Religious Diversity and the Secular University

2017 - 2021


Andrew W Mellon funded project from April 2017 to March 2021

One of the most pressing contemporary problems not just for the academic community but also – and more disturbingly – for the political order of the world is how to understand and respond to the current toxic combination of religion and politics. It is a fundamental concern on the one hand for the issue of diversity. How should the liberal ideal of a tolerant and mixed society comprehend claims to exclusive and totalizing visions of truth, which set themselves against such liberal ideals? We may recognize that there is now, nationally and globally, a new and complex map, which has more than one monotheism, and polytheism, competing alongside secular standpoints. The challenge, in brief, may be expressed like this: how can we take account of theological difference without going to war for belief? Quite simply, diversity in modern society cannot be adequately broached without an engagement with religion. It is, on the other hand, an equally if differently problematic arena of conflict for universities and other institutions of education. Current attempts at legislation in Britain and elsewhere (e.g. Britain’s 2015 “Prevent” strategy) demonstrate little but bafflement, and consequently a profoundly incoherent response to the vexing issues of how teaching and other university practices should engage with the raft of interests unhelpfully sloganized as fundamentalism. The modern secular university – itself the result of a long and contested development – in part because of its very history, has left religion in a systematically awkward and often vexed space on campus, for all participants: teachers, students, administrators.  This project aims to approach these problems from a new direction and with new methods of engagement. It will place the dialogic dynamics of religious interaction at the heart of a series of interlinked workshops, summer schools and seminars, to explore how the university can explore the issue of religious diversity in the most sophisticated, historically grounded and productive manner.

Project Summary (PDF)

For further information on the project, please contact the project administrator.


Professor Simon Goldhill
Project Director

Dr Theodor Dunkelgrün
Senior Research Associate and Academic Co-Ordinator

Dr Samuel Everett
Research Associate

Judith Weik
Project Administrator


14 December 2017, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, Cambridge, CB3 9DT
Biblical Scholarship and Theology in the Nineteenth Century
15 February 2018, Boys Smith Room, St John's College, Cambridge, CB2 1TP
08 March 2018, Lightfoot Room, Old Divinity School, St John's College, CB2 1TP
Artistic Representations
24 May 2018, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT
Religious Diversity and the Secular University: Summer School 2018
02 July 2018, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, CB3 9DT
20 September 2018, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT
17 January 2019, King's College, Cambridge, CB2 1ST
21 March 2019, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT
Political Science and Political Thought
30 May 2019, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT
Religious Diversity and the Secular University Summer School 2019
01 July 2019, CRASSH, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT
Literature of Loss
03 October 2019, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, Cambridge, CB3 9DT
28 November 2019, TBC
Journalism and News Media
06 February 2020, TBC
26 March 2020, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, Cambridge CB3 9DT

Reading Group

To hear about dates and reading selections for future meetings, email the project administrator to be signed up to the Reading Group mailing list. 

A Secular Age - 26 October 2017

Formations of the Secular - 28 November 2017

Ernest Renan - 24 January 2018

Science as a Vocation - 28 February 2018