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Inclusive Language


Many individuals follow a religion (e.g., Christianity, Islam, Sikhism) or maintain a belief (e.g., atheism, agnosticism, humanism). Inclusive language refers to the use of language that is not affiliated with a particular religion or belief. For example, Christianity is the most adhered to religion in the United States, and it is not uncommon for Christian-centric terms or phrases to be used (e.g., “Merry Christmas” during December).

Inclusive language should be free of any reference to one’s religious practice or belief. It should not be referenced unless relevant to the context. For example, modifying a treatment plan to accommodate religious or spiritual beliefs/practices. Note that both terms – religion and belief– are used. Both forms should be officially recognized as an individual may not practice a particular religion, but may have a religious or philosophical belief. It is important to acknowledge the diversity present within any religion or belief (e.g., Catholics and Christians). Making broad, sweeping statements about any particular religion should be avoided as they generalize all groups and do not recognize their unique practices or beliefs. Do not make assumptions about a person’s religion, or how they practice their religion. 

Avoid using words, images, or situations that reinforce religious stereotypes (even stereotypes that may appear to be positive). Inclusive language also refers to the avoidance of many phrases or statements that tend to stereotype various groups of individuals based on their religion or belief. A few examples are:

  • Ex: “Don’t you wish you could just take your hijab off?” This phrase stereotypes Muslim women as being oppressed and unable to make the personal choice to wear (or not to wear) a hijab.
  • Ex: “You’re an atheist? So what, you don’t believe in anything?” This implies that individuals who do not believe in God do not believe in anything. It fails to recognize the individual’s personal belief choice and attempts to impose ideologies onto the person about what is right or ideal.
  • Ex: “You’re such a tech guru!” The word guru is an appropriation from Hindu and Buddhist religions; the term refers to a spiritual leader who is highly respected and esteemed. The nonchalant use of the term diminishes its importance and origins.

For more information on specific definitions pertaining to religion and beliefs, reference the Religion Stylebook.
Source: Guidelines for Inclusive Language


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