SOAS University of London

Re/presenting Islam on Campus


Representing Islam on Campus publications

Scott-Baumann, A. and Tomlinson, H. (2016) ‘Cultural cold wars: The risk of anti-‘extremism’ policy for academic freedom of expression’

Abstract: Universities are under increasing pressure from government to prevent students coming into contact with “extreme” ideas. The view is that students exposed to any kind of views designated “extreme” could be drawn into terrorism. But the risk to freedom of speech and academic freedom is obvious. Society needs to avoid a climate in which ideas are seen as dangerous, deviant and extremist if they differ from views that are believed to be held by the majority. Many university administrators now appear to believe that in order to prevent terrorism, the law requires them to curtail the freedom of academic debate. This approach is not only wrong in principle and in practice but also illegal.

Related publications by project team members

Farrar, Max. (2010) The study of Islam within social science curricula in UK universities: Case Studies Volume # 1.

In 2010 I was invited by Dr Max Farrar to contribute to his collection of case studies on good practice in social science curricula. Underpinning this in 2010 was the apparent unwillingness of sociology to deal with matters of faith, and in the intervening years this has improved. My case study is based upon an activity in which I invited  students who were not Muslim to meet and talk with a group of my friends from Ibrahim Community College, E London.  It was very successful, and highlighted the need to meet and converse with people who seem to be 'different.' In 2010 my students did not know any Muslims in their daily lives. I hope they do now.

Scott-Baumann, A. And Perfect, Simon. (2016) Freedom of Speech in Universities (SOAS)

In November 2014, while visiting Georgetown University, Washington DC, to give  a talk at  John Esposito's invitation, I completed the first full draft of the Re/presenting Islam on campus bid, which I submitted some months later on behalf of the research team. At that stage I was already concerned about the status of freedom of expression on UK university campuses and this is one strand of the current AHRC project about Islam on campus. In order to explore this further, I was invited by St George's House Trust, Windsor Castle, to run a consultation about free speech on campus, 31st October - 1 November 2016. This  event, while successful in securing support from many different groups about the importance of free speech, also demonstrated that its definition and practice are not clear and may be under threat. This paper on the proceedings of that consultation was prepared by Simon Perfect and provides a valuable record of the proceedings and possible ways forward. 

The Universities we Need

Scott-Baumann, A. and Cheruvallil-Contractor, S. (2016) ‘An Islamic Perspective’ in S Heap (ed) The Universities we Need: Theological perspectives on the universities needed for today’s world. London: Routledge

Abstract: Alison Scott-Baumann and Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor give us a philosophical and an Islamic perspective on what society needs from its universities. They offer a timely reminder of the long intellectual tradition of Islam, which embraces both depth and width of subject areas, which was owned by women and men, and which helped to form western culture, not least through preserving and developing the thought of ancient Greece and Rome through the European Dark Ages. Scott-Baumann and Cheruvallil-Contractor reflect on what has happened to that tradition within Islam, how it is received by the wider community, and what place it might have in the university. They argue for a role for the ‘faithful voice’ in discussions about the nature of society, consider how the voice of Islam is treated, and suggest Islam can help identify issues which need challenging in the contemporary British university with a view to protecting the values of dignity and mutual respect that Muslims and non-Muslims hold dear in Western society and universities.

Religion and Higher Education in Europe and North America

Cheruvallil-Contractor, S. and Scott-Baumann, A. (2017 – forthcoming) ‘Islamic Studies in UK universities: challenging curricula’ in K. Aune & J. Stevenson (eds) Religion and Belief in Higher Education, London: Routledge

Abstract: This chapter discusses developments in Islamic Studies since the Siddiqui Report’s proposal for curricula that position lived realities of Islam as inherent to British society (2007). Reflecting on current provision, it considers the difficulties and exciting possibilities of developing new approaches to the study of Islam in the face of neo-liberal pressures, exaggerated dichotomisation between the secular and sacred, securitisation agendas, persistent orientalism and the relative absence of women’s voices. To be fit-for-purpose in a globalised and interconnected world, Islamic studies must be multi-disciplinary, include currently marginalised voices and develop andragogy to transform today’s young adults into citizens of tomorrow.

