University of Sheffield statement on religious activities on campus

This statement was approved by the University's Senate in March 2002. It formally established a multifaith Chaplaincy Service within the Department of Student Services.


The statement provides guidance for all religious activities on campus, including guidance on issues of accommodation, diet, dress and absence for religious observance.

A. Background

The University Mission Statement has as one of its aims "to inculcate in all a respect for the traditions of higher education and a commitment to the values of truth, toleration and justice." This paper seeks to address the following aims:

  • The acknowledgement of diversity in matters of faith and spirituality among members of the University.
  • The toleration of religious practice and belief on campus.
  • The encouragement of good practice among Chaplains and Religious Advisers.
  • The rejection of intolerance and extremism.
  • Compliance with the December 2003 legislation which makes it illegal to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief.

B. Introduction

  1. The University respects the wide diversity of the student body and will endeavour to ensure that systems and practices do not conflict with cultural and religious beliefs.
  2. The University welcomes the variety of religious beliefs and practices among students as a positive enrichment of University life.
  3. Following the Race Relations Acts, and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, the University recognises a common religion as one of the elements of ethnicity, which establishes a racial group.
  4. In its commitment to the toleration of religious practice and belief on campus, the University acknowledges and respects the place of humanists, agnostics and atheists within its community.
  5. The University has a duty of care for all its members. There is a particular duty of care for those who may be vulnerable to either direct or indirect harassment, pressure or intimidation. This includes the duty to protect students from aggressive, manipulative or covert forms of proselytism. All information about a faith group or its activities should contain overt information about its aims. The University's policies and procedures relating to equal opportunities, harassment and other issues also provide protection to students and staff in this regard.
  6. The University expects individuals and groups on campus to respect the freedom of others to express their convictions and religious beliefs in their own terms.
  7. The University is committed to preventing religious discrimination. It is also committed to the principles of free enquiry and free speech within the law.
  8. The University provides a multi-disciplinary environment, which encourages contact, encounter and conversation, and which embraces the critical exploration of questions concerning religion, secularism, belief and non-belief.

C. Chaplains and religious advisers

  1. The University recognises the excellent resource it has in its ecumenical Christian Chaplaincy team, which has proved invaluable on many occasions and contributes to University life for many staff and students alike.
  2. In accordance with the University's recognition of the diversity of religious commitment in the lives of many of its community, it supports the provision of a Multi-faith Chaplaincy Service within its network of Student Services.
  3. In supporting the provision of a Multi-faith Chaplaincy Service, the University recognises the following roles:
    1. Chaplains to the University - Individuals appointed by external bodies with the involvement of the University to work on a full-time or part-time basis. They are required to work with other Chaplains and Religious Advisers within the Chaplaincy Service. The University may also authorise the use of a title appropriate to a particular faith community if requested.
    2. Religious Advisers to the University - Individuals who do not have a Chaplaincy role but are recognised by the University as competent to advise the University and the Chaplaincy Service on matters regarding faith communities not represented by the Chaplains.
    3. Associate Chaplains - Individuals appointed by external bodies and authorised by the University to carry out chaplaincy work on campus. Associate Chaplains are required to work within these guidelines in co-operation with Student Services and the Chaplaincy Service. They are normally appointed to work with a particular constituency, faith community or site within the University.
  4. The use of the terms in 3 above and the individuals occupying these roles can only indicate affiliation to the University of Sheffield when authorised to do so by the Student Affairs Committee. Individuals not authorised by the Student Affairs Committee are not permitted to use titles that indicate or imply affiliation to the University or its members.
  5. The University will require that the appointment and selection of Chaplains, Religious Advisers and Associate Chaplains include appropriate checks and procedures.
  6. The University will publicise contact details for Chaplains, Religious Advisers, Associate Chaplains and Faith Community Contacts in University or Union publications [following consultation with the Chaplaincy Service]. This applies also to individuals/groups in the region whose aims and objectives are seen to be in keeping with these guidelines.
  7. The role of the Chaplaincy Service shall be:
    1. To offer hospitality, support and pastoral care to all those who wish to seek it.
    2. To work within the student support network.
    3. To act as a "signpost" for any student wishing to make contact with a particular faith community and to provide information about all faith communities for the University.
    4. To provide support and spiritual counsel for individuals or their representatives at times of need or crisis (e.g. illness, accident, bereavement) when requested.
    5. To meet the needs of those who wish to belong to a denominational chaplaincy or faith community.
    6. To provide opportunities for prayer and worship as and when appropriate.
    7. To encourage and support those who wish to explore issues of faith, ethics and spirituality, recognising this as an important part of their personal growth and development.
    8. To promote contact, encounter and conversation between religious groups and faith communities.
    9. To show a care and concern for the quality of experience offered by the institution in its many forms and to contribute to the well-being of the institution as and when appropriate.
    10. To liase with local churches and faith communities, promoting an understanding of the work and aims of the University.
  8. The University will agree a Service Level Agreement with the Chaplaincy Service, covering such matters as professional standards, code of conduct, pastoral care, incident support and all relevant procedures.

D. Accommodation and facilities

  1. Accommodation and facilities will normally only be made available for religious services, which are organised by or with the co-operation of the Multifaith Chaplaincy Service or an individual on their behalf and authorised by the relevant Officer in the Department of Student Services.
  2. In the event of a group which is not affiliated to the University or an individual making an application to lease a room for the purpose of religious service/activity, the Officer in the Department of Student Services who is responsible for religious matters shall be consulted. S/he should also consult the appropriate denominational chaplain.
  3. At the request of Chaplains/Religious Advisers, the University may make available, through the normal process, information about relevant facilities or events. All publicity must be transparent and clear, stating the aim of the event or group.
  4. The Chaplaincy Service is permitted to use such services [e.g. SDU courses] as will facilitate its contributing to the work of the University.
  5. The University's guiding principles for religious activities must be respected at all times.

E. Student absence for religious festivals

  1. Students have a responsibility to notify the University [particularly academic departments and the Student Administration Service] of any date on which their religion requires them to be absent. This must be done by the date published on the website and in the student handbook at the beginning of the academic session. For students on non modular programmes this must be within three weeks from the notification of examination dates.
  2. Staff should give appropriate and sympathetic consideration to requests for leave from students specifically wishing to participate in their religious festivals and observance. Such requests should not be unreasonably refused. Students must make such requests well in advance of the actual date and may be required to make up the time on other dates.
  3. Sympathetic consideration should be given to rescheduling or repeating lectures, examinations etc that take place on such dates.

F. Religious dress

  1. It is recognised that some religions determine a certain mode of dress.
  2. No agreed rules exist regarding attire during study/research unless it is a requirement of the place of study/clinical attachment etc. [e.g. wearing safety clothing, dress appropriate to professional requirements].
  3. Priority must be given to health and safety requirements.
  4. Students whose attire conceals their identity must be prepared to confirm visual identity in an appropriate manner ­ e.g. at interview and prior to examinations.
  5. Where University activities involve dealing with members of the public (such as patients while on clinical placements) it may not be considered in their best interests for students to conceal their face.

Please see this information note relating to dress for more information. 

G. Other religious observance

  1. The dates and significance of religious festivals and other observances should be taken into sympathetic account in the planning of courses, assignments, examination dates and institutional events, where these are under the control of the University.
  2. The University should make every reasonable effort to accommodate such needs.
  3. The planning, preparation and presentation of food that is sold or provided by the University should evidence sensitivity to dietary requirements arising from the religious beliefs and practices of students.

A world-class university – a unique student experience

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.