I am very seriously religious, but never mention it to others because I notice it makes them uncomfortable. Plus, I don't want anyone to feel that I am telling them my beliefs are more right than theirs and hurt their feelings. If I feel someone else is overstepping their boundaries, I usually either joke to change the subject or ask them a question about why they feel that way, so they realize I'm a little bugged and (hopefully) drop it.

However, two times in the past few years, I have had professors step over the line in the middle of class. The first time, I had a professor who had told the class several times that she converted from my faith because she thought its tenets were wrong and she felt it too oppressive. On this particular day she told the class a "fact" about what my faith holds which I knew to be wrong. I raised my hand and mentioned that I was "pretty sure that xx's do believe yy". The teacher asked me how I knew, and I said I learned about it in a class (true, just very vague about circumstances). She then said that she knew I was wrong, and several other students chimed in to support her position. During the rest of class, she kept harping on this idea and mentioning how she had converted because of "wrong" ideas such as this one. I started to feel really bothered about the negative way she was portraying my religion, but I never said anything to her.

The second time, a different professor had been similarly clear about how she disliked my faith, except she cited the fact that people of my religion had often oppressed her/tried to convert her/mocked her ideas/etc. She generalized this to the idea that people of my faith tended to impose their ideals on people of hers, rather than just her. Her most popular examples were where coworkers "insulted" her and she mentioned the fact to a supervisor. (Tangentially-related: She was also very political and often encouraged students to go to rallies in support of her chosen political candidate or position. Other students would sometimes mention before she came in the room that they felt unable to share their ideas politically because she might dock their grade for being "wrong" or insulting to her.) Again, I stayed silent but was seriously bugged. There was never a specific time when she said something objectively wrong, so I never felt justified in speaking up.

I was so bothered at one point that I went to a support group for my faith on campus. They actually mentioned (without anyone bringing it up) that they intended to have discussions throughout the year about the anti-xx sentiments on campus. The group leader mentioned how uncomfortable moments could be great opportunities to reexamine and strengthen one's own faith. Not surprisingly, they did not come up with a miracle cure-all for the discomfort part at that single meeting.

My question: If this happens in the future, how do I ask someone in a position of authority to stop talking about my religion? I don't want to tell them my religion (I feel like it will lower me in their estimation, or put my objectivity into question) or convince them to change their ideas. I also don't want to seem aggressive and get reported to a conduct board. However, I don't want to fight back tears and I just can't seem to toughen up to the point where I can calmly do nothing. Is there any action I can take to make class (or another situation) more bearable?

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    I was "pretty sure that xx's do believe yy" => you could look it up in the scriptures or online and check if she's really wrong. In both cases this would help you: if she's right, you learned something useful. If she's wrong, then you know she is and don't need to doubt yourself.
    – user2135
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 2:17
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    @peufeu - Not all religions adhere only to scripture. Many have doctrines based on divine revelation. Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 3:00
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    I would advise against telling a professor that they have no right to express their opinion about any religion. If you are attending an American or British scholastic institution, they will say their comments were legitimate because they were uttered within a specific context. If you feel that a professor is discriminating against you because of your faith that is a completely different matter, and you should talk to your advisor or tutor.
    – user3114
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 8:21
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    The title How do I politely let a professor know she has offended me? and the question in the body how do I ask someone in a position of authority to stop talking about my religion? seem to be conflictual and close to being contradictory with one another.
    – user3114
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 8:26
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    "how do I ask someone in a position of authority to stop talking about my religion?" You don't. In a free society, no one gets to define reality for others, you only get to argue in conversation what you think is true; blasphemy taboos have no place in free societies, let alone in their universities. If your faith is criticized - and critiquing even heart-felt convictions with disinterest bordering on callousness is one of the major ways in which science functions to make sure civilization can correct its mistakes - you can defend it with persuasive arguments, or recognize you might be wrong.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 14:25

1 Answer 1


The easiest way to deal with these situations, in a lot of cases, is to approach your professor before or after class and explain why what they said, or what they're saying, makes you uncomfortable. Many professors will also have time allotted on their schedule for private in office meetings where you could approach them more discreetly.

I know first hand that it can be really uncomfortable to have to out yourself, to an authority figure, to explain something that's very personal and important to you. If it helps, try to keep in mind that you're not only standing up for yourself, you're also standing up for all the people like you that will have to sit through one of these talks in the future.

It may be worthwhile to start off with something along the lines of:

I'm sorry you had a bad experience with X, but what you experienced is not what X is about or what X really believes in.

Then go on to explain your experience with X. If they're a decent, rational person they'll likely understand where you're coming from and may curtail some of they're speeches. If nothing else, they'll be aware that what they're saying is hurting someone in the room.

  • I just wanted to add that professor types appreciate prep and documentation. Some groups have good online resources. If for Catholics, a good place is canonlawmadeeasy.com . It describes doctrine in layman's terms. For the (cough cough) canonical source, go here: ccc.usccb.org/flipbooks/catechism/files/assets/basic-html/… . I imagine many other religious groups will have similar resources, and OP might consider checking them out before talking with prof.
    – akaioi
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 1:46
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    I'm not sure OP has better standing than a professor to claim what an entire group does or does not believe or hold as a value. Undoubtedly some followers of the religion do believe/practice what OP says they do, and some believe/practice what the professor says they do. I think a better approach is to emphasize how many people follow the religion, and some are bound to be jerks, and some are bound to be good people, and it's not fair to lump them all together based on a few personal experiences.
    – Kat
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 3:50
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    Not really. The behavior/belief being described might not contradict speaking civilly to a professor. And even if it did, one contrary example doesn't prove anything.
    – Kat
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 4:20
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    @Kat often the most effective communication is one person to one person. Why can't people just exchange experiences and accept that someone honestly had a different one? When people look beyond the ideology to the actual person, it can have real impacts that a purely "fact based" argument couldn't have. Regardless of the professor's experience they're likely to think twice before knowingly saying things that openly insult a student, in front of them...
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 4:26
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    It's also possible to completely avoid the "who's right" part and just state the only actual fact in the room during that 1on1: "I'm uncomfortable when you say that all X are bad, but I don't want to discuss that topic. Would you mind avoiding that topic in the future?"
    – lucidbrot
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 11:31

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