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; thereby creating or maintaining a power imbalance between the parties. 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; stopbullying.gov) and can affect someone in the short-term or long-term into adulthood or into future generations (Cram, 2001; DeLara, 2016; Farrington, 1993).
This type of bullying requires attention as students who experience or witness religious bullying are often alienated and exposed to injustices, which can lead to mental health, suicide, and religio-political affiliation through religious extremism, which can harm the global society (Keddie, 1998; Moghaddam, 2005).
Religious bullying is dangerous and, as with other forms of bullying, 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
- social anxiety
- difficulty sleeping
- poor appetite
- increased chance of suffering self-injury or injury by others
- poor academic performance
- skipping class/school
- alcohol and/or drug use
- ideas of 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.
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.
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:
- Nobullying.com‘s comprehensive summary on religious bullying
- The California branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) report on bullying of Californian Muslim students, titled “MISLABELED: The Impact of School Bullying and Discrimination on California Muslim Students”
- The Sikh Coalition report on the state of bullying among Sikh students in the US: “Go Home Terrorist: A report on bullying against Sikh American school children”
- The Hindu American Foundation report on bullying experienced by Hindu American students as a result of textbook inaccuracies and the religious illiteracy of teachers and students – Classroom subjected: Bullying & Bias Against Hindu students in American schools
- Reported experiences of anti-Christian prejudice among Christian adolescents in England (Moulin, 2015) is one of the first studies to focus on the experiences among Christian students
- Bullied for not believing in God (Hamblin, 2013) is one of few articles that highlights the anti-atheist bullying that occurs in the US
- In the Peel District School Board in Ontario, Canada, the World Sikh Organization of Canada found that 27% of surveyed students have been bullied before for their Sikh identity.