Designing and managing multi-faith space on campus

This year AMOSSHE supported a research project by Northumbria University to develop understanding of the Student Services sector and make recommendations for good practice. The project explores the design and management of multi-faith spaces in higher education.

AMOSSHE InsightThe project was funded as part of AMOSSHE Insight – our commitment to a research agenda led by our members’ priorities, to support their professional development and broaden the evidence base for Student Services in the UK.

The project investigated the feasibility of a more “positive” design and management of multi-faith and contemplative space on university campuses, as an alternative to “negative”, bland and uninspiring spaces with flat white walls and little decoration (especially religious paraphernalia or iconography), which are often created to avoid causing offence or excluding people of some faiths.

The project team, led by Simon Lee, Student Support Manager (Policy, Projects and Inclusion) at Northumbria University, looked at the architecture of existing multi-faith spaces, and considered the theological and cultural arguments that have led to the current predominantly “negative” management of space. This was researched through consideration of literature as well as speaking with students of faith.

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The team found that “positively” designed and managed spaces fall into two broad types: “single-space” and “multi-box”.

The “single space” model proposes a single large space for all faith groups to use. The benefits of this model include a compact physical footprint on campus, the encouraging of interfaith dialogue through the negotiation of the space, and ease of management. The negative aspects include difficulties with paraphernalia and iconography, and that religions with regular prayer times can be perceived as dominating the space.

The second, “multi-box” option proposes a larger space that has individual prayer rooms within it for each faith, as well as shared communal and social areas. The benefits of this option are that it allows permanent furniture and iconography to be fitted, and minimises arguments over space and perceived ownership while still providing many of the benefits of interfaith dialogue through the shared spaces. However, such a facility needs to be big, would be expensive to build and manage, and it may be difficult to ensure effective oversight of all the activities taking place.

The project report makes several detailed recommendations for institutions embarking on the design and management of a new multi-faith space. These include:

  • Dialogue and agreement with students, staff and faith groups are absolutely key to developing and managing the provision.
  • Develop any space as near as possible to the centre of campus, making it a central part of the university both physically and metaphorically.
  • The space should provide some “moment of awe” on entry to ensure that it’s psychologically separate from the wider campus
  • The needs of all faiths on campus need to be considered, so that the space doesn’t end up as a Christian and Muslim “plus others” space.

Read the full project research, findings and recommendations here: AMOSSHE Insight: multi-faith space on campus.

Image source: www.shutterstock.com/gallery-856843p1.html.

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