Founded in 1826, University College London (UCL) describes itself as radically different. And it started rather early. When attendance at an English university still required conformity to the Church of England, University College London decided not to apply religious tests to its students. This secular approach caused a lot of resistance, scepticism and rejection (Götz, 2008).
The educator, historian and supporter of the Broad Church Anglican Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) called UCL the "Godless institution in Gower Street". The Scottish clergyman Edward Irving (1792-1834) referred to it as "the Synagogue of Satan".
From the beginning, one of the main principles of UCL was the prevention of religious discrimination. Today, the university's secular approach is to deliver diversity, equality and tolerance. Its Equalities & Diversity website provides information for UCL managers to enhance tolerance for religious and non-religious staff, on the Religious Equality Policy for students, a Religious Festivals Calendar, and much more. The university also offers a contemplation/quiet room for its staff and students.
University College London decided not to apply religious tests. And with this very act, the "Godless" institution attracted both atheists and - most interestingly - members of other religions.
In fact, most of the international human rights documents that protect religious freedom tend to avoid clear definitions of religion in favour of broader terminology that includes theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs. According to the UK regulations, references to religion or belief include reference to an absence of a particular belief (Vickers, 2006). Accepting only students from one's own religious background means discriminating against those with different belief but also those with non-belief. University College London opened its doors to both.
- Götz, R. (2008) Die Gründung der University College London, in Beck, R. & Schröder; K. (eds.) Handbuch der britischen Kulturgeschichte: Daten, Fakten, Hintergünde von der römischen Eroberung bis heute. Stuttgart: UTB
- Moazedi, M. L. (2012) Religion und "die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern". Ein Gedankenabriss zur Beziehung zwischen Religion und Bildung. In: Prisching, M., Lenz, W. & Hauser, W. (eds.) Diversität als Bildungsfaktor, 51-68. Wien: Verlag Österreich
- Vickers, L. (2006) Religion and Belief Discrimination in Employment - the EU law (via)
More photographs by Arthur Schatz (Life Magazine, 1969) via