Practising your faith at UCL

2 December 2020

Find out all about practising your faith at UCL and in London in this article written by UCL's Interfaith Adviser.


You may have heard the famous quotation from the historian Thomas Arnold, who once described UCL as “that Godless institution in Gower Street”. Prior to UCL’s inception in 1826, a university education was restricted to male members of the Church of England. UCL led the way to making education available to all, regardless of race, class, or religion.

It’s true that UCL is a secular institution which has no religious affiliation and doesn’t endorse any particular denomination or faith. However, religious identity is at the heart of life for many of our staff and students and UCL is committed to providing an inclusive learning and working environment where students and staff of all religions, and none, can thrive.

As you prepare to come to UCL, even if your arrival might need to be delayed due to the impacts of COVID-19, you may have some concerns or questions about how you can practise your faith at UCL or in London more generally. This article aims to answer some of those, but if you have any further questions or you want to be in touch about anything to do with your faith or belief and how it will fit in with your life and work at UCL, then don’t hesitate to get in contact with me, your Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser.

Religious dress

In the UK and especially in London, it’s very common to see people wearing articles of clothing such as the hijab, kippah, or an item of jewellery with a religious symbol. UCL welcomes diversity of dress amongst its staff and students, although in some situations (for example in medical and laboratory-based disciplines), there might be some items of clothing or jewellery which aren’t allowed due to health and safety regulations or the need for clear communication between individuals.

Prayer rooms at UCL and places of worship in London

At UCL there are quiet contemplation rooms set aside for prayer or meditation. These are located in the Student Centre, set in the heart of the UCL campus, which also have ablution facilities and showers. For the time being, to ensure everybody’s safety, the prayer spaces on campus are currently closed in accordance with COVID-19 government guidance, although we're hoping to reopen them as soon as it's safe and practical to do so.

However, there are many places of worship that are offering online services and support right now including The Anchorage, a church especially for students in London. There are also many beautiful outside spaces, places of worship and buildings of religious interest in London, some very close to UCL. With over 8 million people living in London from all over the world, it’s almost certain that there will be a place of worship or meeting place for your particular faith or belief group opening up again soon.

Timetabling and exams

The UCL teaching day runs from Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm UK time. If you have a regular lecture or class that clashes with religious observance (for example, if you need to be home by sunset on Friday to observe the Jewish Sabbath), you should speak to your programme tutor as soon as possible to see whether alternative arrangements can be made; the same goes for exams that clash with religious festivals. UCL doesn’t normally accept fasting as a valid extenuating circumstance for exams.

Faith societies at UCL

There are nine faith and belief societies registered with Students’ Union UCL, many of which are now meeting online. As well as organising festivals and events pertaining to their particular faith or belief community, when they are able to, they generate a great deal of community and charitable activity on campus and in the wider community. They also organise events together, most especially in Interfaith Week (this year during the week of 10-17 November). The faith and belief societies registered with the Union are:

  • Ahlul-Bayt Society
  • Atheist/Humanist/Secular Society
  • Buddhist Society
  • Catholic Society
  • Christian Union
  • Hindu Society
  • Islamic Society
  • Jewish Society
  • Sikh Society 

Interfaith forum

At UCL there is a proactive interfaith forum which is open to both students and staff of any faith. Through this forum, we can raise awareness of issues affecting faith and learn from one another’s perspectives. Working with other groups such as the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) team and with me, the UCL Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser, the forum will continue to host online events that celebrate the diversity of faith and belief practised within the UCL community.

If you’ve got any other questions or concerns about faith and belief at UCL, please feel free to get in touch with me at e.baughen@ucl.ac.uk.

Elizabeth Baughen, Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser (maternity cover), UCL Student Support and Wellbeing