Moving away from ideas of the ‘other’ towards empathy
Exchange between the Islamic world and Western Europe has existed for centuries. Dr James Hodkinson’s research explores the historical relationship between Germany and Islam and the ways Islam has been represented through the work of German writers and thinkers such as Goethe. Dr Hodkinson’s research has driven educational and art projects, which have crucially challenged stereotypes and perceptions of Muslims across the UK and Europe. This has included exposing Islamophobia in the media, challenging ideas of cultural difference and promoting cross-cultural empathy and Muslim cultural agency through community arts projects.
Negative media attention after 9/11 has stereotyped Islam as a hostile ‘other’, opposing Western culture and values. This climate has resulted in a rise of Islamophobia, encouraging people in the West to treat Muslim communities with suspicion and prejudice. As a result, discrimination has worsened, with the long history of Muslim communities in Europe being ignored or mis-represented.
Through community programmes, workshops and art exhibitions, Dr Hodkinson re-presented the historical relationship between Islamic and Western European culture to redress ideas of otherness and hostility associated with Islam. Dr Hodkinson’s programmes have created space for Muslim communities and artists to engage and participate in reshaping contemporary narratives of Islam.
Based on his research into German literature, academic scholarship, travel writing, journalism, political documents and visual arts from the German-speaking world between 1750 and 1918, Dr Hodkinson created a series of educational and public programmes that intervened in Islamophobic narratives and revealed the differing representations of Islam across time. His interventions included:
- Public presentations and workshops
- Public exhibitions
- Urban art installations
- Creative writing competitions
- School visits and educational resources
Dr. Hodkinson’s project has shown how the arts can counter misrepresentation and exclusion. Public talks encouraged audiences to change how they thought about power, bias and how the media represents Islam. The public exhibitions included images and textual sources that explored the representation and historical relationship between Islam and other cultures. Over 3,500 visitors attended as it toured schools, universities, religious centres and interfaith societies across the UK and Europe. Muslim visitors appreciated the positive portrayal of Islam by Western artists and the way the exhibition established the long-standing history between Islam and the West. Non-Muslim visitors noted that they better understood the media’s role in creating and sustaining Islamophobic representations and that the exhibition had helped to challenge those stereotypes.
Community events and ‘empathy encounters’, have brought together refugees and locals in the South and Midlands, connecting individuals who might have never spoken otherwise through guided conversations. Dr Hodkinson also created resources for Modern Languages and Religious Studies lessons. Presented in schools and available online, these have allowed teachers to cover new topics related to Islam and Germany and teach these from different historical perspectives. Teaching staff noted increased interest from Muslim and BAME students thanks to the inclusive programme and engaging material, including a national creative writing competition that encouraged students to engage with ideas of otherness and identity.
Dr. Hodkinson’s project has encouraged interfaith dialogue, inspired audiences to think about Islam and the West in new ways and empowered Muslim artists, who spoke of how the urban arts installations had allowed them to explore their faith and identity in ways that reached new audiences.