Iqbal Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam

Schooling Islam: Criticality, Identity, Change

If education is meant to promote both identity formation (socialisation) and change (the realisation of the unfolding potential of the individual), then in no sphere of education is this more urgent or more challenging than in Religious Studies. However, against the backdrop of growing pressure from the government for education to be an active agent in the promotion of British values and the prevention of radicalisation, the situation becomes potentially complex and murky, and the unpacking of the ethical, sociological and political considerations involved in instrumentalising education for both identity and change becomes both important and urgent.

The purpose of this Sadler Seminar series is to begin a long term commitment towards engaging with key questions around the theme of criticality, identity and change in Religious Studies, taking the teaching of Islam in Higher Education as a starting point. There is arguably no better case-study since the ‘Muslim problem’ has been the impetus for much policy formulation in the UK since at least the 7/7 bombings, and is a constant subtext to debates around terrorism and extremism, integration and ‘British values’. Building on the important work of Hefner and Zaman on madrasas (Muslim seminaries) and identity politics, a 2012 conference organised by Sheikh and Islam on the teaching of Islamic Studies in higher education, and the teaching experience of Sheikh and Islam in AIMES which has raised a number of questions to be probed in the seminars, the Sadler series will enable a number of interdisciplinary conversations exploring the implications of its overarching question:

What are the ethical implications associated with teaching Islamic Studies for the purposes of promoting criticality, identity and change?

The following research questions shall be probed:

1.      What is meant by criticality, identity and change in the context of Religious Studies?

2.      What are the distinct ethical questions that separate the teaching of Islam from the teaching of other religious traditions?

3.      What kind of dynamic is created in the classroom where identity/ummah politics is represented through the academic staff/student body?

4.      What impact do initiatives like PREVENT have on the academic freedom of both lecturers and students?

Drawing on the large body of expertise at Leeds and AIMES’ wider national network, this Sadler Seminar series will constitute six round table meetings at which the recent or work-in-progress papers by seminar members will be discussed writings, and with the aim of establishing an academic network that will develop a major AHRC funding bid to examine the same theme from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

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