The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2019 | Learning to be an Arab: Quranic schools and poor, African migrant students in central Sudan
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Learning to be an Arab: Quranic schools and poor, African migrant students in central Sudan

Principal supervisor: Professor Karen Wells (BBK)

Co-Supervisor: Dr Jorg Haustein (SOAS)

Award includes tuition fees and a stipend of £16,777 including London Weighting (at 2018/19 rates, so slightly higher for 2019 entry)

100% FTE for 3 years, from September 2019.

Project Description:

This PhD project aims to understand what Arabisation and Islamisation means for the identities of Quranic school students in Sudan. It addresses this aim through the following objectives: (a) to understand why poor, rural, non-Arabised families chose to send their sons away to board at Quranic schools; (b) to investigate the specific connections between Arabic language learning and Afro-Arab Sudanese identity for these students; (c) to show how being a school student shapes broader social identities.

This project will conduct historical and multi-sited ethnographic research to explore how in the specific context of Sudanese Quranic schooling politics, economics, society and culture intersect to produce children’s national, religious, linguistic and racialised identities.

The core method of data gathering is 12 months of fieldwork in a purposively selected school on the Khartoum-Medina highway. The researcher (who will need to be fluent in Arabic) will participate fully in the life of the school, taking on the role of teaching assistant and teaching and living at the school. They will conduct secondary research and any necessary archival research to situate the school historically both as an institution and in relation to the shifting character of Quranic schools in the area (from Khalwa to the simple memorisation/recitation of the contemporary school). They will identify key informants among students and staff, organise focus groups, and develop participatory research instruments to understand the decision making of the students and their families. They will identify a sub-set of the students who are willing to connect the researcher with their families in order to deepen understanding of the school student’s own motivations and his family’s motivations for sending him to Quranic school and how they hope this will shape the student’s future. Through engagement with lessons as well as seeing students with one another and their families it will be possible to understand when students choose to speak Arabic or another language and how this shapes their interactions. More broadly immersion in the school environment and the careful collection of materials (fieldnotes, photographs of any displays, school notices, performance at community events etc.) will provide the material to address how the school experience shapes student social identities.

Subject Areas/Keywords:

Sudan, Arabic, School, Quranic.

Key References:

Brenner, L. (2001). Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power, and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Haustein, J. and E.Tomalin (2017) 'Religion and Development in Africa and Asia'. In: Amakasu Raposo, Pedro and Arase, David and Cornelissen, Scarlett, (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Africa–Asia Relations. London: Routledge, pp 76-93.

Daun, H. and R. Arjmand (Ed.), International handbook on Islam, globalization and education. The Netherlands: Springer.

Wells, K., 2018. Childhood studies making young subjects. Polity, Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA, USA.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor:


Further information about PhDs at available here

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

Instructions for applicants

Please follow the online application process for the Geography PhD at Birkbeck, indicating your interest in working on this topic.

Additionally, email your CV and a letter of interest, which sets out your qualifications for the studentship to Professor Wells

Closing date for applications is:      
28 February 2019