Religious bullying

What is it?

Religious bullying occurs when a religious or religiously unaffiliated person chooses to intentionally or unintentionally degrade another person emotionally, mentally, or physically based on:

  1. the bullied individual’s actual or perceived religious or religiously unaffiliated identity, or
  2. the doctrines or practices of their belief.

This interaction creates or maintains a power imbalance between the parties.

CC0 Public Domain

This imbalance can manifest in various unexpected ways, as depicted in the image above. As such, religious bullying can be initiated by or directed towards atheists or religious and agnostic individuals alike. It can also occur across religious groups, within religious groups, or between those who are religious and those who have no religious affiliation. Like other forms of bullying, this can occur through physical, psychological, or verbal means in-person and/or online (Kirman, 2004; PREVNet; and can affect someone in the short-term or long-term into adulthood or into future generations (Cram, 2001; DeLara, 2016; Farrington, 1993).

Religious bullying is dangerous. Like other forms of bullying, it poses short term and long term effects, including (DeLara, 2016; Nansel et al., 2004; Pan & Spittal, 2013; Totten & Quigley, 2003, etc.):

  • lower self-esteem
  • poor mental health
  • depression
  • social anxiety
  • sluggishness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • poor appetite
  • increased chance of suffering self-injury or injury by others
  • inattentiveness
  • poor academic performance
  • skipping class/school
  • alcohol and/or drug use
  • ideas of suicide
  • suicide

Most people are familiar with the first few effects on the list, but it is important to be aware of all these effects because every student responds to bullying differently. Recognizing the effects can also help us (adults in the community) to respond to bullying incidents when students do not know how to verbalize their experiences or have not understood the subtle, nuanced forms of bullying they may have been facing in their lives.

This type of bullying requires attention as educators and community members often overlook or misunderstand it (Craig & Edge, 2012; Chan, 2012). As with all forms of bullying, it is important to know that any bullying incident can effect the student(s) who commit the act of bullying, student(s) who experience it, and student(s) who witness.

As the effects of bullying coincide with the factors that lead individuals towards various forms of violent extremism (Chan, 2016), it is vital for society to prevent and respond to instances of bullying in an ample and supportive manner to all who commit, experience, and witness it.

Factors that push individuals towards violent extremism and coincide with the effects of bullying
  • A threat to individual & collective identity
  • Marginalization from mainstream society
  • Hatred of and looking for revenge against a group
  • Underlying, enduring and systemic inequalities

A full list of push and pull factors are available via:

Experiences of religious bullying among students and statistical data

I get bullied in school and in other places too, but in school
the most because people start [twisting] my joora (uncut hair
tied in a topknot), and I get really mad, but my teacher doesn’t
care, because he’s pretty mean to me. He doesn’t care, but I
tell the principal, and the principal actually takes the kids that
[twist] my joora and…says [to them] ‘if you do it one more time,
you guys are going to get suspended’… Then in 5th grade, I bet
people are going to do that again to me, and probably when
I’m in football, people are going to start making fun of my …
kesh (long uncut hair).

– Shared by Sikh student in Indiana, “Go Home, Terrorist” report by the Sikh Coalition (2014), p. 22

In North America, approximately 8-15% of students experience religious bullying (Craig & Edge, 2012; Harris Interactive, 2005). However, religious bullying is often overlooked and misunderstood by teachers (Craig & Edge, 2012; Chan, 2012).

Having witnessed it myself as a teacher and seen colleagues who were also unfamiliar with this form of bullying, my research considers an alternate way to address religious bullying as some anti-bullying programs have been counterproductive, where instead of stopping bullying, the programs have informed students of bullying slurs they were previously unaware of (Jeong & Lee, 2013; Mitchell, 2012). Specifically, I explore the potential for religious literacy programs, such as Montréal, Québec’s Ethics and Religious Culture program and Modesto, California’s World Geography & World Religions course, to address religious bullying through its pedagogy of dialogue and character education that promotes respect, humility, and empathy.

Religious Bullying in Stanislaus County, California – Five student experiences (

While my study seeks to find a solution to religious bullying in public schools, several valuable and informative resources outside of schools also exist that raise awareness of religious bullying. A few resources and solutions are posted below.  I will continue to post more throughout the duration of my research.

Reports and articles about religious bullying:

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