Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Curiosity and the City: Mosque Open Days in Sydney and London

Wednesday 3 May 2017, 3.00pm to 4:00pm

Speaker: Professor Richard Phillips, University of Sheffield
Human curiosity - about and with others - has the potential to draw people together, to produce connections within diverse societies. This potential is not always realized though, and curiosity can be risky. One particular risk is associated with the power relations of taking an interest in others, potentially objectifying them as curios. Curious subjects do sometimes lord it over the objects of their curiosity. The asymmetrical power relations of at least some expressions of human curiosity are illustrated in a Human Library scheme, pioneered in Denmark and replicated elsewhere, which invites questions to ‘human books’: Muslims, people living with HIV, and so on. This project is well-meaning and in many ways successful, but it objectifies the human library books, and primarily empowers the ‘readers’. And yet, it is possible to navigate the power relations of curiosity in more emancipatory ways. The ‘Ask Any Question Café’, part of an open day at Gallipoli Mosque in Sydney’s diverse western suburbs, restores some reciprocity to the conversations that follow. This café offered visitors coffee and invited to put questions to their Muslim hosts, who take ownership of the curiosity that is already directed at them. This, and mosque open days elsewhere, encourage and channel versions of curiosity, doing so in accordance with their own agendas and interests, which include challenging stereotypes and prejudices, bridging communities and building solidarities.
Richard Phillips’s research spans a series of contrasting yet connected themes:
  • The World after Empire: themes include Muslim geographies and postcolonial cities
  • Sexuality, Space and Power: constructions and contestations of sexual identities
  • Curiosity and Adventure: from children’s books to health and wellbeing policies
Richard is also very interested in geographical education, particularly fieldwork and other forms of curiosity-driven learning, so his research and teaching are closely connected. Richard taught at the Universities of Aberystwyth, Salford and Liverpool before taking up a Chair in Human Geography at the University of Sheffield in 2012.
Richard Phillips
Location: Environment Building/ENV/005

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