Is there religion in your Christmas?

By Rowan Watson, Chaplaincy Assistant, University of Reading  

A picture of three dolls depicting the nativity scene

Through working at the Chaplaincy, we experience a great variety of world views. Some students explain their strong belief in monarchy as the best form of government, others assure me that all life on Earth is evolving into crabs. One of our favourite topics of conversation is simply asking ‘What do you believe God is like?’. 

A popular answer is the description of a distant and uncaring being, living in the clouds. Occasionally God has been described to me as apathetic to our pain, watching His creations suffer and disdainfully refusing to do anything about it. It is no surprise that people with these views see Christianity as easily separated from the Santa Claus, Christmas Movies, Turkey and Roast potatoes parts of Christmas, but I don’t think this is entirely true. 

At Christmas, we Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, who we consider to be God on Earth. The key part of this for me is that God did not choose to be a distant being in the clouds – He saw His creations suffering and refused to ignore it. 

Christmas is about the incarnation. This means part of the indescribable God-ness of God being funnelled into human form. Jesus was fully God whilst also being fully Man. In easier terms, the incarnation is about God taking a human shape and moving into our neighbourhood, right next door. God draws near to us.  

Over the centuries, this idea has morphed into traditions about being generous to one another, opening our homes to guests and giving them the best we have. God is a close friend and treats us better than we deserve, so let’s treat others that way too!  

This part of Christmas has something more to say to those who experience a less joyful Christmas. When the night draws in and the cold confines us to our houses, winter can leave some of us withdrawn from our social circles. International students can find this time particularly challenging because of their UK friends returning home and campus shutting shop for the holidays.

A stained glass window depicting an angel and the Star of Bethlehem

Those with difficult family relationships face a different sort of loneliness. Being estranged from those who are meant to support you unconditionally can cause a lot of pain at Christmas. In the UK our cultural focus is around families and generosity, but these are not a light in a dark time for everyone. 

Not to mention that ‘isolation’ has taken on a whole new meaning recently. As I write, it is uncertain to what extent this will be a feature of our collective Christmases. I personally experience some of these issues, albeit not as severely as some, and so Christmas time can bring about a feeling of loneliness.  

I find that Christmas, at its core, sets out to tackle issues like these. We believe that God is so fond of His Creations that He chose to walk among them, and that this love continues. When I find myself feeling isolated, afraid and pessimistic about the future, I remind myself of that God comforts me by sitting beside me. I am loved by the Creator of everything in existence.  

And it is not only through God that we can find this comfort. Many Christians take this time to reach out to those in the community who are struggling. Some members of our community are offering places at their Christmas table for the most important meal of the year in this spirit, details on how to take a place at a local person’s table, are below. 

Beyond that, participating in Christmas festivities can bring opportunities to meet a new side of the community. If family cannot be part of your Christmas celebrations, a ‘friends’ style family embodies the spirit of the season and is just as joyful and fulfilling. I find that online celebrations can feel distant, but when a loved one is the other side of the world, it can bring them into your living room and allow you to celebrate together. 

Check out the University Chaplaincy list of What’s On in Reading this season, and go and seek God while He is near, either through religious ceremony or through a bottle of mulled wine with a friend on Facetime. He’s in both places. 

 

 

What’s on this Christmas? 

Events collated by the University Chaplaincy and shared in good faith. For more events see: https://www.whatsonreading.com/ 

 

Market Yard 

When: 26th November – 23rd December  

Where: Reading Printhouse 

What: Market Yard is transforming into a unique space to socialise, eat and drink 

Cost: Free 

More information here: https://www.marketyard.co.uk/ 

 

Winter Wonderland 

When: 13th November – 3rd January 

Where: Hills Meadow by Reading Bridge 

What: An exciting Christmas adventure for people of all ages that includes ice skating, Santa’s grotto and a variety of food and drink 

Cost: From £12 

More information here: https://www.facebook.com/outdooricerink.co.uk/ 

Book tickets here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/ice-skating 

 

The Invisible Dress Exhibition 

When: 28th November – 5th January  

Where: HUMOS, Caversham 

What: ‘The Invisible Dress’ refers to the scents that we use to complete our look. This exhibition combines fashion illustration, perfume and floral arrangements. 

