LATEST UPDATE: The Independent publishes Ed Kessler's 'A-Z of Believing: Q is for Quietness'

As the Woolf Institute celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018-19, the Institute's research team convened in Cambridge on Thursday 8 November 2018 to discuss their research and propose ideas for the future. The Research Day offered a unique opportunity to evaluate and further develop our diverse research into contemporary religion and society.


Summary panel with Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner, Professor Robert Tombs and Dr Ed Kessler

Research Day 2018

The full programme can be downloaded here.

Click on each section below to watch the individual presentations.

Dr Mohamed Ahmed - Genizah Poetry

Watch Dr Mohamed Ahmed's presentation here.

Dr Mohamed Ahmed is Affiliated Researcher at the Woolf Institute.

Mohamed mainly works with Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner on Arabic letters of The Prize Paper Collections in the National Archives in Kew Gardens, in a project entitled: From Tuscany to Alexandria: Arabic letters in the Prize Paper Collections, funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation).

Read Mohamed's blog post Arabic and Hebrew in One here.

Dr Gorazd Andrejč - On Abrahamic Attitudes Towards Post-Humanism and AI Technology

Watch Dr Andrejč's presentation here.

Gorazd is Affiliated Lecturer at the Woolf Institute. He leads on the online courses Jews, Christians and Muslims in Europe: Modern Challenges and Interreligious Understanding Today. His book Wittgenstein and Interreligious Disagreement: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives, a result of a three-year Research Fellowship at the Woolf Institute, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in September 2016.

Chris Cooper-Davies - Colonialism, State-Formation and Sunni-Shi'a Sectarianism in Monarchical Iraq

Watch Chris Cooper-Davies' presentation here.

Chris is an Honorary PhD Scholar at the Woolf Institute. From September 2018, Chris Cooper-Davies will be an AHRC Doctoral Scholar in history at St John's College, Cambridge and an Honorary PhD Scholar at the Woolf Institute.

His research will explore the social, cultural and political manifestations of sectarian identities in mandatory and monarchical Iraq (1918-1958), looking specifically at how processes of colonialism and state and nation building facilitated the reconfiguration and politicisation of Sunni and Shi'i Iraqi identities.

Amin El Yousfi - The Imama in Paris and London

Watch Amin El Yousfi's presentation here.

Amin is a Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship awardee. Amin's research focuses on Muslim leadership. The broader aim of his thesis is to understand the role of local Muslim leaders, namely imams and mosques' committee members. Through interviews and participant observation, it aspires to show the diverse aspects of committee members and imams' daily practice of leadership in their relationship with several actors.

Stephanie Forrest - Diplomacy between Byzantium and the Umayyad Caliphate

Watch Stephanie Forrest's presentation here.

Stephanie commenced her PhD in History in October 2018 at Pembroke College, Cambridge. She is a 2018 Cambridge Australia Poynton Scholar and Honorary PhD Scholar at the Woolf Institute.

Stephanie's PhD research will focus on the evolving relationship between Byzantium, the Umayyad Caliphate, and Christian communities across the Middle East in the seventh and eighth centuries, particularly in the period between 661 and 718. Her interests broadly include the transmission of historical notices across the Mediterranean world, contemporary Christian and Muslim interpretations of political events, diplomatic procedures and policy, and political and administrative changes on the frontier regions. She has a particular interest in the role of Armenia, as a vital but frequently overlooked part of this picture.

Rodrigo Garcia-Velasco Bernal - Muslims and Jews in Medieval Spanish Legal Writing

Watch Rodrigo Garcia-Velasco Bernal's presentation here.

Rodrigo Garcia-Velasco is a Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship awardee and has recently submitted her PhD thesis. His research focuses on the treatment of Jews and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, during the period of Christian expansion over the previously Muslim-dominated territories of al-Andalus. Rodrigo has examined a series of franchise charters, legal constitutions and other contemporary legal texts which attempted to articulate the local administrative, social and political structures of the incipient Christian kingdoms. In these sources, the role of ethno-religious groups in local society was widely discussed. While previous works have focused on specific regions, Rodrigo has studied the treatment of non-Christians from a comparative standpoint, testing the similarities and differences which appear in the texts ranging from Portugal to Castile or Catalonia.

Dunya Habash - Music and Memory among Syrian Musicians

Watch Dunya Habash's presentation here.

Dunya joined the Woolf Institute as a Research and Outreach Officer for the Living in Harmony project in 2018, after completing an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford and working as an oral historian with Making Light on the 'Idrimi Project: Collecting Oral Histories from Syrians in the United Kingdom'.

She holds undergraduate degrees in Music and History from Birmingham-Southern College, where she embarked on her first substantive project with Syrian refugees, a documentary on Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, 'Zaatari: Jordan's Newest City'. That work led her to the programme in Refugee Studies at Oxford and a TEDx talk in Birmingham, AL. Her interest in music continues with the organisation of Damj, an ensemble formed with two other Arab heritage musicians dedicated to creating a new musical tradition out of the traditions of east and west.

Dr Julian Hargreaves - Stop and Search in British Muslim Communities

Watch Dr Julian Hargreaves' presentation here.

Julian Hargreaves joined the Woolf Institute as Research Fellow in January 2017 after completing a two-year post as a Research Associate in the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge. His main research interests are: British Muslim communities; issues around anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crime; relations between Muslim communities and the state; and community responses to radicalisation and extremism. These interests are pursued using mixed research methods and evidence-based approaches that include the analysis of large-scale social survey statistics alongside the use of interviews and focus groups. Julian's recent work has been published in the British Journal of Criminology and Ethnic and Racial Studies and presented to the Royal Statistical Society

Imran Khan - Friendship in Islam with the Other

Watch Imran Khan's presentation here.


