Caitlin Shewell-Cooper, BA Swahili and English
One of the best things about uni, and SOAS in particular, is that the student body includes and welcomes the full spectrum of religious and non-religious backgrounds and faiths. This creates open discussion, which is both incredibly liberating and definitely challenging.
Many classes, if you study Religion or not, mean touching on issues relating to faith and its role in society and academia; how does evangelical Christianity affect western aid to the middle east? Is the UK government’s Prevent policy an example of rampant Islamophobia?
Don’t be shy – you and your faith are massively valuable to SOAS and to students at SOAS. We learn from each other and endeavour to make the world a little better by doing so. It is so important to find a home to practise your own faith and grow in it, but SOAS also offers a unique space to expand our horizons and support one another.
We are so lucky at SOAS to have the opportunity to be a part of many religious organisations and societies, as well as attending outside events held here throughout the year. Check out the Student Union societies page for the full list of societies specific to various faiths, as well as opportunities to discuss through the Christian-Muslim Dialogue society and the Spiritual Dialogue society. Make sure to go freshers fayre on Saturday 26th to chat to society members, find out more information, and sign up!
Outside of uni there are so many organisations to get involved with; with churches you are spoilt for choice and it can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’ve come from a background where there were few options.
It is definitely worth checking a few out to see the different kinds of worship and teaching available, but equally the most important thing is to find somewhere you feel at home. I go to King’s Cross Church (KXC) less than 5 minutes walk from Dinwiddy on Pentonville Road, it is so welcoming with an active student community. Also near to SOAS and Dinwiddy are Euston Church, King’s Cross Baptist church, St Mary’s and others. There’ll be someone at Christian union available to go along with you if you’d like!
If you’re of the Anglican breed, check out the achurchnearyou website, which will direct you to your nearest parish and church. If you’re a LGBTIA+ christian, Diverse Church is a supportive organisation with an active London group – please also know you are welcome at SOAS CU. Also check out the Catholic society, which runs open masses and regular meetings at SOAS.
Into politics? Of course you are, you’re at SOAS. All of the main political parties have groups affiliated with different faiths, such as Christians on the Left, Muslim Friends of Labour and the Conservative Christian Forum. All of these groups hold events in London and are a great way to meet up with like minded people, especially as it can feel like political issues are not readily discussed in a traditional religious setting. Do get involved in environmental groups and societies at SOAS, but if you’re looking for something where faith and protecting the environment intersect check out A Rocha, Operation Noah, IFEES and more.
As well at the ISOC and the MSA at SOAS there are many Islamic groups in wider London. The Inclusive Mosque initiative is a London organisation that aims to establish a place of worship for the promotion and practice of an inclusive Islam and runs many events in London, many discussing gender and sexuality, disability and mental health and interfaith issues.
Rumi’s Cave in Kilburn is a community hub based on the philosophy of Rumi that runs social events and talks, on subjects such as ‘Star Wars and Islam’. The Salaam cafe, run by the Rabbani project is a pop up arts night exploring spirituality many held at SOAS in conjunction with the Spiritual Dialogue society.
The Ramadan Tent Project was founded by SOAS students and is an opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims, to break Iftar together each day during the month of Ramadan at in Malet Street Gardens. This is known at Open Iftar and also caters for the homeless and needy members of our local community.
Most of these societies, groups and events are inclusive, if you’re interested in a particular faith do come along and ask any questions you have. If you’re an atheist or humanist there are societies and events for you. You may notice a line of hungry people outside SOAS every lunchtime – they’re queuing for Hare Krishna food – spiritually enriched vegetarian food provided by Food For All. At the same time, Christian Union can be manning a bible stall near the steps, and the ISOC, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu societies running lunchtime events and discussions. This is the community you are joining – make the most of it – and welcome.