14 Apr 2011
Meedan’s Nurani platform - a digital project to develop online dialogues between Muslims, Christians and Jews - has won a prestigious UK Research Councils’ grant worth $450,000.
Developed with our partners at the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme and the Coexist Foundation, Nurani is a pioneering web service that enables cross-language discussions between religious leaders, scholars and civic groups in Arabic and English.
The research grant, which is part of the highly competitive Digital Economy Programme, will support the creation of the world’s first inter-faith library of religious texts and the further development of Nurani into a toolkit which can be downloaded to facilitate cross-language scriptural dialogue.
Described by reviewers as a ‘radically democratic' solution for improving inter-faith relations with the potential for 'societal impact', the service will be designed to counter stereotypes and show that productive public debate is possible between faith communities.
Drawing on a well-established form of inter-faith dialogue called Scriptural Reasoning, users will be able to tackle contemporary themes through moderated discussions of scriptures from the various faiths, with an in-built translation service allowing for cross-cultural communication.
The project was one of a select few chosen for development from nearly 100 applications to the Research Councils UK Digital Economy programme.
The funding stream, called ‘Research in the Wild’, supports researchers to develop and test communication technologies that create a positive impact on society, with the active participation of users.
The project’s leader, Academic Director of the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme (CIP) Mike Higton, said the service will increase inter-faith understanding but not by creating consensus.
He said: “It is hardly surprising that many religious people are suspicious of dominant forms of inter-faith dialogue that appear to require watering down of their religious commitment.”
“What we are working on here is different. Scriptural Reasoning refuses to brush real differences under the carpet for the sake of what is shared.”
“The simple fact of being able to enter into discussion with members of another faith community that respects your own religious commitment can really help chip away at stereotypes and hearsay and promote social cohesion.”
In developing the site, CIP will capitalise on the network it has developed over ten years working to take Scriptural Reasoning away from its academic roots to a broader audience, including the UK-based St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace and the Three Faiths Forum.
Also involved is a Dubai-based Muslim think tank, Kalam Research and Media, with extensive links to theological seminaries, mosques and faith institutes across the Islamic world.
The project marks a new phase in our multi-year collaboration with CIP, which saw us release Nurani in alpha for monolingual testing earlier this year. We aim to begin bi-lingual testing in June, with a view to making dialogues and seminars available to the public soon after.
Meedan’s CEO, Ed Bice, said the new site would derive some of its functions from Nurani.
He said: “The successful funding of this project is testament to our decisions to develop Nurani in an open source framework that is easily extended and maintained.”
“We are delighted to win this prestigious ‘Research in the Wild’ grant which supports our user-centric approach to doing social impact web development. It was a highly competitive field.”
“By providing opportunities for Muslims, Jews and Christians to take part in shared discussions around their scriptures, this service will be the first such scriptural resource allowing for new journeys of discovery and dialogue across faiths and languages.”