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Emily Corbin is in the final year of an undergraduate Religious Studies programme here at the University of Chester. Emily is currently writing a research dissertation on a political and post-colonial analysis of Buddhist imagery in western cultures. During Black History Month, Emily took time out of her studies to talk to Jonathan Dunn, one of our lecturers, about a Black scholar of religion who has had a massive impact on her approach to the discipline.

JD: Emily, I know that the figure you want to speak about today is someone who has made a big impact on your own thinking. I remember you using the phrase ‘very inspirational’ to describe that impact when we first talked about doing this interview. Tell us a little bit about who he is and how he inspires you.

EC: Robert Beckford is a British theologian who has focused on race relations in Britain and black interpretations of Christianity. He has produced many documentaries, but the two which interested me the most are ‘Ghetto Britain’ and ‘God is Black’. In these two documentaries, Beckford makes bold statements about racial injustice which received negative reactions from different groups, such as the Evangelical Alliance, who felt the need to deny the claims Beckford made. However, he inspired me because I believe making bold statements especially about racial injustice in establishments, like the Church, should not be met with denial and outrage, but seen as an opportunity to education and improve.

JD: Can you remember the first time you encountered Robert Beckford and his work? What was your first impression?

EC: I watched his documentary ‘Ghetto Britain’ about the Race Relations Act in the UK and how Britain has in fact divided multicultural societies rather than uniting them. The documentary made me realise how important culture is in diversifying people and the impacts of politics. Beckford was very active in his research, conducting interviews with people from all walks of life. His thoroughness in his questioning showed how dedicated he is to his work and making a difference.

JD: It sounds like you’ve followed Beckford’s work with interest since then. Do you feel your understanding of these issues has been developing as a result of that continuing engagement?

EC: Yes, I have followed Beckford’s work and his early documentaries have inspired my interest. I am interested in researching the political impacts on religion and culture and the documentaries Beckford produced have alerted the public to these issues. It is interesting being able to follow a scholar who has the same interest as it motivates you to work for what you find important.

JD: If you had to identify just one thing, what would you say is the most significant contribution Robert Beckford has made to our knowledge and understanding?

EC: I think that the accusations Beckford has made about institutional racial injustice are relevant for conversations today. As with recent movements such as BLM (Black Lives Matter), being able to accuse in an attempt to hold establishments accountable is not about trying to cause controversy or hatred, but it’s about educating and improving institutions for an equal society.

JD: Emily, thank you for taking time to remind us of the importance of those conversations and for spotlighting the contribution Robert Beckford has made to them.

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