Sophie Gilliat-Ray is the director of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, and Professor in Religious and Theological Studies at Cardiff University.

Gilliat-Ray studied at St David’s University College Lampeter as both undergraduate and postgraduate. She was awarded a first-class degree in Theology and Religious Studies, and then an MA (with distinction) in Interfaith Studies. Her PhD, awarded in 1994, was entitled Perspectives on the Religious Identity of Muslims in Britain.  

After leaving Lampeter, Gilliat-Ray spent three years at the University of Warwick, as a research fellow in the Department of Sociology and a part-time tutor in the Institute of Education. In 1998 she moved to the University of Exeter, again as a research fellow in Sociology. Then, in 1999, she entered the School of Religious and Theological Studies at Cardiff University. She spent five years as a research fellow, before becoming a lecturer and then a senior lecturer. She was appointed professor in 2013. 

Gilliat-Ray’s research has focused on the social scientific study of religion in public life in Britain, especially in public institutions. Her work promotes the understanding of Islam and the life of Muslim communities in Britain. In 2005, she established the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK. She has commented, ‘I set up the Centre because I felt there was nowhere in the UK that gave a grassroots approach to the study of Muslim communities in Britain. There are Islamic Studies departments at Exeter, Durham, Oxford and Cambridge universities, but they don’t focus on the grassroots to the same level.’ The Centre has grown to become the leading academic institution for research and teaching about Islam and Muslims in Britain. The subjects it has examined include the work of Islamic legal scholars in Britain, ‘Islamic Gardens’ in the UK, and the work of Muslim chaplains and imams. In 2013, the centre delivered Cardiff University’s first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), entitled Muslims in Britain: changes and challenges. The course attracted over 22 000 learners. 

Gilliat-Ray was the author of Muslims in Britain: an Introduction, (Cambridge University Press, 2010). She aimed ‘to provide an accessible introduction to the history, the institutions and the diversity among Muslims in Britain, drawing upon the academic scholarship of the past three decades.’ In a review in Journal of Contemporary Religion, Mckinney commented, ‘This is an important book that provides a thoughtful and illuminating introduction to Muslim Britain.’ Gilliat-Ray was the lead author of Understanding Muslim Chaplaincy, published by Ashgate in 2013.  The book was based upon the ‘first major empirical study of Muslim chaplaincy undertaken to date’; the researchers interviewed 65 chaplains active in a range of sectors. Writing in Journal of Pastoral Care & Counselling, Long expected the volume to remain an essential work for years to come. In addition, Gilliat-Ray is also the author of numerous book chapters and journal articles.  

Gilliat-Ray was a member of the Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life (2015-2017), chaired by Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC. In particular, she led the Muslim leadership sub-group. She commented, ‘We will be talking to Muslims and probing what the issues are and what the barriers to public life are … We want to come back with useful, practical suggestions, not just report back.’ The final report recommended that the British government adopt a definition of anti-Muslim prejudice, as well as commissioning an independent review of the Prevent programme. In return, it also advocated better leadership of Muslim communities, including the appointment of British-born imams. 

In March 2005, Gilliat-Ray was given an ‘Award for Excellence’ by The Muslim News for her work in the field of education. She was elected a member of the Learned Society of Wales in 2019 and is also a member of the 2021 REF Panel for Theology and Religious Studies.  She was awarded an OBE in the 2020 New Year’s Honours, for services to education and to the Muslim community in the UK. 

Sources 

Cardiff University. (n.d.). Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray. Retrieved June 25 2020 from https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/people/view/73020-gilliat-ray-sophie 

Cardiff University. (n.d.) Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK. Retrieved June 25 2020 from http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/islamukcentre/about/ 

Wightwick, A. (2015, October 1). Academic who is reaching out to Britain’s alienated Muslims – when she set up the Islam UK Centre in 1995, Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray hoped to forge links between communities – links which are even more vital today with the rise of radicalisation and Islamophobia. Western Mail. Retrieved from https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/15834E55F589D368?p=UKNB 

Mckinney, S.J. (2012). [Review of the book Muslims in Britain: an introduction, by S. Gilliat-Ray]. Journal of contemporary religion. 27(2). Retrieved from https://columbiacollege-ca.libguides.com/apa6/bookreviews 

Long, I.J. (2015). [Review of the book Understanding Muslim chaplaincy, by S. Gilliat-Ray, M. Ali and S. Pattison]. Journal of pastoral care & counselling. 69(3),186-187. Retrieved from https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/doi/full/10.1177/1542305015594339 

Vale, J. (2017, Jul 3). Government urged to agree formal definition of anti-Muslim prejudice to tackle discrimination - Independent report on ‘Unlocking British Muslim Potential’ stresses need to define hate crimes against followers of Islam in the same way anti-Semitism was demarcated last year. Independent, The/The Independent on Sunday: Web Edition Articles. Retrieved from https://infoweb.newsbank.com/resources/doc/nb/news/1665CFBBC98783A0?p=UKNB