Religious Pluralism & Religious Discrimination

We are discussing a personal topic for many: religion/spirituality and religious discrimination. Despite religious/spiritual identity being difficult to talk about, the fact that millions of Americans identify as some level of religious or spiritual means that not talking about it leaves room for bias and discrimination to continue unchallenged. Despite women having religious/spiritual beliefs at higher rates than men, we recognize that the intersection of religious discrimination and sexism often goes unexamined. We hope that these conversations get you to think about this often-unspoken topic, get you asking important questions about what it means to be a part of a growing religiously diverse country, and seeing how this topic affects women.

Reflect: How does religion relate to everyday life?

Think about how the modern U.S. calendar is set up. Why do you think we mark the start of the new year on that date? Why are our weekends set as Saturday and Sunday? What holidays are traditionally given as time off from work or school? Though religious shifts are happening in the American population every year, the United States (and the many circles of life contained within it) is predominantly and historically Christian - reflected in things like our calendar, our currency, and elsewhere. The reality of living in a country that claims freedom of religion while also using imagery/language of a specific religion can make it very difficult for people of other faiths or “religious ‘nones’” to feel included. This hegemonic representation of Christianity not only pervades many of our national systems, but is compounded by many of the interactions people have that are related to religion – particularly for women in non-Christian religions.

Learn: What does religious discrimination look like?

Recognizing lacking research on religious discrimination, Gebert and colleagues (2014) developed a model to describe how religious identity expression can lead to organizational conflict: in-group/out-group classification (worsened by fundamentalism); the difficulty of differentiating religious expression and proselytism; and how the expression of one’s religion highlights potential inequities in representation and resources. While religious discrimination/microaggressions are targeted at many religious minority groups (e.g., Muslim, Jewish, and Pagan people [Masci, 2019; Scheitle & Ecklund, 2020; Tejeda, 2014], people who have secular/non-religious beliefs also experience religious discrimination in the form of denial or shame from others based on their non-theistic beliefs (Rios, Halper, & Scheitle, 2021). When intersected with sexism and other systems of oppression, religious discrimination and bias can present uniquely difficult challenges for women. For example, Hijabis – Muslim women who wear a traditional religious headdress called a Hijab – are more likely to experience employment and workplace discrimination/microaggressions because of their religious dress (Guhmann & Ryan, 2013), which is associated with increased job stress and decreased job satisfaction (Ali et al., 2015). The compounding and intersecting nature of these systems of bias further complicate the experiences of women in the classroom, workplace, and beyond.


  • Reconsider how you view religion: AWhile religion is often considered in a very one-dimensional light that focuses only on a narrow window of belief, re-examining your latent views about spirituality can help you resist this tendency. In particular, consider how religion intersects with other identities. For many marginalized communities, spirituality is an intimate element of cultural identity and can be an important buffer to marginalizing experiences for marginalized people. As an example, for some Black women, religiosity and spirituality can be critical coping mechanisms against structural oppression (Bacchus & Holley, 2008; including in academia [Shahid, 2014]) that are significantly correlated with the psychological well-being (Reed & Neville, 2014). Considering the relationship of spirituality to certain identities, such as women of color, can help us empathize with others even if we don’t share beliefs.
  • Do your best to accommodate religious beliefs/practices:Being inclusive of all religions doesn’t mean that you must adopt the beliefs of another religious practice or give up your own; however, we all can take steps to respect basic elements of religious beliefs. Avoid religious holidays when you are planning events or setting due dates. Consider different dietary restrictions when ordering/catering food. Examine ways to make your schedule flexible to meet the needs of people who have religious schedules that require prayer at specific times.
  • Call out spiritual microaggressions: People of all (non-)religious backgrounds can perpetuate and experience microaggressions around religion and spirituality. Hodge (2019) detailed numerous kinds of spiritual microaggressions, including making jokes about religious clothing, using religious language in derogatory or appropriative ways (e.g., “spirit animal”), calling someone “crazy” for their beliefs, making statements of superiority of one’s religion over another’s, and homogenizing all people of a religious group. If you see someone saying these kinds of things, call them in and ask them what they think these comments are doing.