understanding of the practice of religion and allows us all, gives us all the excuse, to engage with it for – very often – the first time.

This is pioneering work and I believe this programme or its children will one day be as common to workplace practice as the PDD. It may well become an integral part of professional development.

Again, this is not so much learning about religion, it’s about understanding people better. Understanding your colleagues and your employees better. It’s about engendering respect rather than mere tolerance and about promoting engagement rather than disdain.

And without wishing to dwell on the levels of intolerance we see all over the world, I passionately believe this is the right thing to do now for society and for business – and that London is one of the few places in the world from which this Initiative can come.

So this programme is not just potentially good for your own internal relations and staff cohesion – it also aims to give your business the cutting edge in dealing with clients and stakeholders from overseas cultures and countries where, very often, religion is central to every aspect of life.

Religion is one of those subjects that are all but taboo at work. One of the last areas of shared human existence we find it really difficult to talk about. And yet it is one that is so important for so many people.

This unique programme is going to allow people to overcome that and that’s why it is so necessary and so exciting.

Thank you.


Sunday 13th November

Professor Dinham and Sir Roger Gifford are also appearing on Radio 4’s Sunday Programme on 13th November in a a feature about Religious literacy in business.