Cost: Free 

More information here:
https://whatsonreading.com/venues/humos/whats-on/invisible-dress 

 

Twilight Trail: Biscuit Town 

When: 3rd – 31st December 

Where: Abbey Ruins and Forbury Gardens 

What: An accessible open-air light trail experience 

Cost: From £8 

Book tickets here: https://web.livingreading.co.uk/twilight-trail-2021 

 

The Snow Queen 

When: 3rd – 24th December 

Where: South Street Arts Centre 

What: A new play, based on the original story by Hans Christian Anderson about two best friends and a dangerous journey across Scandinavia  

Cost: From £12 

Book tickets here: https://whatsonreading.com/snow-queen 

 

A Christmas Carol 

When: 3rd – 31st December 

Where: Reading Rep Theatre 

What: A live performance of the Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, performed by Reading Rep Theatre 

Cost: From £14 

Book tickets here: https://www.readingrep.com/a-christmas-carol/ 

 

Forgetful Elf Trail 

When:4th – 23rd December 

Where: Reading Museum 

What: Help the Elf find his lost belongings around the museum. Includes writing letter to Santa and Christmas craft pack 

Cost: £3 per pack 

More information here: https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/holiday-fun-reading-museum 

 

Beauty and the Beast 

When: 4th December – 3rd January 

Where: The Hexagon 

What: An exciting pantomime featuring Justin Fletcher, also known as Mr Tumble 

Cost: From £15 

Book tickets here: https://whatsonreading.com/beauty-and-beast 

 

Student Christmas Day Lunch 

When: 25th December, 1-2.30pm 

Where: Our Lady of Peace church hall 

What: Turkey lunch hosted by Chaplain, Sister Vivian (10 spaces). Booking essential: email with food allergy details before Friday 17th December 5pm to: v.onyeneho@reading.ac.uk 

Cost: Free 

 

For times of (free) Christmas and Carol services, Google your nearest church. 

 

General

Reading Museum 

What: Archaeology, Art, History and Natural History. Café and shop. 

Cost: Free 

Opening times and more information here: https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/ 

 

Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) 

What: History of English farming and country life. Garden, café, and shop 

Cost: Free 

Opening times and more information here: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/ 

 

Want to be hosted for a meal or receive hospitality from a local family during the break? 

Friends International connects international students with local hosts. Download the App: https://www.friendsinternational.uk/international-student-app/ click on “Local Link”. 

 

International Human Rights Day

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

 

Sex

Professor Rosemary Auchmuty, Professor, School of Law

 

When the Equality Act was passed in 2010, it swept up all existing non-discrimination legislation into one statute. Of the categories of discrimination it encompassed, sex was the first to be recognised.  Until just over a century ago, women – members of the female sex – were barred from a whole range of jobs and public offices, excluded from educational and social opportunities, and could not exercise the vote or stand for Parliament.  In 1918, thanks to long feminist campaigns, some women got the vote, and could become MPs; in 1919, thanks to more long feminist campaigns, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed, opening many professions (including law) to women for the first time.   But the Act said nothing about treating them the same way as men were treated: so women continued to be paid less than men and were routinely dismissed (or passed over for appointment in the first place) because they were or might become pregnant.

Twentieth-century feminists built on the legacy of nineteenth-century feminism by campaigning not only for equal educational and job opportunities but for legal measures that took account of the actual physical differences between men and women. For example, women’s reproductive role meant that, in order to enter the workplace, they needed access to contraception and abortion as well as childcare arrangements.

Only in 1975 did the Sex Discrimination Act make it illegal to discriminate against women in education, employment, and the provision of services.  These provisions were subsumed in the Equality Act 2010 in recognition of the fact that sexist discrimination was still ongoing, and that it would take many more years for women to catch up with men because of their long history of exclusion and discrimination.  (These are similar arguments to the justification for ‘race’ to be a protected characteristic.)  Not only this, but earlier victories tend to be lost in bad times or through backlash: if the current pandemic has shown us anything, it is that women have suffered worse in terms of pay and job security than men and that they still carry the heaviest burden of care and domestic work.  Differential treatment is still often justified precisely on the basis that only members of the female sex get pregnant and give birth.  So this is one reason why we need ‘sex’ to be a protected characteristic in law.

