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Oxford today

Oxford is a very different place today to what it was in 1871, let alone 500 years ago when Thomas Cranmer had been burnt at the stake on Broad Street. The intellectual and cultural life of our city is enriched by a diverse community of people of many different cultures, ethnicities, and faiths.

As a result of nineteenth-century reforms, especially the Universities Tests Act, the University welcomes brilliant students and scholars from across the world of all faiths and none (see the Opening Oxford 1871- introductory blog). The first recorded Oxford ‘DPhil Degree’ was awarded in 1919 to Lakshman Sarup, born in Lahore, then part of colonial India, for a thesis on the Sanskrit Nighantu. Some of the most influential scholars, working in Oxford in the last century, were only able to study here a result of these reforms, notably the Nobel Laureate Sir Ernst Chain (1906-1979), born to a Jewish family in Berlin. That today, Oxford’s Chancellor, Lord Patten, and Vice Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson are both from Roman Catholic backgrounds would have been unthinkable a century ago (see Lord Patten's Opening Oxford 1871- blog contribution). Work continues to broaden access to the University and to de-colonise the curriculum, in an ongoing effort to confront the legacies of imperialism and colonialism in academic disciplines and institutional structures.

The religious landscape of the wider Oxford community has also changed. Apart from the Church of England chapels in many colleges, Oxford is home to several Christian denominations and world religions. Founded in 1985 before moving to its current site in 2017, the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies promotes the study of Islam and houses a mosque, designed by the Egyptian architect Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil and open to the public for daily prayers, along with the Central Oxford Mosque on Manzil Way. In Jericho the Oxford Jewish Centre houses a synagogue, library, study rooms and a social space. Hinduism is one of the only major world religions without a permanent base in Oxford; the Oxford Hindu Temple and Community Centre Project was set up to serve the needs of the growing Hindu community and to petition the City Council for help finding a permanent space for worship. Societies, community groups, and places of worship for diverse religions are found throughout the City.

The social and cultural life of the City has also been transformed. The Cowley Road Carnival developed out of the Caribbean Carnival first held in Oxford in 1986. The first Cowley Road Carnival was held in 2001 and, by 2009, it was organized by Cowley Road Works (CRW, formerly East Oxford Action Charity), a charity working to promote community engagement through the arts and culture. The Carnival takes place annually on the first Sunday of July and aims to celebrate the diversity of modern Oxford.

If the story of the Reformation in Oxford and the world is one of fierce debate and violent conflict, it is also one of the long struggle for toleration and freedom of conscience. Happily much has changed, but much still remains to be done to make Oxford – both City and University – even more welcoming to all faiths, races, and cultures.

Links and further reading:

Opening Oxford 1871- project

Uncomfortable Oxford

Oxford Jewish Heritage

Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

Oxford City Council's resources for equality, diversity and inclusion

Oxford today