Reimagining Citizenship

Muslim offenders’ experiences of the criminal justice system

Criminological research has highlighted the relationship between ‘citizenship values’ and desistance from crime. However, there has been little research into the lived experiences of citizenship among offenders and how these experiences shape individuals’ values and identities. This research takes Muslim offenders and ex-offenders as sites for exploring how experiences of the Criminal Justice System in England shape identity, belonging, and opportunities for substantive citizenship, and how offenders and ex-offenders reimagine and navigate their own selfhood in relation to society and the state. Recent reports have highlighted the over-representation of Muslim offenders through the Criminal Justice System and have stressed the diversity and complexity around Muslim offenders and the unique challenges they face in prison and post-release. This research will build on these observations but probe more deeply into Muslim offenders’ and ex-offenders’ experiences of citizenship in two contrasting sites, in prison contexts and in the community post-release.

The research aims to:

  1. explore issues of humanity, meaning, and values among Muslim offenders and ex-offenders, and in so doing to explore fundamental questions about identity, belonging and citizenship, and how these interact with punishment, criminal justice, security, and the state in the modern context.
  2. detail how Muslim offenders and ex-offenders manage existential issues of selfhood, alterity, and belonging through their prison sentence and post-release, and how their prison experiences and sentence conditions shape perceptions of authority, notions of citizenship, and levels of engagement and resistance, exclusion and belonging.
  3. create opportunities for interrogating conceptions of citizenship through attention to lived experiences and seeking to understand how the co-production of citizenship is enabled through the Criminal Justice System.

The Good Life and the Good Society: Teaching Ethics, Theology and Religion Through Lived Experience

Religious, political and social differences are high on the public agenda, yet theological and religious education is often taught in a way that’s disconnected from the real world… “While carrying out my research, I observed that people are guided on a daily basis by ethical and theological questions of what constitutes the ‘good’. Our course…provides a chance for students to sharpen their own understanding of what is right and ‘good’ in their own life and in society by having meaningful contact with, and learning alongside, people from a diversity of backgrounds. Yes, we’re taking a risk in that we’re exploring questions of difference often seen as sources of conflict, but we believe it’s a crucial one to take.” (Ryan Williams, University of Cambridge Features)

A course on ‘The Good Life and the Good Society’ is co-coordinated by Dr Ryan Williams (Centre of Islamic Studies) and Dr Elizabeth Phillips (Faculty of Divinity) as part of the Learning Together initiative developed and run by Dr Amy Ludlow (Faculty of Law) and Dr Ruth Armstrong (Institute of Criminology). This course seeks to open up the learning experience of students in Theology and Religious Studies by bringing Cambridge Students to learn alongside students in a high security prison near Cambridge, to share the common experience of wrestling with the big questions in life. The course focuses on encouraging students to reflect on the place of the ethical in human life, sharpening understanding of their own and others’ conceptions of ‘the good’ in relation to morality and society.

The course has been kindly supported through an anonymous donor and the Centre of Islamic Studies. It features guest lecturers from across the University who have generously dedicated their time, including Prof. Alison Liebling (Institute of Criminology), Dr Rowan Williams (Faculty of Divinity), Revd Dr Carolyn Hammond (Gonville & Caius College), Dr Paul Anderson (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies), Dr Tim Winter (Faculty of Divinity), Dr Ankur Barua (Faculty of Divinity).

Unpacking Radicalisation in a Prison Environment

In January 2017, the Centre of Islamic Studies hosted a dialogue meeting on ‘unpacking radicalisation in a prison environment’. The meeting fostered dialogue among a group of practitioners and academics working directly in this challenging area, in order reflect on current challenges and provide an opportunity to think about the issues around radicalisation in new ways.

The event included Professor Emeritus James A. Beckford (University of Warwick), Dr Lydia Wilson (Research Fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, University of Oxford), and Dr Ryan Williams (Centre of Islamic Studies, Cambridge) who each contributed their perspectives on current challenges.

Click here for the report