Mapping Faith and Place in Leicester

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Sch of Archaeology and Ancient History


Leicester is well known as an extremely diverse multi-ethnic city with one of the largest South Asian communities in contemporary Britain (in 2001, 30.6% of the city's population were of South Asian origin and the principal South Asian religions comprised: Hindu, 14.74%; Muslim, 11.03%; and Sikh, 4.21%). The expansion of multiple faiths in the city over the past 50 years has created a significant and complex architectural legacy of adaptive re-use and new construction of places of worship, and an equally rich inheritance of tangible and intangible religious practices, rituals, symbols and festivals that have transformed the urban landscape. The 'Mapping Faith and Place' Network hosted by the University of Leicester will bring together, for the first time, academics with research expertise in the fields of urban and migration history, urban landscapes, built heritage, and religious and cultural studies, with national and local heritage policy-makers and managers, the Leicester Museums Service and representatives of local interfaith networks and faith communities to create a richer understanding of issues of faith, place and cultural identity in the past, present and for the future.

One of the key aims of the Network is to create ongoing and meaningful partnerships between academics and non-HE stakeholders to critically assess the impact of current research agendas and policy frameworks on processes of cultural heritage curation and interpretation. We begin by asking: how does the material legacy of the historical development and ongoing prominence of religious pluralism create varied senses of place and belonging within the city's diverse neighbourhoods? What are the attitudes of ethnic minority communities to different aspects of their religious and cultural heritage and are they well served by current heritage policies and management practices? The need for a deeper understanding of Britain's diverse religious heritage is a clear priority for English Heritage and the research will provide a detailed contextualised study to focus this debate. In this, the Network aims to make a significant contribution to shaping the AHRC emerging theme: 'Care for the Future: Thinking through the Past', by investigating the historical emergence, current value and future significance of complex multi-faith and multi-ethnic urban landscapes in contemporary Britain, and providing new insights for public policy development and local community engagement in this field.

The Network will also ask: what does it mean 'to map'? The measurement and interpretation of the landscape is a vital part of academic research agendas in many disciplines, and is central to traditional understandings of urban history and to current historic landscape characterisation and management practices. However, the re-conceptualisation of processes of 'place-making' and the development of new digital mapping and visualisation technologies have led to a new understanding of our power to represent and interrogate the interactive processes by which spaces are made and made-sense-of; the stories people tell about places, movement and belonging which define their emotional and experiential qualities. Parts of the Network activities will be dedicated to exploring these different concepts and practices of mapping and will critically investigate the potential for using innovative digital technologies for mapping tangible and intangible heritage.

The Network will hold three themed seminars culminating in a public conference where different aspects of the research agenda will be developed and future research directions shaped. The Network's key findings will be shared through a public website hosted by the University of Leicester and peer-reviewed academic publications, and a core objective is to develop firm proposals for future research projects with a strong Knowledge Exchange element, focused on religious and cultural heritage in the city and region.

Planned Impact

'Mapping Place and Faith' includes representatives of three key non-HE sectors who will help to shape the research agenda and will benefit directly from the research:

1) National (English Heritage) and local (Leicester Council of Faiths; Leicestershire County Council) heritage policy-makers and managers:
Understanding, characterising and mapping cultural heritage is central to the activities of these bodies; the Network will critically investigate current practices in heritage management at national and local levels and seeks to develop new insights through collaborative working. One of the core objectives of the Network is to foster partnerships with English Heritage and local government and to develop firm proposals for future research on these complex issues which will use Leicester as a significant case study.

At a national level, English Heritage has identified the need for a deeper understanding of Britain's diverse religious heritage as a major research priority for the future (as outlined in their 2010 strategy document: Caring for Places of Worship). The Network will create a deeper understanding of the religious and cultural heritage of Leicester's major South Asian population and so contribute to English Heritage research and community engagement strategies. This will also have trickle-down effects for the deeper understanding and more effective management of Leicester's heritage by local professionals.

2) Public cultural institutions (Leicester Museums Service; East midlands Oral History Archive):
A second core aim of the network is to forge an ongoing partnership between the University of Leicester and the Leicester Museums Service. The Network will create a deeper understanding of Leicester's religious and cultural diversity and will explore innovative digital technologies for visualising and representing Leicester's heritage, both of which are central to the Museum Service's mission. It is intended that the Network will encourage the development of collaborative research proposals between the University and the Museums Service which will further explore religious places and identities in the city and develop new modes of presentation.

3) Third sector interfaith organisations and charities (the InterFaith Leaders Forum; the St Philip's Centre; the Peepul Centre) and local faith communities:
Representatives of Leicester's extensive interfaith networks and institutions will play a key role in the development of the Network research agenda, and our third Knowledge Exchange objective is to establish ongoing and meaningful dialogue between the University of Leicester and the City's multi-faith and multi-ethnic communities. Representatives of the City's interfaith organisations will participate in the development of the research agenda, and through them, we will establish connections with individual faith communities in the city who will play a major role in the final Network conference. It is hoped that local community partners will be central to future research bids resulting from the Network activities.

The research Network has been designed in part to critically explore through shared research attitudes towards cultural and religious heritage within South Asian communities of several generations' standing, and the senses of place and belonging engendered by the material legacy of these communities. By bringing together faith communities, local and national heritage policy-makers and professionals, the Network aims to foster an open dialogue as to whether current policies and practices effectively serve the needs of non-Christian faith communities, and how a deeper understanding of their specific needs and concerns can best be achieved. The final public conference will provide a forum for wider community engagement with Leicester citizens, and the Network findings will be publicly disseminated thr


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Description We have discovered that the 'value' of faith buildings is very different in communities of South Asian origin faiths to that from many Christian groups, and that this value does not lie in the fabric of the building. this contrasts with views of the importance of faith buildings (eg preservation of cathedrals, churches, chapels for their own sake).
Exploitation Route - Faith Trail of Leicester - useful for heritage and tourism
- network of faith groups and contacts useful for anyone wishing to carry out research in this area
- research into the ways in which religion is studied in archaeology and the concept of translation providing a new theoretical approach
- results of network, CDA feeding into Historic England policy and when thesis is published, will provide new insight into value and faith buildings, particularly Sikhism
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description to influence Historic England policy decisions around buildings of different faiths in UK
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Collaborative Doctoral Award 
Organisation Government of Scotland
Department Historic Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Jointly with English Heritage (Historic England) supervision of a fully funded PhD studentship exploring Sikh buildings of faith and value in the UK; joint supervision, funding, opportunities to present on-going research
Collaborator Contribution Joint supervision and funding and training opportunities
Impact Student successfully appointed, carrying out research which will influence Historic England policy
Start Year 2013
Description Faith networks 
Organisation English Heritage
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution series of meetings with interested stake holders establishing areas where relevant study is absent determing focus areas for study
Collaborator Contribution as above
Impact Collaborative Doctoral Award conference on place and faith in Leicester with series of recommendations for EH
Start Year 2011
Description Conference on Buddhist Archaeology of South Asia 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An academic conference held in Delhi, December 2015. Shared outcome of our work under this project which stimulated considerable discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Research Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Research Seminar given to Exeter University, primarily postgraduate students studying South Asian archaeology and performance
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description invited research seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Archaeological colleagues and students at a conference on Buddhism in India.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017