Religion and the Frontier Challenges

Religion and the Frontier Challenges is a postdoctoral fellowship programme that was established in 2019. The programme is based at Pembroke College, with an affiliation to the Faculty of Theology and Religion, and is part of the University of Oxford.

This is an ambitious and interdisciplinary research programme that brings Theology and Religion into dialogue with other academic disciplines.  It seeks to enrich discussion of how contemporary religious traditions and ideas might provide or are providing knowledge and leadership in facing the major challenges currently confronting humanity. Taking its title from the words of a Catholic theologian who called for religion to meet the ‘frontier challenges’ of our time, the programme supports research projects that explore the intellectual and practical responses that any religion might make to these frontier challenges, including:

  • The challenges of human knowledge, including contemporary ideologies and epistemologies (e.g. secularism, liberalism, atheism), or changes in forms of access to or dissemination of knowledge (e.g. new communications, media, or digital technologies).
  • The challenges of the fight for justice, including struggles against all forms of inequality, discrimination and marginalisation in human societies.
  • The challenges of the modern sciences, including the new questions and opportunities raised by advances in technological, medical, biological, environmental and other sciences, and the challenges of sustainability.

Meet the Team

Professor Justin Jones

- Project Co-ordinator

Justin is the coordinator of the Religion and the Frontier Challenges Programme. He is Associate Professor in the Study of Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, and is Pembroke College’s tutorial fellow in Theology and Religion. He is a historian by training, and works in the social history of modern Islam, with particular reference to the Indian subcontinent. In recent years, he has been exploring contemporary Islamic family law. Drawing upon law and anthropology as well as history and Islamic studies, he is examining how shariah-based family laws are adjudicated in South Asia, both by courts and by community organisations. He has also worked on Islamic discourses of women’s rights, and has worked with grassroots Muslim women’s rights groups. Separately, he has interests in Muslim laws in comparative minority contexts, including in Britain and Europe. He has published a number of books, journal articles and other publications.

Rasangi Prematilaka

- Project Administrator

Rasangi joined Pembroke in early 2020 to manage the newly established Religion and the Frontier Challenges Programme together with Professor Justin Jones. She has been with the University of Oxford for many years and has a background of research facilitation/senior management and joins us from the Department of Politics and International Relations.  

Dr Emily Qureshi-Hurst

- Junior Research Fellow

Emily Qureshi-Hurst is a philosopher whose research focuses on the philosophical questions raised by interactions between science and religion, particularly physics and Christianity. Emily has written on issues in the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of time (including issues in special and general relativity, quantum mechanics, and temporal experience), the philosophy of physics, and the philosophy of social media. Before taking up this fellowship, Emily completed her D.Phil at the University of Oxford (funded by AHRC) under the expert supervision of Alister McGrath. Her thesis examined the theoretical support for a B-theory of time provided by special and general relativity, and re-interpreted Paul Tillich's doctrine of salvation in light of this metaphysical temporal model.

Christopher Wadibia

- Junior Research Fellow

Christopher Wadibia is a scholar of the politics of modern Pentecostalism. His doctoral research studied the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), one of Nigeria's most popular and sociopolitically influential indigenous Pentecostal churches, and how its politics underpins investment in Nigerian development causes; and his next project will study the nexus between political Pentecostalism and racism in the UK. Prior to joining the programme, Christopher completed a BA Government at Georgetown University (2016), an MPhil Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at Trinity College Dublin (2018), and a PhD Theology and Religious Studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge (2021). Alongside his Junior Research Fellowship, Christopher serves as the Assistant Editor of the academic journal PentecoStudies and is an Affiliated Researcher at the Cambridge University Woolf Institute. Christophers research interests include global Pentecostalism; religion, politics, and global development; religion, society, and public policy; and Muslim-Christian relations. Christopher is passionate about bridging academic research with public engagement, and welcomes opportunities to supply consultative solutions to problems related to his expertise.

Dr Gehan Gunatilleke

- Junior Research Fellow

Gehan Gunatilleke is a lawyer specialising in religious freedom, constitutional law, and international law. He holds a D.Phil in Law from the University of Oxford. His doctoral thesis focused on state authority to restrict the freedom of religion and the freedom of expression under international law. Gehan also holds a Master’s in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford, where he was a Commonwealth Scholar, and an LL.M from Harvard Law School, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. Prior to taking up a position as Junior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, he was a visiting fellow at the Programme on Law and Society in the Muslim World at Harvard Law School. Gehan is concurrently an Early Career Fellow at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights, University of Oxford, and a visiting lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, University of Colombo.

Dr Muhammad Faisal Khalil

- Junior Research Fellow

Muhammad Faisal Khalil is an academic and practitioner specialising in theology, the study of religion, history, and social and behavioural change (SBC). His doctoral thesis, “The Ordinary Within Islam: Javēd Aḥmad Ghāmidī and the Representation of Prophethood in the Qurʾān” (2023), examined the significance of the ordinary in Islamic moral life—a theme central to his broader scholarly focus. This work argued that the primordial covenant between God and humanity is the foundation of moral life in Islam, expressed primarily through our everyday actions. Faisal holds an MSc in the History of International Relations, a BSc in Government and History, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCertHE), all from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and a certificate in Leadership in Strategic Communication for Health from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Health. He also studied theoretical physics at Imperial College London.

With over two decades of experience in the international development sector, Faisal is recognised for his expertise in SBC. His senior technical roles in prestigious organisations such as UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, UNFPA, M&C Saatchi, and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, along with his tenure as a senior advisor to Pakistan’s Federal Ministry of Interior, demonstrate his expertise in applying research and change strategies to improve social outcomes. Faisal is also the founder of All-Story, a film innovation studio that uses cinematic strategies to respond to major social challenges. His diverse work spans humanitarian and non-humanitarian contexts, across countries like Egypt, Malawi, the Philippines, Jordan, the UK, Iran, and Pakistan. Faisal has made significant contributions in HIV prevention, COVID-19 risk communication and community engagement (RCCE), flood response and recovery, polio eradication, child protection, family care practices, nutrition, road safety, tobacco control, and policy reform.

Our Projects