Praying on the Pitch: Football, Religion and Social Identities (Online Short Course)


This online short course, which is offered by Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, analyses football’s relation to the religious world. Too often in the past, football has been defined narrowly as a sort of secular religiosity, with no appreciation of the complex social identities within the sport. This course will explore how religious practice intersects and overlaps with the beautiful game.  The course will use both a historical framework to highlight the longevity and intricacies of this relationship, and an approach that posits football as an analytical window for examining broader geopolitical and social forces. In particular, it will examine whether football can be viewed as a vehicle for the socio-political integration of marginalized groups into wider society, and the extent to which religious belonging is a facilitator or obstacle for any tensions that arise.

Course Aims

The course will examine the following questions:

• What is the view among religious organizations on the role of football in society?

• Is the global and growing interest in football a challenge to religion, or a positive force for religious organizations?

• How does football contribute to nationalist discourses that exclude certain religious practices from its purview?

• Can the sport be used for the socio-political integration of marginalized groups into wider society, and to what extent is religious belonging used as a vehicle to ameliorate tensions that arise?

Course Convenor

Professor Leif Stenberg is the Dean of the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC). His latest research has been on the various intersections between football, religion and social identities. He recently organised an AKU-ISMC conference on the topic in May 2022, with an edited volume forthcoming in 2023. Professor Stenberg has recently published a co-edited a volume with Professor Philip Wood on the politics of studying Islam entitled What is Islamic Studies? He is also the author of AKU-ISMC’s new book, Poet and Businessman: Abd al-Aziz al-Babtain and the Formation of Modern Kuwait.

Date and Time

September 14-15, 2022, 1:00-4:00 (London Time).


£75 professionals | £45 students, AKU alumni and staff.

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