Building bridges or holy huddles? Student religious organizations in British universities

Kristin Aune, Simon Perfect, Ben Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Religion is increasingly being understood as an equality and diversity issue in universities, and religious students are central to debates in UK universities about freedom of speech and extremism. Yet there is little qualitative or UK-based research on the primary institutional expression of student religiosity, student religious organizations. This study fills the gap. It explores what these organizations do, whether they are public- or private-facing, and what role they play in students’ lives. It uses theories of social capital and thematic analysis to analyse data from semi-structured interviews with 68 students in six UK universities. The article explores tensions between the organizations’ focus on building community among members and on building bridges to people outside. It argues that student religious organizations are primarily sources of bonding (intra-community) social capital; they play important roles in helping students feel at home on campus, creating friendships and strengthening religious identity, especially for minoritized students. To a lesser extent, the societies are also sources of bridging social capital (creating relationships with people outside the group), through volunteering and interfaith work. We argue that faith-sharing can also be considered a form of bridging as much as bonding social capital, challenging previous interpretations which see proselytism primarily as strengthening relationships within the group. The findings highlight the contribution of these organizations and the need for universities to be concerned with their flourishing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
JournalJournal of Diversity in Higher Education
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 May 2024


  • higher education, religion, student organizations, student religious organizations


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