SOAS University of London

Faculty of Languages and Cultures

Specialising in languages, cultures and societies

Scholars in SOAS’ Faculty of Languages and Cultures share profound knowledge of their regions in a non-academic way with public audiences. Through subjects as diverse as Somali poetry, the resettlement of Nepali refugees and interfaith collaboration, the work of our researchers has established SOAS as a major hub for engaging with multi-cultural London.  SOAS is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in the languages, cultures and societies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

We use the insights of our research to:

  • Support cultural output in museums and galleries in the UK and SOAS’ specialist regions as well as in organisations such as the Arts Council, the European Union and the UN
  • Engage with the wider public through regular weekly collaborations with embassies and cultural, social, religious organisations focused on our regions
  • Create lively and critical communities, with staff situated both within Departments that focus on language and culture teaching and research, and within Centres that foster interaction and collaboration across discipline and region

We engage with external organisations and individuals in many different ways, including:

  • Individuals work with both departmental colleagues and other area specialists throughout SOAS through regional Centres or Institutes for Africa, Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia, China, Korea and Japan
  • Researchers collaborate with specialists in institutions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as in Europe and North America

Interfaith public engagement

Our research supports interfaith understanding in the UK and abroad. Professor Muhammad A S Abdel Haleem, OBE, received an OBE for his work in interfaith public engagement, amongst other initiatives being an active contributor to the Building Bridges programme chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This programme holds annual seminars for textual study alternating between Muslim and Christian venues; indeed, Professor Haleem. In his 2004 and 2010 Oxford University Press translations of the Qur’an, based on over 30 years of rigorous scholarship, Professor Muhammad Abdel Haleem sought to make, “the Qur’an accessible to everyone who speaks English”. This highly respected English translation of the Qu’ran has been distributed in the thousands by Middle East governments in hotels around the world, and has become a primary focus of interfaith discussion. The product of years of work, his translation has been praised by readers for being ‘accessible’ as well as a good tool for interfaith relations. It has greatly enhanced understanding of Islam throughout the non-Islamic world.

Cultural understanding

Camels in Somalia
The pioneering analysis and sensitive translation into English of classical and contemporary Somali poems, by Dr Martin Orwin, Senior Lecturer in Somali and Amharic has contributed to a more positive understanding of Somali culture and its place in world literature. He has brought Somali poetry to the attention of Anglophone audiences, participating in web-accessible poetry projects and prominent events such as ‘Sonnet Sunday’ and ‘Poetry Parnassus’. Working with Somali poets and cultural organisations, Dr Orwin’s work has contributed to a more positive understanding of Somali culture and its place in world literature. Sarah Maguire of the Poetry Translation Centre said: “Few other academics working in the humanities can have had such a broad-reaching, decisive impact on communities beyond the academy.” Pic: Young camels ranging freely in Somalia; camels feature heavily in Somali poetry, the subject of Dr Orwin's research.

Lindiwe Dovey (far right) at the closing ceremony of the FiSahara film festival in the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla
The global film industry has been enriched by the work of African and Indonesian filmmakers among others, which have come to light through SOAS research. By co-founding, directing and curating two of the UK’s leading African film festivals Dr Lindiwe Dovey, Senior Lecturer in African Film and Performance Arts, has brought African film to far greater prominence in the UK and in Africa itself. She has significantly contributed to showcasing African-made culture to a wider audience, and providing a space where African filmmakers can meet with distributors and funders, enhancing their potential to further their careers internationally. Pic: Dr Lindiwe Dovey (far right) at the closing ceremony of the FiSahara film festival in the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla in southern Algeria, October 2013.