Research methods

The project will use qualitative and quantitative research methods and data visualisation to compare and contrast narratives of Islam within four UK-based universities and two Muslim college of higher education, gathering data from 3 sources:

1. University policy documents and official responses to critical incidents or moments of crisis

2. Syllabus outlines and course content on the topic of Islam and associated subjects

3. The personal views of staff and students (including those affirmed within student societies)

Such analysis will provide a perspective on the constellation of perceptions and ideas available within university contexts, including discourses available beyond the boundaries of the university experience. However, our focus here will be on how these discourses are appropriated within universities, hence the emphasis on those narratives that exert most obvious influence upon campus life. This analysis affords a close examination within specific universities of localised discourses on Islam produced through degree programmes and student activities (e.g. Islamic societies, student media). This would provide a meso-level of data that reveals how nationally and globally available narratives are locally re-contextualised and framed by conditions such as a history of religious conflict upon a particular campus. While these three data sources are analytically differentiated, our analysis anticipates significant cross-over between them, and will include a mapping of how they interact as sources of knowledge about Islam within university contexts.

Interviews and Focus Groups

The qualitative research will include interviews and focus groups at each of the six institutions. The majority of qualitative data collection will take place in years 1 and 2. A team of two researchers will visit each university for a period of two weeks. While on campus, the researchers will engage in university life and participate in student-led events. Such in-depth engagement will allow the researchers to develop an anthropological description of religion – particularly Islam – on campus, this being further enhanced during further visits and via correspondence with contacts at each university throughout the life of the project.

Interviews: Exploratory semi-structured interviews will be conducted with a range of university staff members who have a stake in faith matters (e.g. equality and diversity officers, chaplains, Students’ Union officers and Islamic Studies / Religious studies lecturers). The interviews will explore the main issues surrounding the perception and understanding of Muslims within each campus context.

Focus Groups: Four focus groups will be conducted at each of the universities. The purpose of these focus groups will be to identify principal sources of information about Islam; how perceptions and views about Islam are formed and influenced by these sources; and how these are voiced, affirmed or challenged by individuals.

Questionnaire Survey

In order to explore further the relationship between publicly available narratives about Islam and the perceptions of individuals, a questionnaire survey will be administered among staff and students within the selected institutions. This will also ensure that representative, large-scale data is included in the project and hence comparative claims about institutional differences can be made with appropriate confidence.

Structurally, the questionnaire will include sections on perceptions of Islam, normative perspectives on Islam, normative perspectives on religion more generally, and moral attitudes (as dependant variables); and on key demographics, gender and religious identity.

Data Visualisation

In addition to the approaches summarised above, the digital methodologies of data mapping and visualization will also be used in a different approach to challenging dominant discourses and as illustrative material intended to enhance the project’s broader impact. Data visualisations offer alternatives to words and are powerful ways to visualize complex, verbally produced information from a different perspective or vantage point. With all human artefacts, symbols and messages there are different ways of analysing the complex relation between intention and communication.

The research has been subject to ethical review and scrutiny at the universities of London, Coventry, Lancaster and Durham. The anonymity and confidentiality of all participants will be protected. Please click here for a link to our ethical statement.