SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Providing crucial knowledge insights

Religion is a major driving force in social and political transformations, helping to shape the approach and actions of a wide range of groups in relation to both global and local challenges.  Our research in the Department of the Study of Religions has provided crucial knowledge insights to the  public, the media, as well as religious communities and government, both in the UK and externally, in Europe, Asia, Africa and the USA.

We use the insights of our research to:

  • Enhance public understanding of various communities and religions, particularly those that are in conflict zones
  • work to improve the delivery of public services
  • inform and influence the nature of public policy by providing evidence in law cases
  • train ambassadors to countries suffering from civil unrest due to religious strife
  • underpin equality, religious minority and human rights

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

  • Working with civil society organisations including within religious communities
  • Collaborating with the cultural sector both in the UK and in our regions
  • Working with government organisations, notably in foreign affairs, health, law, immigration and security

Engaging the wider public

The palace of Darius at Persepolis glass etching
The work of Almut Hintze, Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism, and Dr Sarah Stewart, Lecturer in Zoroastrianism on the religion of pre-Islamic Iran, which is still practised by ca. 120,000 individuals world-wide, has actively engaged with different sections of a deeply divided, microscopic religious community.

This has resulted in the endowment of a Chair in Zoroastrianism at SOAS, the only one of its kind world-wide and an annual lecture in memory of a distinguished Zoroastrian (Kutar Memorial Lecture) that is attended by the wider Zoroastrian community in London and beyond. This engagement has also led to financial support for a conference series (The Idea of Iran) at SOAS, the publication of conference proceedings, and most recently the preparation and mounting of a major exhibition on Zoroastrianism in the Brunei Gallery in London in autumn 2013. This exhibition was reported widely in the national and international press and considerably raised the profile and public awareness of this religion. Negotiations are currently under way with the Indian government for the exhibition, The Sacred Flame, to be exhibited in Delhi in late 2015.

Supporting religious communities in our regions

The research of Dr Erica Hunter, Head of the Department, demonstrates the potentially far-reaching impact of individual scholarly endeavour. Dr Hunter’s work on religious minorities in the Middle East, in particular the Mandaeans, has influenced decision making with regard to members of that community seeking asylum in the UK.  She has written expert witness reports on current conditions of Christians and Mandaeans in Iraq, Iran and Egypt; all such applications for asylum in the United Kingdom have been successful. This has had particular bearing for the Mandaeans, a small ethno-religious group (approximately 50,000), who traditionally resided in southern Mesopotamia, spanning Iraq and Iran. Since 2003, some 90% of the Mandaean population has either been killed or fled from Iraq. In Iran, discrimination is also rife: Mandaeans are ‘infidels’, with no constitutional and few legal rights. Dr Hunter’s fieldwork in Iraq (1989–2002), where she had extensive contact with the Mandaeans, together with her on-going communication with the largely diaspora community has enabled her to draw attention to and inform the Home Office about the current conditions. In recognition of her expertise and contribution, the Mandaean community invited Dr Hunter in 2012 to be President of Mandaean Crisis International, a group that lobbies internationally on behalf of the Mandaeans, with particular emphasis on human rights.
Centre of Jaina Studies
The research of Dr Peter Flügel demonstrates the impact of research within a Centre of Jaina Studies of which he is the Chair. The Centre and its publications act as a focal point for maintaining and developing the network of connections within a highly dispersed set of communities across the globe. Key constituency are the Jain communities not only in the UK and Europe but also in the US where Centre events are circulated on video, and Jain thought and practice – on architecture, on yoga, on biodiversity – are promulgated and spread.