SOAS University of London

Re/presenting Islam on Campus

Religion and Secularism on Campus: The Changing Dimensions of the University Experience

Call For Papers

  • Last date for submission of abstracts: 6 July 2018
  • Location - The Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT), SOAS, University of London
  • Date of conference - 6th and 7th September 2018

Conference Programme

Conference Programme - Religion and Secularism on Campus: The Changing Dimensions of the University Experience (pdf; 112kb)  

Two of the earliest universities - Nalanda in ancient India and Al-Qarawiyyin in medieval Morocco - were rooted in religious tradition, namely Buddhism and Islam respectively. In the West too, religion had a role in the earliest colleges that emerged in medieval Arab Spain, which gave rise to similar colleges across 13th-century Europe (Makdisi, 1981; Goody, 2006). Many of today’s prestigious universities, including Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, have Christian foundations (Aune and Stevenson, 2017). And yet, modern universities, particularly in the West, are typically characterised by traditions of knowledge production that are often conceived as at odds with religious commitment. Although many universities maintain ambiguous or affirming orientations to religious institutions for reasons to do with history and ethos, much western scholarship has presumed higher education to be a strongly secularising influence. This framing has resulted in religion often being marginalised or ignored as a cultural irrelevance by the university sector. However, recent times have seen higher education increasingly drawn into political discourses that problematize religion in general, and Islam in particular, as an ‘object of risk’. Furthermore, religion has never been absent from higher education campuses, and is still taught, studied, lived and managed on campuses in a variety of ways. This conference aims to explore the diverse experiences and complex dynamics of religion and secularism on higher education campuses in the context of contemporary challenges.

Religion and Secularism on Campus is the final event of the Re/presenting Islam on Campus project - a three-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that explores the complexities of lived experience, representation and perception of Islam on UK university and higher education campuses. This project undertook in-depth ethnographic fieldwork at six higher education sites in the UK and also commissioned a questionnaire survey on experiences of Islam across UK universities. Our work focussed on three specific areas: gender, interreligious relations and radicalisation and also looked at motivations, methods and models for the academic study of Islam in the UK. Our findings offer new and paradigm-changing insights across these areas (which we will present at the conference).

In the final year of the project we are keen to engage with cutting-edge research that explores diverse religious and non-religious identities on campus, how these are ‘lived’ on campus and how these are dealt with in university policy, practice, management and curricula. By bringing together distinctive expertise and approaches to the study of religion and non-religion on campus, the conference will examine how universities are changing in response to the presence of different religious and non-religious discourses and the interactions between them.

This two-day international conference will explore the diversity of ways in which religious and non-religious identities are experienced, encountered and catered for on higher education campuses in the UK, Europe and beyond. We invite proposals for papers that explore any dimension of religion or non-religion on campuses in any geographical context, focussing on a particular tradition, group or movement or on the interactions between different parties, or on broader cultural or political changes impacting upon how religion is expressed within campus contexts. We hope that the conference will attract a range of epistemological positions and disciplinary standpoints. Possible themes and topics include:

  • the place of religion within different conceptualisations of higher education spaces (e.g. neo-liberal universities, religious colleges, multi-faith campuses)
  • interfaith dialogue and inter-religious relations on campus
  • the intersections of religion, race and gender as manifest within higher education contexts
  • pedagogical concerns about religion in the classroom; inclusion and critical engagement with religion as an object of study
  • teaching Islam and religion within established academic disciplines
  • racism and prejudice (including Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia) on campus
  • the university in an age of counter-terrorism and surveillance
  • the negotiation of cultural and moral values among the student body
  • the role of student voices and student bodies in shaping the religion or belief contours on campus
  • the impact of radicalisation on academic research
  • Methodological reflections on campus-based research


To register for the conference, please visit our Evenbrite page to reserve a ticket.