Co-Exist Society was founded at Warwick last year by three second years from different backgrounds and religions who found themselves having regular discussions over coffee about religion and how it affects students lives. President Leo Boe says, ‘we thought that our meetings were an example of how the society could work and came up with the idea based upon that. We realised that a lot of tensions in British society come from voluntary segregation where you have different cultures wanting to live apart from other cultures because of misunderstandings. It’s important to realise that differences aren’t bad and to learn to relate to different cultures.’

As Warwick is a university campus with a large international presence, it acts as a big melting pot of culture and religions, and the students thought that this could be the ideal platform for people to learn about the impact of these differences and the realities behind them. The society targets both religious and non-religious people who are simply interested in the societal effects of religion, and seeks to engage other religious societies on campus in productive discussion and debate. Over the past year they have found that a significant proportion of students who attend events describe themselves as agnostics and atheists seeking to learn about other religions.

Leo says that they’ve met with a positive reception on campus as well as receiving some media attention off campus, including a mention by Tony Blair in a televised speech at a young Hindus conference. Some members from the society have been invited to attend the annual NUS inter-faith forum which will be held this weekend. Meanwhile, on campus, members of all twelve religious societies have attended events, and there are regular attendees from the largest three; Islamic Society, Jewish-Israeli Society and the Christian Union. Co-Exist’s aim now is to help facilitate an environment where religious societies regularly communicate with each other independently of Co-Exist, and advertise more events to each other.

We talked about the most divisive issues for religious people in British society and Leo criticised the way that the British Government deals with religious exemptions for both secular and religious people. This is undoubtedly a divisive issue, with religious people believing that the government is unjustified in banning religious items, whilst non-religious people may believe that religion still has too much influence in determining public policy.

Leo says that he personally believes that there is a certain degree of hypocrisy in the UK. On the one hand the government funds certain religious schools, which he believes may have certain merits but ultimately act to segregate society; on the other hand, they place restrictions on certain items of faith which people may feel define them in society, for example the Sikh Kirpan and the Muslim veil. He says, ‘We take these aspects of your identity for you in public life but then certain members of society have the opportunity to identify completely with their religion if they attend a faith school.’ So how should the government react to pressure from communities for religious exemptions? Leo says, ‘I think the government has to show more interest in these exemptions, and aim to start dialogue with people they affect rather than simply pushing legislation through parliament. For example, the Sikh Kirpan is very much a symbolic object, and we have our own similar protocols which we allow; for example, the Duke of Edinburgh always carries a sword at formal events.’ He believes that the government isn’t well enough informed about the importance of these items of faith and needs to make more of an effort to go into each unique circumstance. There is a wide ranging debate about the extent to which the state should be allowed to ban personal items, but ultimately, in order to reach a more conclusive stance, the government should seek to investigate each issue by talking directly to those it affects.

We discussed some of the issues that have come up during Co-Exist events and Leo stated that discussions ranged from typical issues like the existence of God and abortion, to the role of women, to whether religion can be seen to be a legitimate basis for the moral framework of a society. Religious extremism is another topic that often comes up; Leo says that he believes that tolerance should end where extremism begins, ‘extremists do not represent religion according to the vast majority, and whilst we should tolerate fundamentally different views about how we should live our lives, this should stop when communities start to infringe upon the rights of the majority.’ He also says that whilst he believes in tolerance, that immigrants and all people who come from a different culture need to understand the norms of a society; at the same time locals need to be able to accept and adapt to changes in a society.

Finally we talked about being the impact of following a religion as a student. Leo says that, whilst he has never had a bad reaction to his faith, he finds it interesting to gauge people’s reactions. In general, he believes that young people are moving away from religion, ‘I think that as scientific projects progress and as more and more disasters strike the world, young people are on the whole, in British society at least, becoming disillusioned with the idea of religion and the existence of a God.’

Societies: [Atheists](, [Buddhism](, [Catholic](, [Christian Union](, [Hindu](, [Jewish-Israeli](, [Sikh](


– **President:** Leonard Boe

– **Aims:** To provide a forum for people of different faiths to discuss issues, as well as catering to people who are simply interested in the impact of religion on society.

– **Membership:** Mailing list of 180. Average turn-out of 25 at each event.

– **Events:** The main events Co-Exist run are Themed Discussion Forums which give participants a chance to listen to presentations relating to the theme, ask questions, and take part in discussions in small groups guided by questions. The following themes have run over the past term: Religion and Women, Religion in the 21st century, Religion and Freedom of Expression, Sex Drugs and Religion, and Purpose of Life. They recently organised a week of inter-faith talks given by various scholars, called Faith2Face Week, which included talks on the plurality of identity in the UK, ‘Buddhism in Contemporary Society’, and ‘Better with, or without God?’ The society also runs a schools programme where members go to schools in Canley to run community cohesion workshops and they will be fundraising for a few inter-faith causes in term 3, such as’ Save a Child’s Heart.’ Finally they have regular socials catering for people with different dietary requirements.


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