Dr Rehana Ahmed, BA (Oxford), MA (Sussex), PhD (Nottingham Trent)
Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial and Contemporary Literature
Of Pakistani, Scottish and English heritage, I grew up in Cambridge where I attended a comprehensive school before completing a BA in Modern Languages (French and Italian) at the University of Oxford and a Masters in Modern European Literature at the University of Sussex. After working in the publishing industry for several years, I returned to academia to undertake a fully funded doctorate on British Asian and South Asian fiction at Nottingham Trent University. I then worked as Research Associate on the three-year AHRC-funded project ‘Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950’, based at The Open University (2007–10). From 2011, I lectured at Teesside University, before joining Queen Mary in 2014.
I am an associate editor of the magazine of international contemporary writing Wasafiri and, from January 2021, co-editor of The Journal of Commonwealth Literature [insert: hyperlink: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/jcl].
I have taught on:
- ESH285: Postcolonial and Global Literatures
- ESH289: Black and Asian Writing in Britain
- British Muslim, British Asian, Black British and South Asian literature and culture
- Representations and theories of multiculturalism, especially in Britain
- Literary controversies, especially involving religious minorities in Britain
- British Asian writing in the literary marketplace (publishing, reception, prizes, festivals)
- The history of the South Asian and Muslim diasporas in Britain
Recent and On-Going Research:
I am a specialist in twentieth and twenty-first century postcolonial literature and culture, with particular interests in British Asian, South Asian, and Muslim literature and culture; literary and cultural representations of multiculturalism; and the history of the South Asian diaspora in Britain.
My monograph Writing British Muslims: Religion, Class and Multiculturalism (Manchester University Press, 2015, pbk 2017), supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship, examines contemporary literary representations of Muslims by British writers of South Asian Muslim descent to explore the contribution they make to urgent questions about multicultural politics. Taking a materialist approach that centres on class, the book seeks to complicate and challenge the dichotomy of secular freedom versus religious oppression that frequently constrains thinking about British Muslims, as well as to reframe freedom of speech controversies involving Muslims.
This interdisciplinary work builds on a range of journal articles and book chapters. A related collection of essays, Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing (co-edited with Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin), was published by Routledge in 2012; and a special issue of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature on 'British culture after 9/11', co-edited with Rachael Carroll, in 2018. With five other scholars, I am co-founder of the research group ‘Multicultural Textualities’, which explores the contribution cultural texts can make to public understanding of multicultural societies and the place of non-white, non-secular citizens within them. We co-edit the Manchester University Press book series Multicultural Textualities [insert hyperlink: https://manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/series/multicultural-textualities/].
Currently, I am co-editing, with Nadia Atia, a special issue of Wasafiri on ‘The House of Wisdom’, which reflects on Islamic civilisations creatively and critically. Taking its name from Baghdad’s famous Abbasid library, the issue explores libraries, books, script and scriptures from the Abbasid period right through to the present day. My most recent research is concerned with the production and reception of contemporary British Asian writing in the context of rapidly evolving debates around diversity and inclusion in the publishing industry. With a focus on religion and class alongside race, I am particularly interested in how writers, publishers and readers negotiate the politics and ethics of mediating difference, as well as in how cultural value is attributed to British Asian writing by reviewers, prizes and festivals. A recent article, ‘Toward an Ethics of Reading Muslims’ (Textual Practice, 2020), begins to address some of these concerns, as does a special issue of The Journal of Postcolonial Writing on ‘Secularism in the Literary Marketplace’ (in progress).
