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Exploring Trust in Multiculturalism

Muslims, trust and dialogue

The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West has become increasingly fraught recently, with studies showing that Muslims are often viewed with suspicion and the West as aggressive and hypocritical. The University of East London is exploring the conditions of trust between these two societies to help overcome negative and misunderstood stereotyping.

Muslims, Trust and Cultural Dialogue  is a three year international research project funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) Global Uncertainties programme. Led by UEL’s Professor Peter Morey, the multidisciplinary research team is investigating the conditions of trust and mistrust amongst Muslims and non-Muslims in the West to help develop an understanding of how trust is created, built and nurtured.

Researchers are analysing conditions of trust in three overlapping areas of modern life: politics and society; business and finance; and art and culture, and are exploring existing practices to help promote dialogue and negotiation between groups in ways that can be mutually informative.

Professor Peter Morey, a leading expert on colonial and postcolonial literary and culture studies, explains: “We are basically looking at questions of trust and cultural dialogue as they relate to Muslims, in particular in instances of multiculturalism, and will be looking to locate transferable paradigms – things that work in one context that might work in another.

“A key aim is to provide those engaged in political and social policy-making with a contextualised understanding of the communities they engage with, and how trust and dialogue can make them more effective.”

The project involves a working partnership of a number of high profile organisations including The Dialogue Society; Engage; The Muslim Institute; The British Library; SOAS, University of London; Michigan State University and the University of York.

A series of conferences, workshops and roundtable discussions will be held to enable scholars and stakeholders to meet, discuss issues of intercultural trust and share examples of trust-building and best practice. The first major conference, which took place in London, examined the different approaches to questions of trust, and new ways of envisaging multicultural experience.

Two documentary films are also in the pipeline and a festival and photographic exhibition will explore the literary and cultural representations.

The researchers are also working closely with the British Library through its Web Archiving Programme to collate a collection of existing websites concerned with Muslims and intercultural relations.

 “We have brought together scholars from sociology, the arts and humanities, as well as practitioners, to think about the practicalities of trust including how it is built, what constitutes it and what can undermine it,” adds Professor Morey.

The project follows on from Professor Morey’s previous research into the portrayal of Muslims in the media and across political, legal and public arenas. Captured in the ‘Framing Muslims’ publication (Harvard University Press, 2011), the project explored the ways in which negative stereotypes of Muslims are constructed, deployed and circulated in the public imagination.

Professor Morey was appointed one of nine Leadership Fellows for the RCUK Global Uncertainties programme, along with fellow UEL academic Professor John Preston who is conducting separate research into public response towards critical infrastructure collapse.