SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Understanding the links between religious education, politics and violence

The International Development Committee of the House of Commons has been advised by Matthew J Nelson, Reader in Politics, whose research challenges existing accounts of the relationship between religious education, politics and violence in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Through extensive fieldwork, in-country interviews and a careful study of the countries’ education systems, he has shown how religious ideas and political action are related. His work has helped to inform governments and other organisations concerned with educational reform and targeted allocations of development aid.

Nelson’s research on education in Pakistan and Bangladesh employs a multifaceted approach. Utilising an extensive network of grassroots contacts, innovative surveys to document ‘part-time’ enrolments (which include both religious training in schools and educational engagements with religious scholars based in madrasas, i.e. educational institutions for the study of Islam), as well as close textual analysis of curricular content and in-depth interviews conducted in Urdu, he has challenged the conventional view that religious education is particularly popular amongst the poorly educated lower classes and helped policymakers move away from a blanket demonisation of madrasa-based education.

After his appearance before the International Development Committee, Nelson was requested to produce a follow up report. His recommendations were directly cited by the Committee Chair during a House debate.

Nelson’s research also informed a 2009 Foreign and Commonwealth Office study on religious networks and non-religious educational institutions in Bangladesh. Additionally, Nelson’s research findings have been widely disseminated amongst policy makers and practitioners in the US.