Issues in Religion and Education

Guest, M. (2015) “Religion and the Cultures of Higher Education: Student Christianity in the UK”, in Lori G. Beaman and Leo Van Arragon (eds) Issues in Religion and Education: Whose Religion? Leiden: Brill, 2015, pp. 346-366.

Abstract: This chapter is about the relationship between higher education and the religious identities of university students, focusing on developments in the United Kingdom. Adopting a sociological approach, the chapter begins with an extended overview of how universities within the UK have developed as institutions with varying relationships with religious institutions and ideas. This is followed by a discussion of how we might make sense of the different cultures of higher education, presenting the ‘university experience’ as a social context of identity formation as well as an educational context of learning. Drawing on evidence from the ‘Christianity and the University Experience’ project, we then discuss the internal diversity among Christian students and how this reflects a destabilisation of Christianity as a category of identity. Moreover, this diversity is not simply a reflection of a range of orientations to moral and spiritual matters, but also includes the processes whereby Christian students continually negotiate the challenges of living out Christian identity within the cultures of university life.

Islamic Education in Britain

Scott-Baumann, A. and Cheruvallil-Contractor, S. (2015) Islamic Education in Britain: New Pluralist Paradigms London & New York: Continuum

Abstract: The Western world often fears many aspects of Islam, without the knowledge to move forward. On the other hand, there are sustained and complex debates within Islam about how to live in the modern world with faith. Alison Scott-Baumann and Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor here propose solutions to both dilemmas, with a particular emphasis on the role of women.

Challenging existing beliefs about Islam in Britain, this book offers a paradigm shift based on research conducted over 15 years. The educational needs within several groups of British Muslims were explored, resulting in the need to offer critical analysis of the provision for the study of classical Islamic Theology in Britain. Islamic Education in Britain responds to the dissatisfaction among many young Muslim men and women with the theological/secular split, and their desire for courses that provide combinations of these two strands of their lived experience as Muslim British citizens.

Grounded in empirical research, the authors reach beyond the meta-narratives of secularization and orientalism to demonstrate the importance of the teaching and learning of classical Islamic studies for the promotion of reasoned dialogue, interfaith and intercultural understanding in pluralist British society.

Naguib, S. (2015) Afterword, in Alison Scott-Baumann and Sariya Cheruvalill-Contractor, Islamic Education in Britain: New Pluralist Paradigms, London: Bloomsburry, 2015, pp. 183-185.

Naguib, S. (2015) ‘Bint al-Shati’s approach to tafsir: An Egyptian Exegete’s Journey from Hermeneutics to Humanity’, Journal of Qur’anic Studies, 17.1, 2015, pp. 45–84
In recent decades, Bint al-Shāṭiʾ’s literary approach to the exegesis of the Qur’an received some scholarly attention. This has particularly been directed at the exegetical method she developed under the tutelage of Amīn al-Khūlī. This paper aims to re-examine Bint al-Shāṭiʾ’s exegetical oeuvre with an interest in its hermeneutic underpinnings. Through a close reading of her work al-Tafsīr al-bayānī li’l-Qurʾān, questions about authority, language, and application emerge as central to her approach. These questions are further explored in light of the tension between modernity and tradition characterising her intellectualism, and in the context of her personal journey as a woman attempting to establish an authoritative exegetical voice in a male-dominated tradition. The paper concludes with a discussion on Bint al-Shāṭiʾ’s stance on the primacy of a linguistic approach for understanding the Qur’an and thus her divergence from Amīn al-Khūlī who emphasised history above language in his Manahij al-tajdīd. The emphasis on linguisticality evolves in Bint al-Shāṭiʾ’s work into a theology of humanity in which women are equally entrusted with understanding the Qur’an, revealing her interpretation to be motivated not only by an interest in the Qur’an’s literary inimitability but also by a concern for social application.

Christianity and the University Experience

Guest, M., Aune, K., Sharma, S. and Warner, R. (2013) Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, London: Bloomsbury.

