Language and Religion in the Superdiverse City is an ongoing project about how language and religious identity interact in superdiverse cities. The project is hosted by Newman University and led by Stephen Pihlaja. From 2021 to 2022, it was funded through an AHRC-funded Leadership Fellowship (AH/V00980X/1).
Metropolitan areas in the UK have experienced unprecedented demographic changes in the past twenty years. Some places such as Birmingham can be described as ‘superdiverse’, meaning that no one ethnic group is a clear majority. Religious differences have been seen as a site for conflict in these cities, with differences in religious belief and practice being a barrier for communities to work together. Although there has been a great deal of research looking at the language use that occurs between people in these communities, no one has specifically examined how religious identity influences how people talk and communicate within these contexts. Because what people believe is a core part of their identity, understanding its specific role in superdiverse contexts is important to help people from different religious backgrounds work together in their communities.
In a pilot project, I worked with a small team of researchers from Newman to show how religious identity was a key factor in interaction about religious diversity in Church of England primary schools that served predominantly Muslim communities. We found that categorical labels like ‘Muslim’ or ‘Christian’ often masked complexities of beliefs and practices. Moreover, we found that interacting with people of different faiths both changed how people talked with one another, and how people understood their own religious identity — in short, that the context of perceived differences in faith was important for how people talked about themselves and others.
Language and Religion in the Superdiverse City is a project that expands on these early observations and focuses on meeting people where they’re at in the city. I will be trying to document the experiences that have shaped how people understand themselves and their faith. Through observing and interviewing people in community settings and working with community members and leaders, I hope to better understand how day-to-day interactions in a superdiverse context affect how people view their own religious identity.
Throughout this project, I will be working with Citizens UK Birmingham, an alliance of civil society organisations that work together on various campaigns to effect change. Focused on religious organisations, I will be helping Citizens expand their organising presence in south Birmingham.
If you would like more information about the project or would like to be involved, do head over to the Contact page and I’ll be in touch with you!