A second reason to protect sex in law is the recognition that women suffer disproportionately from sexual abuse, violence, and exploitation, and that these are acted out by male bodies on female bodies.  (Here, too, we see similarities with racist abuse and violence, also protected by the ‘race’ category in the Equality Act.)  Every woman on this university campus is alert to the possibility of sexual danger and probably all have experienced it.  Having a ‘sex’ category permits the provision of female-only spaces for women’s safety and protection and also to meet the needs of religions (religion is another protected characteristic in law) that require the segregation of male and female bodies in certain contexts like toilets or changing rooms.

There have been moves to replace the category of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act with a new category, ‘gender identity’.  But gender identity is quite different, since it does not necessarily map on to biological sex.  It does not recognise women’s long history of exclusion and discrimination on biological grounds or the specific roles of female bodies in reproduction and as objects of sexual abuse.  So we need to keep ‘sex’ in the Equality Act and, with it, the recognition that being a woman is more than simply an idea: it is a physical reality, with social consequences; and for both those reasons it needs protection.

 

 

 

 

 

International Human Rights Day 2021

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

 

LGBT+

Dr Ruvi Ziegler, Associate Professor, School of Law

 

Ruvi Ziegler is the Chair of the University’s LGBT+ Staff Network. In this piece, he reflects on his own experiences and how this shapes his work with the network.

 

In May 2019, I convened an international conference at Reading on ‘Contemporary Challenges facing LGBT+ asylum seekers: UK and Global Perspectives’ which brought together practitioners, NGOs, and academics. For LGBT+ asylum seekers, there is often a double whammy: their predicament means that are unsafe both in their home countries and among their fellow nationals in the country of asylum who, having fled persecution on other grounds, may share the dominant social norms of their home country in respect of LGBT+ rights.

I recently got married in a progressive (vegan) Jewish wedding in South Africa, which has legalised same-sex marriage in 2006 (the fifth country to have done so). For many people across the world, marriage remains unattainable. Even for those who live and love in political spaces where they are legally able to marry, there are many who would not have their families celebrate with them, and who still experience shame around their sexuality. Indeed, some of our staff come from communities where such public affirmation for their love is out of reach -alarmingly, a recent survey reveals that 26% of UK adults would be ashamed to have an LGBT+ child.

The grim legal, political, and social realities across the globe mean that my husband and I have to modify our behaviour when we travel together: from LGBT+ free zones, to countries where advocating for gay rights may constitute ‘propaganda’, to hotels where requesting a double room may lead to vigorous questioning, to outright criminalisation on pain of imprisonment or worse – the experience of a same-sex couple is materially different than that of other couples. Simply being visible as same-sex couple is a potentially risky (and forced) political statement.

It is utterly infuriating that, what is publicly celebrated in one country is criminally condemned in another (you need only look across the South African border to Zimbabwe or to its neighbour Zambia). I believe that, we all have a responsibility to try to mend the world – the Jewish notion of Tikkun Olam. I have reached out to the newly formed All-Parliamentary Party Group on Global LGBT rights – its establishment in this Parliament is an encouraging development which demonstrates that, on this issue, cross-party cooperation is possible. Over years of public engagement, including as Chair of the Board of Trustees of New Europeans Association UK, as Chair of the Oxford European Association, and as an advisory council member of the Jewish human rights organisation Rene Cassin, I have developed a network of colleagues beyond academia –  in civil society, the bar, and national politics- which I hope to utilise for the benefit of the staff network.

 

 

 

 

International Human Rights Day 2021

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

Reflecting on Disability targeted violence

Dr Yota Dimitriadi, Associate Professor, Institute of Education

 

I was born with a physical impairment, the result of medical complications during labour. My twin sibling did not survive. I never thought of myself as Disabled and grew up in a family that encouraged me passionately to explore the world and try things out (a social model of disability) in spite of the world around me telling me what I could not do (a medical model of disability). Some family friends called me ‘hook arm’ or ‘The Beggar’ in a loving attempt for me to change the way I used my impaired arm and fit in! The personification of difference and vulnerability became the language they used to encourage me to fit in. These were considered acts of love rather than ableist attitudes that needed to be challenged.

