Re/presenting Islam on campus: gender, radicalisation and interreligious understanding in British higher education

Lead Research Organisation: School of Oriental & African Studies
Department Name: Lang an Cultures of Near and Middle East


Over the last decade the UK university campus has become mired in debates about Islam. Certain crises arouse outrage: the 'underpants' bomber, gender segregation and radicalising speakers. Such episodes are classified as matters for the police and university management. The university sector has not taken a public position about Islam and radicalisation, yet we believe that many staff and students will welcome a better understanding of the situation. Our aims in this research are to analyse Islam on campus and to facilitate open, informed discussion about Islam as an integral aspect of British life and campus life. In the current climate, higher education seems torn between being a provider of world class research (Collini), an accreditor of improved functional workforce capacity (Browne Report) and a dangerous place that requires policing (Quilliam). Each approach can become a stereotype that needs to be challenged. We believe that such confusion must be discussed openly if the university sector is to be fit for purpose: fully ready for an increasing variety of home and international students and an increasingly complex world that incorporates the renaissance in world religions.

This ground-breaking research will initially give equal weight to a range of different narratives e.g. from media, academics, Muslim communities, student managers, government and radicalisation experts, in order to gauge their respective credibility and contradictions. Working with 4 universities and one Muslim college affiliated to a university, we will trace and analyse the sources of these different perspectives in dialogue with students, staff and other stakeholders across the HE sector.

We will work closely with stakeholders including AMOSSHE (Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education), NUS and Islamic societies and Muslim youth organisations, both Sunni and Shi'i. Examining personal views among staff and students alongside 'official' discourses will provide a critical account of how perceptions of Islam play out within university contexts. These views will be collected and analysed using a variety of methods, including an online questionnaire survey to collect statistical data, interviews, focus groups and data visualisation techniques.

For university-based impact we will be catalysts for mixed stakeholder groups: students, staff, professional bodies, policy makers and third sector. We will involve them in collecting and disseminating models of good practice, and in the co-production of new solutions.
They will interpret data analysis of findings, including using data visualisation, to challenge stereotypes and think afresh in workshops, co-producing recommendations for developing clarity about Islam on campus and about Islamic Studies as a subject.

Further impact beyond the university will be achieved by fostering debate and reflection about Islam on campus among local communities and Muslim organisations, seeking open discussion and understanding. Creative interpretation of our findings about perceptions of Muslims will be facilitated in a data visualisation project at the New Arts Exchange (NAE) in Nottingham (, drawing young people into a process of rethinking and reimagining the place of religion within British public life. We will also work with Gladstone's Library Like NAE, Gladstone's Library reaches out to minority communities. Each will provide an exemplary case study of organisational interreligious engagement.

We will bring together people who never usually meet: academics and stakeholders from universities, community groups from beyond the university, policy makers, devout Muslims and secularists. Well planned involvement and effective knowledge exchange events will help them to develop and then share their practical answers to the challenges facing higher education of radicalisation, gender and interfaith

Planned Impact

The university sector is under various pressures, of which the securitisation agenda is a particularly disturbing one: universities are accused of allowing 'radicalisation' to violent Islamic causes to occur on campus unchecked. This research project will benefit research users both on and off campus by collecting, analysing and disseminating both existing and new knowledge, and facilitating knowledge exchange between and among stakeholder groups. Good management and infrastructural support will facilitate establishing relationships and networks with stakeholders. These will be enhanced by 'co-production' i.e. research methods that involve stakeholders in the research.
Well planned user engagement and knowledge exchange strategies will include workshops and a national conference to bring users/stakeholders together to share our findings about views on Islam on campus. We have identified five key stakeholder groups; our intention is to bring them together to define the major issues, to share their perspectives (as groups and as individuals) on our findings and to consider productive ways forward that benefit all:
1.UK universities and Muslim HE institutions: These are often perceived as being at opposite ends of a spectrum between fundamentalism and secularism. We will bring together scholars from both sides of this perceived dichotomy to discuss, suggest and validate strategies for increasing collaboration and understanding. There will be economic benefits to the academic sector, because the research findings will focus without prejudice upon a new client base: the Muslim population of Britain is growing fast, with over a quarter being of school and university age.

2. Academics and Scholars involved in Islamic Studies: They are responsible for course content and direct contact with students and will benefit from new clarity about Islamic Studies, its perspectives and methods across the HE sector, and its role in shaping discourses on Islam. The cross-university discussion generated by project seminars will also foster a greater awareness within the discipline of its changing context and the ways in which the impact of Islamic Studies could be enhanced, thereby hopefully fostering its sense of unity, internal coherence and academic standing. The team has a portfolio of research that will build its reputation with academics.

3. Policy makers: The increasing visibility of diverse populations in British universities reflects patterns in the UK generally, and legislation around equality obliges university policy makers and local and national governments to have frameworks for community cohesion. This research will provide critical commentary on government agendas around equalities (particularly of religion or belief), community cohesion and radicalisation by exploring their impact at universities and nationally through, for example, NUS, BIS and PREVENT.
4. British Muslim communities: They comprise the largest religious minority in Britain and this research will specifically seek to consult and collaborate with them. Meaningful engagement with Muslim student groups and the broader Muslim communities to which they belong is essential if research and public policy is to reflect accurately the complexities of British society. Moreover Muslim student groups and youth organisations actively engage in debates on the role and place of Islam in Britain. A better understanding of how perceptions of Islam are shaped will reinforce their confidence and ability to lead constructive dialogue about Islam and Muslims on campus and beyond.
5. Third Sector: These are voluntary, community and charity organisations who are working towards interreligious and inter-community dialogue and societal cohesion in Britain. The findings of the research will inform their work particularly in the contexts of pluralism and synergies between Islam and the West. They will act as intermediaries and knowledge brokers.


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Scott-Baumann A (2017) Ideology, utopia and Islam on campus: How to free speech a little from its own terrors in Education, Citizenship and Social Justice