From “Closed Worlds” to “Open Doors”

(Now) Accessing Deobandi 'darul uloom' in Britain


  • Sophie Gilliat-Ray Cardiff University



access, darul uloom, research, methodology, Muslims, Britain, seminary, reflexivity


In 2005, I documented my unsuccessful attempts to conduct qualitative research in a particular group of British Islamic seminaries responsible for training future imams and scholars ('ulama). These seminaries or "darul uloom" (in Arabic, "house of knowledge", often abbreviated "DU") reflect the "Deobandi" tradition due to their origins in the town of Deoband, India, in the nineteenth century. My article, published in the journal Fieldwork in Religion, considered the circumstantial, contextual, and historical factors that might explain why access was apparently impossible for social science researchers, at the time. In this article, twelve years on, I explore why research access is now more possible in at least some Deobandi institutions. These include developmental changes within and outside these seminaries, and aspects of personal and professional biography. My article considers the processual nature of research access, and the need for a felicitous convergence of circumstantial and biographical conditions.


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Author Biography

  • Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Cardiff University

    Sophie Gilliat-Ray is Professor of Religious and Theological Studies and Founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK at Cardiff University. She researches religion in public life in Britain. Her publications include: Muslims in Britain: An Introduction (CUP, 2010) and she is co-author (with Jonathan Scourfield, Asma Khan and Sameh Otri) of Muslim Childhood: Religious Nurture in a European Context (OUP, 2013).


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How to Cite

Gilliat-Ray, S. (2018). From “Closed Worlds” to “Open Doors”: (Now) Accessing Deobandi ’darul uloom’ in Britain. Fieldwork in Religion, 13(2), 127-150.