 

My physical impairment is not too obvious and over the years I also became very good at covering it. Covering became my norm and I did all I could not to draw attention to my difference. Whether my approach as a young person was right or wrong I do not know but it shaped me and made me good at problem solving. I did not want to be pitied for the physical things I could not do [though it got me out of P.E. sometimes]. I did not want to be seen as ‘weak’, as history had shown to me what happens to the ‘weak’. Over centuries the economic justification for forced sterilisation, overmedication, involuntary euthanasia, killing of Disabled people happened as they were seen as less worthy and their lives less valuable or as a solution to wider social problems. The Eugenics movement and the pass of the ‘The Mental Deficiency Act (1913) in the UK encouraged further ableist approaches that some people are better than others and as a result their lives are worth more than others. The ‘idiots, the ‘imbeciles’ and the ‘feeble minded’ were ostracised and institutionalised.

 

Negative and overgeneralised portrayals or accusations of Disabled people in the press, especially during times of economic crises, as ‘welfare recipients and favoured in access to resources’ (Hall, 2019: 9) contribute to demonisation and mistrust towards disabled people that can lead to further discriminatory approaches and hostility. Such press coverage isolates Disabled people more, perpetuates stigma around disability and becomes part of a wider set of barriers of a disablist society.

It may also lead to microaggressions, that unfortunately several disabled people experience every day. Sometimes it can also lead to more overt expressions of disapproval in private and public spaces: from name calling to physical attacks on them, their property or their support dogs. 10 out of the 21 crimes that were reported to the police daily in England and Wales in 2019-20 involved an act of violence against a disabled person, including assault and harassment (Leonard Cheshire, 2020). Quarmby’s study (2015) reported on offender motivations ranging from disabled people been seen as ‘benefit scroungers’ to ‘jealousy of the perceived ‘perks’ of disability’, such as having an adapted car or being accused of being ‘in the way’, for instance on the buses. For some Disabled people violence, harassment and exploitation is not the result of random hateful strangers but happen systematically within institutional care and domestic contexts (Sin et al, 2009).

Targeted violence and abuse against Disabled people are not new and research into disability hate crime is in its infancy. However, while disability hate crime incidents have increased by 11.5%, only 1.6% of all cases receive a charge (Leonard Cheshire, 2020). Many times disability hate crimes go unreported because Disabled people may be scared, isolated or because they have no trust that they will be taken seriously, treated with respect or supported when they report these incidents. The idea of vulnerability associated with Disabled people also positions them as having to expect some degree of discrimination as part of their daily lives and shifts the focus away from the impairment in such crimes. Roulstone and Mason-Bish (2013) discuss that as a result, assumptions can be made by the police that perpetrators are motivated by an individual’s perceived vulnerability rather than their impairment and the motivated crime is a result of disablist attitudes.

 

I am here today having a voice because of the actions of other people before me who were imprisoned, castrated, killed because of their difference or in their attempt to fight for equal rights to life and work. As we are celebrating the UN International Human Rights Day in 2021, we are celebrating the otherness that we all have. Recognising, reporting and raising awareness about disability hate crime may not change the prejudice against Disabled people but it will highlight that disability rights are human rights. Disabled people have been in the periphery of social action for centuries. Without their active involvement in challenging misconceptions and in decision making processes, prejudice, mistrust and hostility against them will remain. This is why the disability movement motto is ‘Nothing about us, without us’.

 

 

 

 

References

Hall, E. (2019). A critical geography of disability hate crime. Area, 51(2), 249-256. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12455

Leonard Cheshire (2020). Reports of violent disability hate crime continue to rise as number of police charges fall again. https://www.leonardcheshire.org/about-us/our-news/press-releases/reports-violent-disability-hate-crime-continue-rise-number-police

Quarmby, K. (2015). To combat disability hate crime, we must understand why people commit it. The Guardian, 22 July. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/22/combat-disability-hate-crime-understand-people-commit

Roulstone A., & Mason-Bish, H. (2013). Disability, hate crime and violence (eds.). Routledge, London

Sin, C., Hedges, A., Cook, C., Mguni, N. & Comber, N. (2009). Disabled people’s experiences of targeted violence and hostility. Equality and Human Rights Commission, London

 

International Human Rights Day 2021

International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.

