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

Lead Research Organisation: School of Oriental & African Studies
Department Name: Languages, Cultures, and Linguistics

Abstract

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 (www.nae.org.uk), 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 http://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/. 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.
 
Description Alison Scott-Baumann was invited to give evidence to the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights for their investigation into free speech on campus. On January 17 2018 she gave evidence and was asked to submit written material , which appears as SCOTT-BAUMANN AND GUEST under 'engagement' and formal working group/ expert panel. This will inform their summary report, which demonstrates the chilling effect on free expression of the Prevent Duty.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Human Rights Committee - Freedom of Speech in Universities
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact Alison
URL http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/c532a407-6675-4fcc-9300-c96842948504
 
Description Islam on campus, the Charity Commission and free speech on campus
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact As part of the Islam on campus research I came to understand that the Charity Commission was intervening in matters relating to Muslim student groups on campus. Research funded by SOAS to support this (PERFECT AND SCOTT-BAUMANN CHARITY COMMISSION) was presented to the Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) in their investigation of free speech on campus, and as a direct result of our research the JCHR called the Charity Commission (CC) to give evidence, which they had not planned to do. At the hearing the JCHR members were robust in their open criticisms of the CC for restricting discussion of controversial and difficult topics across the board, not specifically with regard to Muslims. Subsequently the new Minister for HE Sam Gyemah , and Jacob Rees -Mogg, currently a favoured voice in the media, both asserted, apparently out of the blue, that the Charity Commission is restricting free speech on campus. This can only have come from the JCHR, which in turn was responding to our unique research. Subsequently also the Equalities and Human Rights Commission initiated its own review into the role of the new Office for Students with specific interest also in the role of the Charity Commission. The JCHR report is still being written.
URL https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/human-rights-committee/inq...
 
Description Islam on campus, the Prevent Duty Guidance and free speech on campus
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact As part of the Islam on campus research I came to understand that the Prevent Duty Guidance is affecting matters relating to Muslim student groups on campus. Research funded by SOAS to support this ( SCOTT-BAUMANN AND Perfect - PREVENT) was presented to the Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) in their investigation of free speech on campus, and as a direct result of our research the JCHR asked me for more evidence, which they had not planned to do.
URL https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/human-rights-committee/inq...
 
Description Today programme Radio 4, 4 Nov 2017
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Impact This radio interview raised issues about safe spaces that people are still talking about: why the sense of moral panic rose with little justification. The radio event led to me being invited to write for Guardian and for Wonkhe so it functioned as a pathway to impact, allowing me to influence public debate
URL http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/24837/
 
Description Video of giving evidence to JCHR about free speech on campus enquiry
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact This video demonstrates, as do the documents I submitted to JCHR, that my research has a significant impact upon the approach of the Joint committee for Human Rights: after the meeting they asked me for more information on the research about Islam on campus and about the Charity Commission. They only called Charity Commission to give evidence as a result of my research with S Perfect, so I'e contributed to an improved regulatory environment. We await their final report
URL http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/c532a407-6675-4fcc-9300-c96842948504
 
Description Central Impact Fund
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 10/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Strategic Impact Fund
Amount £6,000 (GBP)
Organisation School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 06/2017 
End 07/2017
 
Description Strategic Impact Fund
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 06/2017 
End 12/2018
 
Description Strategic Impact Fund
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Researcher In Residence 
Organisation Free University of Amsterdam
Country Netherlands, Kingdom of the 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I was able to work on academic drafts related to the AHRC project while also lecturing on the project
Collaborator Contribution travel, accommodation and expenses paid
Impact In preparation
Start Year 2018
 
Description Opinion Piece for OpenDemocracy.net by Dr Mathew Guest 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Evidence of audience engagement in 'notes' section beneath article and on social media. At least one academic author engaged with piece in one of their own published essays
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mathew-guest/can-universities-still-provide-transformat...