Religion 'butt of jokes' in the workplace

Religious literacy training is needed in the workplace (Bigstock)

No one should be mocked for how they are or how they were born, yet some people still believe it's OK to joke about a person's religious faith, says Andrew West in ABC Radio's Religion and Ethics Report.

Michael Wakelin, a consultant to UK businesses and associate at Cambridge University's Interfaith Initiative, says some people are "really hostile" to religion in the workplace.

"Religion is now the biggest butt of jokes in the office. It's replaced gender and race," he says. "People think you can just laugh at it. It matters to people. You can't do that anymore."

Mr Wakelin spent 23 years at the BBC, most of them as head of the Religion and Ethics Department, overseeing its television, radio and online content.

He was a keynote speaker at the recent G20 Interfaith Summit in Potsdam, Germany, where he discussed the new "religious literacy" program he is running with the international management consulting firm Ernst & Young.

The program does not aim to make people more or less religious — only to be aware of faith's importance to co-workers and clients.

"If you're the sort of person that thinks religious people don't have any friends, don't blink very often and don't go out much, that's not a good place to start your religious literacy training," Mr Wakelin quips.

"But religion's not going anywhere, so let's deal with it."

Mr Wakelin's project deals with big UK-based companies that want advice about working in societies that take religion very seriously, such as the Middle East and South Asia.

It follows Harvard University's esteemed Divinity School, which has long had its own religious literacy program aimed at diplomats and public policy wonks who need to understand the non-Anglo and non-European world, where religious sentiment is rising.

For countries built proudly on immigration, such as Australia — and for a liberal class that embraces cultural diversity, often as a mantra, while spurning faith — this makes religious literacy even more important.


Religion is the new frontier in workplace discrimination (ABC News)

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