 

Age

Professor Arlene Astell, Professor in Neurodegenerative Disease, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences

 

If anyone doubted the need to include ‘Age’ as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a harsh spotlight on the needs of a large sector of the population. First, as we all know the majority of excess deaths from COVID-19 have occurred among older persons. The loss of life has affected millions of people across the world, with many heart-wrenching stories of families unable to visit their loved ones or even attend their funerals. Yet a shocking analysis produced by the UN Secretary General in September 2021 examining the impact of COVID-19 on older people, reported a rise in ageism and stigma towards ageing and older persons. The scale of this problem is quantified in another UN publication, their Global Report on Ageism, which suggests that half the world’s population is ageist, yet this is somehow regarded as “more acceptable” than discrimination against other groups. These findings indicate a major need for continued education and challenging of negative stereotypes and attitudes towards ageing.

 

Evidence of ageism is widespread in all aspects of life. For example, older workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic are finding it difficult to get back into employment as employers prefer younger candidates. This has major implications for an individual’s identity and sense of purpose which are increasingly important as we live longer and need to plan for life after paid employment. There is a huge difference between being able to proactively decide to reduce the time one works and being forced into early retirement, not least from a financial perspective. Additionally, older people actively resist stereotypes of ageing and try to continue to live the life they want.  For example, in my work around technology adoption, we have found that most people want to remain independent and be able to look after themselves and will use technology that helps them to remain at home. They are well aware of ageing stereotypes and will reject devices that make them look or feel dependent, frail or incapable.

 

In terms of ageing stereotypes, one condition – dementia – seems to epitomise the negative attitudes towards old age. I have worked with people living with dementia for my whole career, and it is a topic surrounded by myths and misconceptions. These are always unhelpful, and some are even harmful in terms of the lack of understanding about what people living with dementia experience and what they need. In terms of their human rights, people living with dementia struggle to enjoy them because they are excluded in many different ways. Dementia is an irreversible progressive brain disorder which means that over time people have difficulty looking after themselves. As with many other conditions, they come to rely on other people to provide care and support. However, the way people with dementia are viewed and treated is very different to people living with cancer or diabetes.

 

The explanation seems to because dementia relates to losing memory and other aspects of cognition, such as attention and concentration. From this we see the adoption and perpetuation of attitudes towards people with dementia that they are incapable and infantile, and viewed as unaware and unknowing of how they are being treated. What is most concerning is how easily these attitudes are taken on board and persist across society, suggesting that dementia matches and reinforces prevailing views of old age.

In respect of technology use, the pandemic has highlighted global inequalities associated with ageing. Specifically, the pandemic has seen the movement of many services including healthcare and banking, to online. Whilst this has been driven by the necessity of reducing human contact to reduce transmission and some would argue this is a positive change,

older adults are most likely to not have internet access or necessary equipment for using online services. For example, a report released by the Older Adults Technology Services, Inc. (OATS) and the Humana Foundation in January 2021 found that 42% of the over 65s in the United States, roughly 22 million people, lacked broadband access at home. In the UK, the picture is even more stark. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that 67% of the 3 million people who are offline are aged 70 or over with another 32% aged between 50-69. These figures reflect the picture worldwide.

 

In recognition of the importance of addressing the ‘Digital Divide’, the theme for 2021 International Day of Older Persons was “Digital Equity for All Ages”. This highlighted economic and social inequalities as the major drivers of the digital divide as individuals largely rely on self-paying for devices and internet access. The widespread implications of this digital divide include lack of access to digital healthcare (including telehealth and apps for managing chronic conditions), social services and public health information, plus increased risk of social isolation. Challenging digital exclusion requires political will to ensure equitable access to the Internet and devices. It also requires training, resources and support for reaching older people and tackling of persistent stereotypes that they do not want or cannot use digital tools. IN 20 years of working with technology and older adults, including people living with dementia, I have always found them keen to try anything new.