Clinton Bennett's Home Page


Past / Current


My PhD research was on Western (six British Christian) images of Islam in the nineteenth century. (There is a picture of Birmingham University's Great Hall, where I graduated, below ). I argued that writers' a priori assumptions about the status of Islam tended to determine how they saw Islam. They constructed a self-serving image.

My own approach has been greatly influenced by the work of Edward Said (1935-2003) and Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1916 - 2000). Said draws our attention to the relationship between the colonial enterprise, and how Western scholars constructed images of their colonial subjects. The scholars' constructs were used to give moral justification to imperialism's concept of the "white man's burden" - the West was intellectually and morally superior! (See the Edward Said Archive) Smith defined the task of the outsider scholar, writing about Others, as to write an account that will elicit their approval. Too often, insiders have failed to recognise themselves in these accounts. We all write, he said, for a global community. Of course, insiders as well as outsiders tell different stories, depending upon their status and interests - so no account is likely to attract everyone's consent. Nonetheless, fascinated by the degree to which outsiders can understand other religions, cultures, worldviews from an insider's perspective, I started to use ethnographic participant observation as my main research tool, striving towards collaborative insider-outsider research.The test of a collaborative account is: are those involved in the research process willing to concede that it has an authority, a truthfulness, even if it conforms exactly to none of their individual stories? Thus, such an account can add

to knowledge, rising above description of what is already known. My interest in Christian-Muslim dialogue also raises the problematic of rival theological truth claims. While I believe that people should enjoy the right to inform others about their beliefs, even to persuade people to change them, I am convinced that polemic and debate is bankrupt.

I am interested in post-colonial literature, and debates about "multiculturalsm"/identity in the modern, pluralist world we inhabit. I have an on-going project, originally inspired by Salman Rushdie's fiction, working on themes addressing belonging, identity, the migrant condition. I also use film and literature (especially colonial and post-colonial) in my teaching.

Co-led, with Sarwar Alam (University of Arkansas), a project on Sufis and political engagement; papers by an international team published in a special edition of Comparative Islamic Studies (ISSN 1740-7125) founded by US Naval Academy, and in a volume of essays published by Equinox (who publish the Journal).

I would like to hear from other academics, or from anyone, who shares my interests. Email me.

Current: .

I am involved in the project, Christian- Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History 1500 - 1900 as the Western Europe team leader. This project is funded by the  Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), based at Birmingham University and published by E. J Brill. The aim is to include entries on all texts by Christians and Muslims that are about, against or for the Other or contain significant information. We are interested in how stereotypes were sustained or challenged.