‘You shall love the Lord your God…and you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. This double love command of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, is the inspiration for a research project running in collaboration with the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan. Drawing on different religious traditions, while always in conversation with Christian faith, the aim is to explore the research question: what grounds are there for thinking that love, in religious consciousness and practice today, is the ultimate reality of the universe? The underlying conviction is that a study of the phenomenon of love is, finally, discovery of the nature and activity of God in the world.

About the Project

At the centre of the project is the ‘H.M. King Abdullah ibn al-Hussein II of Jordan Fellowship for the Study of Love in Religion’, which will be occupied in five-yearly periods alternately by a Muslim scholar and a Christian scholar. The first appointment was made in January 2016 (more below). The post includes responsibilities for research and teaching in Oxford, and may be occupied by a scholar in any area of Christian theology, Religious Studies or Islamic Studies which involves the study of love. The Fellowship is held as a College-only appointment, and the project is run and managed by the College, but the Faculty of Theology and Religion of the University of Oxford is fully supportive of the project and has a representative on the Advisory Board for the Fellowship.

The project will widen the scope of the research beyond the key religions of Christianity and Islam, to include other world religions. A third Abrahamic religion, Judaism, will be included fully in the initial three-year period, and more attention will be given to Hinduism and Buddhism in the following phase. Christian faith will always be a partner in the process, and the aim is not to achieve merely generalized statements about religion but for scholars in each religion to explore and present what is distinctive about their approach to the research question from the perspective of their tradition.

The project is being run in collaboration with one of the main funders of the Fellowship, The Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, Jordan. The founder of this Institute, HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, author of the world-renowned A Common Word (an appeal to world Christian leaders on the theme of love), is a significant personal collaborator.

Activities and Outputs

  • Research into the phenomenon of love in religion by the Fellow, by the Director of the project and by the Co-Investigators, leading to scholarly publications.
  • Lecture courses on the nature of love in religion within the Faculty of Theology and Religion in the University.
  • Encouragement for graduate students to explore some aspect of love in religion in Masters’ dissertations and Doctoral theses.
  • Ethnographic/empirical research in selected religious communities in and near Oxford.
  • The writing of a text-book for use in undergraduate courses (already in preparation).
  • Knowledge-transfer of research into the wider public outside the academy, through already-existing relationships with local Christian congregations and Muslim imams.
  • Knowledge transfer through the performing and visual arts. For example, a Christian liturgy is being prepared based on Shakespeare’s play Midsummer Night’s Dream, under the theme of ‘Seeing with the Eyes of Love’, to be performed at the World Shakespeare Congress in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2016.
  • One colloquium each year in Oxford with invited scholars, drawing especially on resources of the Independent Study Centres connected with the University of Oxford for Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

 If further funding can be secured the following will also take place:

  • Colloquia with scholars in international centres of Higher Education with which Regent’s Park College already has research relations. In the first 3 years it is planned to hold colloquia in Amman, Jordan; Izmir, Turkey; Qom, Iran and Jerusalem. The next phase of the programme will involve centres in Beijing and Varanasi, involving Buddhist and Hindu scholars.
  • The creation of an on-line course for wider learning in the study of love in religion, in partnership with the Continuing Education Department of the University.
  • The establishing of one-year Research Fellowships for young scholars attached to three of the above international centres, and the involvement of these fellowship-holders in the Oxford colloquia, giving nine young scholars the opportunity for exposure to the Oxford academic scene. At least one year of research in each place will be devoted to an ethnographic study.
  • Two larger, international conferences in Oxford.
  • A website collecting the results of research and colloquia with open access to materials.