About the project

Our project emerges out of two dynamics within contemporary British life. First, is the growing prominence of ‘British values’ in political and media rhetoric. The second is a widespread perception that a fundamental conflict exists between these values and the values and practices of minority – frequently Muslim – communities. In a March 2015 survey, for instance, 55% of British voters believed there to exist ‘a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society’. A much trumpeted July 2015 speech by the UK Prime Minister set out the need to challenge, ‘extremist ideology by standing up and promoting our shared British values’.

This project will explore how these discussions impact upon Muslim individuals and communities living within the UK. It focuses on four locations in Eastern England which are home to significant and distinct – yet, frequently neglected – Muslim populations: Bedford, Ipswich, Luton and Norwich. Three research questions motivate the research.

1. How are discussions of British values, and their relationship to Islam, understood, experienced, negotiated and contested by Muslim individuals and communities?
2. How important are geographical or demographic factors such as gender, age, ethnic origin, or sect in these understandings, negotiations and contestations?
3. How would Muslims in the UK recast political and public discussion around the place and role of Islam and Muslims within the UK?

To answer these questions, our project has three parts. Part 1 involves the production of eight films by local participant researchers within four sites in eastern England: Norwich, Ipswich, Bedford and Luton. Although the content, focus and style of these videos will be left to the direction of each participant, each will focus on the relationship between Islam and ‘British values’, with full training and guidance provided by the academic team.

Part 2 involves holding focus groups in the four locations, each of which will begin with a screening of the auto-ethnographies. The focus groups will include discussion of the themes raised in the films, and whether these resonate more widely with the experiences of local communities.This will lead to a broader conversation around the above three research questions.
Part 3 involves semi-structured interviews with two sets of interviewees: i) selected focus group participants, and, (ii) the participant researchers. The first allows for a more detailed investigation of particularly interesting or surprising insights from the focus groups. The second provides opportunity for reflection on the value and limits of this collaborative research project. Work Package 3 will be directed by Prof. Lee Marsden, an expert in religion and politics.
Upon completion of our research, data from the focus groups and interviews will be transcribed and written up for academic publications, media commentary and policy briefings. The academic researchers and participants will also subsequently screen the films in a range of educational, religious, and other venues.