Writing British Muslims: Religion, Class and Multiculturalism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015, paperback 2017)
Edited Books and Journal Issues:
With Peter Morey, eds, special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 58:6, ‘Secularism in the Literary Marketplace’ (forthcoming, 2022)
With Nadia Atia, eds, special issue of Wasafiri, 108, ‘The House of Wisdom’ (forthcoming, 2021)
With Rachel Carroll, eds, special issue of The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 53:2, ‘British Culture after 9/11’ (2018)
With Ruvani Ranasinha (lead editor), Sumita Mukherjee and Florian Stadtler, eds, South Asians and the Shaping of Britain, 1870–1950. A Sourcebook (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013)
With Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin, eds, Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing (New York and London: Routledge, 2012)
With Sumita Mukherjee, eds, South Asian Resistances in Britain, 1858–1947 (London: Continuum, 2011)
ed., Walking a Tightrope: New Writing from Asian Britain (London: Young Picador, 2004)
Articles and Book Chapters:
‘Salvaged Stories and Sacred Spaces: Libraries in Nadeem Aslam’s Fiction’, Wasafiri 108 (forthcoming, 2021)
‘Space, Symbols and Speech in Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti and its Reception’, Modern Drama, 63:3 (2020)
‘Towards an Ethics of Reading Muslims: Encountering Difference in Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire’, Textual Practice online (2020)
‘Post-Secular Perspectives: Writing and Fundamentalisms’, in The Cambridge History of Black and Asian British Writing, ed. Susheila Nasta and Mark Stein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 634–49
‘I’ll Explain What I Can: A Conversation with Avaes Mohammad’, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 53:2 (2018), 223–29
‘Equality of Citizenship’, in South Asians and the Shaping of Britain, 1870–1950. A Sourcebook, ed. Ruvani Ranasinha with Rehana Ahmed, Sumita Mukherjee and Florian Stadtler (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), pp. 21–79
With Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin, ‘Introduction’, in Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing, ed. Rehana Ahmed, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin (New York and London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 1–16.
‘Reason to Believe? Two “British Muslim” Memoirs’, in Culture, Diaspora, and Modernity in Muslim Writing, ed. Rehana Ahmed, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin (New York and London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 52–67
‘South Asians Writing Resistance in Wartime London: Indian Writing (1940–42)’, Wasafiri, 70 (2012), 17–24
With Sumita Mukherjee, ‘Introduction’, in South Asian Resistances in Britain, 1858–1947, ed. Rehana Ahmed and Sumita Mukherjee (London: Continuum, 2011), pp. xi–xxx.
‘Networks of Resistance: Krishna Menon and Working-Class South Asians in Britain’, in South Asian Resistances in Britain, 1858–1947, ed. Rehana Ahmed and Sumita Mukherjee (London: Continuum, 2011), pp. 70–87
‘Brick Lane: A Materialist Reading of the Novel and its Reception’, Race & Class, 52:2 (2010), 25–42
‘British Muslim Masculinities and Cultural Resistance: Kenny Glenaan and Simon Beaufoy’s Yasmin’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 45:3 (2009), 285–96
‘Occluding Race in Selected Short Fiction by Hanif Kureishi’, Wasafiri, 58 (2009), 27–34
‘Moniza Alvi’, in Dictionary of Literary Biography: Contemporary Black British Writers, ed. R. Victoria Arana (Detroit: Bruccoli, Clark, Layman Publishers, 2009), pp. 37–45
‘Unsettling Cosmopolitanisms: Representations of London in Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffron’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 40:1 (2004), 12–28
‘Mapping London in Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines’, in Indias Abroad: The Diaspora Writes Back, eds Rajendra Chetty and Pier Paolo Piciucco (Johannesburg: STE Publishers, 2004), pp. 70–88
With project team, eds, Making Britain: Discover How Asians Shaped the Nation, 1870–1950, online database
I am currently co-supervising (with Susheila Nasta and Helen Melody (British Library)) a PhD project on the Wasafiri archive funded by a LAHP Collaborative Doctoral Award.
I would welcome enquiries from potential doctoral students interested in any of the areas of my research.
I have co-supervised the following successful PhD project: Ole Birk Laursen (The Open University), ‘Black and Asian British Life-Writing: Race, Gender and Representation in Selected Novels from the 1990s’ (2011).
I have curated events featuring writers (including Moniza Alvi, Avaes Mohammad, Selma Dabbagh, Aamer Hussein, Mirza Waheed and Wendy Meddour) at the Middlesbrough Literary Festival, Teesside University, the Durham Book Festival and, in collaboration with New Writing North, County Durham primary schools. I am co-author of two articles on literary controversies for the Huffington Post: ‘Muslims Protest against H. G. Wells Book in 1930s Britain’, with Florian Stadtler; and 'Literary Controversies since the Rushdie Affair’, with Claire Chambers.
I am co-author of a public database on South Asians in Britain which attracts high levels of traffic from across the globe, and co-curated the panel exhibition ‘South Asians Making Britain, 1858-1950’, which toured to public libraries across Britain in 2010-11. I have also co-designed and led a public walk highlighting the history of the shared South Asian and Jewish presence in London’s East End.
Most recently (November 2019), I co-organised a symposium, ‘Reimagining Britain: Curating, Performing, Publishing, Reading‘, exploring the current climate for artistic and cultural production in Britain in the context of ongoing debates about inclusivity, diversity and ‘decolonising’.