Dr Paul Michael Kurtz - German Presents, Jewish Pasts: The Politics of Ancient Judaism in 19th-Century Germania

Watch Dr Paul Michael Kurtz's presentation here.

Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth - The Dynamics of Intercultural Music Making in Granada

Watch Dr Matthew Machin-Autenrieth's presentation here.

Matthew is an Affiliated Researcher at the Woolf Institute. He is currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow based at the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge. Trained as an ethnomusicologist, Matthew's research focuses on the relationship between music, regional identity politics and multiculturalism in Andalusia (Spain).

Dr John Mueller - Store Wars: The Rise & Fall of the German Jewish Retailer

After writing his PhD on Jewish-Christian relations in a socio-economic context under Professor Sir Richard Evans, John has embarked on a portfolio career, mainly in fundraising, but also expanding his research and teaching. He is Alumni & Supporter Relations Manager at the Woolf Institute, alongside being Director of Studies in History at St Edmund's College, Cambridge, which enjoy a close academic affiliation with each other.

Tobias Müller - Fundamentalism, Gender and the State

Watch Tobias Müller's presentation here.

Tobias Müller joined the Woolf Institute as a Junior Research Fellow in November 2018. He is the principal researcher of the project Uncovering Fundamentalism(s) on which he will work with the Institute's Founder Director, Dr Ed Kessler MBE. The project aims to understand the attractiveness of fundamentalisms particularly for young people and how this is linked to contested gender roles and the frequently tense relation with the modern state.

Tobias' PhD thesis, "Localising secular power: Muslims and the state in diverse urban neighbourhoods in the UK and Germany" has been supported by a Vice Chancellor's Award at the University of Cambridge. His dissertation investigates how state engagement with Muslims at local and national levels necessitates us to rethink what the state does and how we can make sense of it.

Dr Patrick Nash - Regulating Islam: Strategic Review of English Civil Law

Watch Dr Patrick Nash's presentation here.

Patrick joined the Woolf Institute as Research Fellow in October 2018.His research interests lie in the fields of Anglo-American jurisprudence; the political philosophy of Frederic William Maitland; canon law; medieval corporate theory; and the relationship between English law and British Islam.

His project at the Institute is English Civil Law & British Islam: A Strategic Review which aims to place the fraught relationship between English civil law and British Islam on a more principled and practical footing. The theoretical aspect of the project analyses the two most influential models for regulating religion – liberal individualism and multiculturalism – and finds them wanting in important ways across various sectors affected by the growth of Islam. It argues for an alternative regulatory model, liberal pluralism, which focuses upon the protection of institutions and is better able to address unofficial normative systems generated by Islam and associational activity more generally within civil society. The applied side of the project examines multiple (non-criminal) fields of English law – family, charity, education, finance, representation, welfare, prison management and immigration – in order to identify problems and design workable reforms with a view to reducing tensions and easing integration.

Dr Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad - In their Hearts and on their Lips: Arabic Music of Baghdadi and Halabi Jews and Muslims

Watch Dr Merav Rosenfeld-Hadad's presentation here.

Merav is co-Principal Investigator for the Living in Harmony project. She is a musicologist who specialises in all types of Arabic and Middle Eastern music - prevalent among Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities across and outside the Middle East. She focuses on the interaction of this music with issues of identity, nationalism, and Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, in their wider historical, religious, and cultural contexts.

Alissa Symon - The Left and What's Left: The Troubled Relationship between the Israeli Left and the American Progressive Movement Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Watch Alissa Symon's presentation here.

Alissa is an MPhil student undertaking the MPhil in Middle Eastern Studies: Muslim-Jewish Relations at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge. She has been awarded funding under the Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship.

Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller - Religious Sisterhood

Watch Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller's presentation here.

Lea Taragin-Zeller is a Research Fellow at the Woolf Institute. Her main research interests lie at the intersection between gender, text, body and religion. At the Woolf Institute, she is currently working on a comparative study about female authority and leadership in contemporary Judaism and Islam. Her research project Religious Sisterhood: Encounters of Gender, Religion and Belonging in the UK focuses on the emergence of grassroots female interfaith initiatives, analysing the creative ways religious women negotiate their challenges and struggles as women of faith, together.

Samuel Victor - Evangelist or Friend? Ethical Tensions in Grassroots Evangelical Outreach with Muslims

Watch Samuel Victor's presentation here.

Samuel is a Woolf Institute Cambridge Scholarship awardee. His PhD research in Social Anthropology is supervised by Dr Joel Robbins. His research examines relational ethics and value relations in Evangelical outreach with Muslims in Nashville, Tennessee (USA). He explores the avowed commitment of a local church to recognise religious diversity and develop pluralistic civic objectives with religious others. Samuel asks what are the moral ambitions that shape this form of Evangelical social engagement? What are the social and ethical tensions that arise as the churchgoers manage competing values and navigate the complex relationship between exclusivism and pluralism?

Alberto Winterberg - Coptic identity in Ottoman Egypt

Watch Alberto Winterberg's presentation here.

After completing his MA thesis on The Reception of Ancient Gnostic Elements within Neo-Gnostic Communities in Coptic Studies at the University of Göttingen in 2016, Alberto began to work as a Research Associate at the Free University of Berlin at the DFG-funded Database and Dictionary of Greek Loanwords in Coptic project at the Seminar of Egyptology. Having worked therein mainly on heterodox or Early Christian Coptic texts–such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Pistis Sophia or the Books of Jeû–, he assumed his position as a Research Associate at the joint University of Oldenburg and National Archives (UK) Prize Papers Project in May 2018 and began his dissertation project about Copts under Ottoman rule.