I am a political scientist and sociologist with particular expertise in Chinese society and politics – and the issues of diversity and ‘otherness’ within the country. My work focuses on Islamic communities and especially the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area characterised by a long history of religious and ethnic diversity and cross-cultural interaction. I am among the few Western scholars of Xinjiang who are based in China. Xinjiang has a large population of Uyghurs, a Muslim minority with considerable cultural, religious and historical differences to the Han Chinese majority. I also explore the policies of Chinese national and local government to dilute the identity of and integrate religious and cultural minorities, such as the Uyghurs.
My recent research has explored Islamic communities in Suzhou, a large, wealthy city near Shanghai, specifically its mosques, which date back to the 13th century, when Muslim soldiers, merchants, officials and interpreters arrived with the new Mongolian Yuan dynasty. Only one mosque now remains operational in the city, and I have researched the role of communities and collective memory in preserving heritage and cultural differences in China through buildings, written stories and historical records.
I have also explored how China’s attitude to diversity and ‘otherness’ is reflected in its foreign policy and how the country projects its image abroad, particularly among Muslim countries.