Over the last decade the UK university campus has become mired in debates about Islam. Certain crises arouse outrage: the ‘underpants’ bomber, gender segregation and radicalising speakers. Such episodes are classified as matters for the police and university management. The university sector has not taken a public position about Islam and radicalisation, yet we believe that many staff and students will welcome a better understanding of the situation. Our aims in this research are to analyse Islam on campus and to facilitate open, informed discussion about Islam as an integral aspect of British life and campus life. In the current climate, higher education seems torn between being a provider of world class research (Collini), an accreditor of improved functional workforce capacity (Browne Report) and a dangerous place that requires policing (Quilliam). Each approach can become a stereotype that needs to be challenged. We believe that such confusion must be discussed openly if the university sector is to be fit for purpose: fully ready for an increasing variety of home and international students and an increasingly complex world that incorporates the renaissance in world religions.
This ground-breaking research will initially give equal weight to a range of different narratives e.g. from media, academics, Muslim communities, student managers, government and radicalisation experts, in order to gauge their respective credibility and contradictions. Working with 4 universities and two Muslim colleges affiliated to a university, we will trace and analyse the sources of these different perspectives in dialogue with students, staff and other stakeholders across the HE sector.
We will work closely with stakeholders including AMOSSHE (Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education), NUS and Islamic societies and Muslim youth organisations, both Sunni and Shi’i. Examining personal views among staff and students alongside ‘official’ discourses will provide a critical account of how perceptions of Islam play out within university contexts. These views will be collected and analysed using a variety of methods, including an online questionnaire survey to collect statistical data, interviews, focus groups and data visualisation techniques.
For university-based impact we will be catalysts for mixed stakeholder groups: students, staff, professional bodies, policy makers and third sector. We will involve them in collecting and disseminating models of good practice, and in the co-production of new solutions.
They will interpret data analysis of findings, including using data visualisation, to challenge stereotypes and think afresh in workshops, co-producing recommendations for developing clarity about Islam on campus and about Islamic Studies as a subject.
Further impact beyond the university will be achieved by fostering debate and reflection about Islam on campus among local communities and Muslim organisations, seeking open discussion and understanding. Creative interpretation of our findings about perceptions of Muslims will be facilitated in a data visualisation project at the New Arts Exchange (NAE) in Nottingham (www.nae.org.uk), drawing young people into a process of rethinking and reimagining the place of religion within British public life. We will also work with Gladstone’s Library www.gladstoneslibrary.org . Like NAE, Gladstone’s Library reaches out to minority communities. Each will provide an exemplary case study of organisational interreligious engagement.
We will bring together people who never usually meet: academics and stakeholders from universities, community groups from beyond the university, policy makers, devout Muslims and secularists. Well planned involvement and effective knowledge exchange events will help them to develop and then share their practical answers to the challenges facing higher education of radicalisation, gender and interfaith.