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Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce

World Religion Day

15 January 2021 | by Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce

World Religion Day began in 1947 as a way to spread awareness and develop a shared understanding of the thousands of religions practiced around the world. This year's it falls on Sunday 17 January, and in advance of that we're publishing a reflection from Psych-Talk Editor Juhi Waeerker about what it has taught her about faith, psychology, and empathy.

“Why won’t you listen to me?!”

Most of my discussions on religion with my mother at the dinner table ended in a similar sense of frustration.

I’ve always been a staunch believer in the need for scientific evidence. Therefore, my mother’s reliance on “that’s how it is” to justify her belief in a supernatural entity that influenced our lives irked me throughout my teenage years.

This was especially true when I felt like my mountain of counter-arguments were being brushed off with those exact words. I felt like my perspective was barely being heard or even considered because of an innate stubbornness that just wouldn’t budge.

After getting to university, I’d initially thought it would exacerbate these discussions, this time during video calls that didn’t end in the positive note I’d tried to seek. And initially, this was definitely the case.

Our arguments now included the influence of neurochemistry in mental distortions of perception. Despite this, they still ended the same way, “that’s just how it is, it’s my faith.”

However, psychology was teaching me more about behaviour than the influence of neurochemistry, I was also learning about the importance of empathy.

I’d assumed it was a sense of ignorance, that something unscientific was immediately classified as wrong, or untrue, and so I had to help her realise this and help her live life more truthfully (it also felt good believing I was always in the right).

But when trying to empathise with her perspective within our arguments, I realised, it wasn’t just her who wasn’t listening, I wasn’t either.

Simply getting to the truth kind of failed to grasp the true purpose of these discussions.

While we were both trying to get the other person to simply understand our perspective, our main reason to do this was to help the other person.

But instead of focusing on that, we ended up focusing on what made our perspective/method of getting there better.

And in doing so, we were going against the core principle of both of our beliefs, by discounting empathy.

So, in advance of World Religion Day, I thought I’d share this story of different perspectives having the same aim, an aim that seems to get overshadowed when focusing on our differences.

It's a good reminder of what makes our perspectives similar, be it across religion themselves, or between religion and science.

A day like World Religion Day is a celebration of the human essence of empathy.


About the author:

Juhi Waeerker is currently an undergraduate at King’s College London.

She originally pursued an associate business degree in her hometown of Mumbai, India.

However, after stumbling across several online resources on psychology, even finishing Robert Sapolsky’s lecture series on YouTube, she decided to throw caution to the wind and go through with a degree in Psychology in the UK.

Her final year project focuses on the impact of religious gratitude on contingency judgements.

As the Editor at Psych-Talk, she hopes to provide a platform that allows for honest discourse in psychology with an equal weight given to ideas from every perspective.

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