Abstract: What impact does the experience of university have on Christian students? Are universities a force for secularisation? Is student faith enduring, or a passing phase? Universities are often associated with a sceptical attitude towards religion. Many assume that academic study leads students away from any existing religious convictions, heightening the appeal of a rationalist secularism increasingly dominant in wider society. And yet Christianity remains highly visible on university campuses and continues to be a prominent identity marker in the lives of many students. Analysing over 4,000 responses to a national survey of students and nearly 100 interviews with students and those working with them, this book examines Christianity in universities across England. It explores the beliefs, values and practices of Christian students. It reveals how the university experience influences their Christian identities, and the influence Christian students have upon university life. Christianity and the University Experience makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the survival and evolution of religion in the contemporary world. It offers fresh insights relevant to those working with Christian students, including churches, chaplaincies and student organisations, as well as policy-makers and university managers interested in the significance of religion for education, social responsibility and social cohesion.

Sharma, S. and Guest, M. (2013) “Navigating Religion between University and Home: Christian Students’ Experiences in English Universities”, Social and Cultural Geography, vol. 14, no. 1, 2013, pp. 59-79

Abstract: Drawing on qualitative interview research conducted with undergraduates at English universities, this article examines Christian students’ experiences of living out their religious identities at university. Noting the transitional nature of the higher education experience, which often destabilizes existing identities, we explore how, for students self-identifying as ‘Christian’, the enactment of faith helps to form experiences of continuity between pre-university home-life and their university career. Religious beliefs and practices foster a sense of familiarity and offer cultural resources that assist in the forging of relationships among like-minded students. However, university-based Christian gatherings and groups are presented as less stable resources, and can come to symbolize heightened social difference amongst Christian students from different social backgrounds, provoking some to question, modify or give up their religious identities. In keeping with recent scholarship that stresses the dynamic, lived, continually negotiated nature of religious identities, we trace these patterns as contours within Christian identity construction, illustrating how religious and non-religious social factors interact as individuals navigate a key transitional stage in the life-course.

Guest, M., Sharma, S., Aune, K. and Warner, R., (2013) “Challenging ‘Belief’ and the Evangelical Bias: Student Christianity in English Universities”, Journal of Contemporary Religion vol. 28, no. 2, 2013, pp. 207-223.

Abstract: Popular and academic accounts of university-based religion tend to privilege evangelical Christianity, presented as a morally conservative, conversionist movement at odds with university contexts, widely assumed to be vehicles for a progressive western modernity. This is especially the case in the UK, given the association of higher education with secularisation, and yet virtually no research has studied this interface by examining the lives of students. This article discusses findings from the three-year project ‘Christianity and the University Experience in Contemporary England’, including a nation-wide survey of undergraduate students, in examining how the experience of university shapes on-campus expressions of Christian identity. We argue that a sizeable constituency of undergraduates self-identify as ‘Christian’, but evangelicals emerge not as the dominant majority, but a vocal minority. The emerging internal complexity is masked by a public discourse that conceives of religion in terms of propositional belief and presents evangelicalism as its preeminent form.

Religion and change in modern Britain

Chapman, M., Naguib, S., Woodhead, L., (2012) ‘God Change’ in Rebecca Catto and Linda Woodhead (eds.), Religion and change in modern Britain. London: Routledge, p. 173-195

Abstract: This book offers a fully up-to-date and comprehensive guide to religion in Britain since 1945. A team of leading scholars provide a fresh analysis and overview, with a particular focus on diversity and change. They examine: relations between religious and secular beliefs and institutions; the evolving role and status of the churches; the growth and ‘settlement’ of non-Christian religious communities; the spread and diversification of alternative spiritualities; religion in welfare, education, media, politics and law
theoretical perspectives on religious change. The volume presents the latest research, including results from the largest-ever research initiative on religion in Britain, the AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme. Survey chapters are combined with detailed case studies to give both breadth and depth of coverage.

Why Boris is wrong about the burka openDemocracy - Professor Mathew Guest

Why Boris is wrong about the burka | openDemocracy - Professor Mathew Guest

Boris Johnson has become the latest in a long line of right-wing politicians to criticise Muslim women who wear the niqab or burqa. Writing in his column for The Telegraph, Johnson mocked such women as looking “like letter boxes,” “bank robbers” and “absolutely ridiculous.” Despite calls for an apology from opponents and colleagues, at the time of writing Johnson remains unrepentant.