Religious Symbolism and Discrimination


For some, having the right to display religious symbols, such as crucifixes, niqābs and karas in public, at work and at school is extremely important. As our communities and workplaces become more culturally diverse, an increasing number of high profile discrimination cases over the rights of these individuals to wear these religious symbols have led to controversy and debate.

The project

When, if ever, is it acceptable to prohibit the use of religious symbols?

Research undertaken at Liverpool employed an innovative combination of both theoretical methods and participatory, community based research.

Theoretical research focused on the study of philosophical literature and on the use of symbols to create meaning. Participatory research brought together religious and secular communities to investigate anxieties, and to further look into how concepts are employed by religious and legal practitioners and policy makers. 

Over half of the participants involved in the research claimed that the process had 'changed the way they thought' about issues surrounding religious discrimination.


The project culminated in a report which was widely disseminated through the media, public events and social media – including Philosophy in the City blog.

In addition:

  • Participatory research enabled researchers to engage a wide range of non-academics in discussion.
  • Subsequent feedback stated overwhelmingly that participation had improved participants’ understanding of recent public discussion, and legal debate surrounding religious discrimination.
  • A quarter of participants claimed to have put the research findings into practice - one from Network Rail made substantial use of the project’s findings in a Professional Equalities Training event for workforce-development specialists.
  • Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, spoke of the report as a resource “to be widely used to promote religious literacy in our common life” and as something which should be made “available to the employers, the employment tribunals and the courts”.
  • A leading barrister spoke of the legal significance of the report to lawyers in the UK, and the former Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Education stated that the report was “extremely valuable” for rethinking policy in this area.


Religious Symbolism and Discrimination was undertaken as an AHRC Connected Communities project by Dr Daniel Hill and Dr Daniel Whistler. For more information about this project, visit the Philosophy and Religious Practices website.