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 Barnabas Aspray

- Junior Research Fellow

Barnabas is a philosophical theologian interested in the way religious belief & practice interact with contemporary society. His PhD (University of Cambridge) explored human finitude and transcendence in the work of French philosopher Paul Ricœur. Barnabas also holds Masters degrees in Christian Theology and Biblical Studies from the University of Cambridge and Regent College. Before studying theology, he read computer science at the University of Exeter and worked as a software engineer for the BBC website.

Dr Imen Neffati

- Junior Research Fellow

Imen is a historian of modern France and the ‘Francophone world’ with broader interest in the histories of religion, secularism, and modernity.

Imen finished her PhD in 2019 at the History Department, University of Sheffield, on the history of the French satirical magazines Hara Kiri and Charlie Hebdo, and their discourses on religion, secularism, race and gender. Prior to that, she completed the Fulbright FLTA programme, the Erasmus Mundus Masters programme Crossways in Cultural Narratives, and holds an MA from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan in Gender Studies, an MA from the University of Sheffield in Cultural Studies, and an MA from Université de Perpignan in Approaches Hétérologiques du Monde Anglophone.

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 Tim Middleton

- Junior Research Fellow

Tim’s research concerns religious attitudes to the contemporary ecological crisis, with a specific focus on Christian ecotheology. He also maintains an interest in wider conversations in science and religion, and the environmental humanities.

Tim has backgrounds both in Theology and the Earth Sciences. His DPhil work in theology brings ecotheology into conversation with recent work in Christian trauma theology, exploring how the category of trauma might be applied to issues of nonhuman suffering in the context of mass extinction and catastrophic climate change. Tim has previously taught at St Anne’s College Oxford and the University of Roehampton, and is currently an Associate Tutor in Christian Doctrine at Ripon College Cuddesdon.

Raffaella Taylor-Seymour

- Junior Research Fellow

Raffaella Taylor-Seymour is an anthropologist and scholar of religion. Her research examines religious transformations in the context of struggles over gender, sexuality, and the environment in Southern Africa. She is interested in the entanglement of multiple religious traditions in Zimbabwe, specifically ancestral spiritual practices, mission Christianity, and Pentecostalism. In a context in which colonialism forcefully upended ideas about personhood, spirituality, and ties between people and place, her work investigates how people navigate a diverse religious landscape and participate in lively debates about pressing contemporary social and theological questions.


Raffaella’s first project, which she is revising as a book manuscript, explores how young queer Zimbabweans bring Christian and ancestral religious practices into dialogue. This project argues that through religious practices, queer Zimbabweans draw on the archives of African and Christian metaphysics to express distinctively African queer subjectivities and articulate novel forms of kinship and intimacy. Her second project, which she is pursuing at Pembroke, explores everyday struggles over the meanings and effects of rainmaking rites among ordinary Zimbabweans against the backdrop of increasing water scarcity in Southern Africa.

Raffaella completed a joint PhD in Anthropology and Comparative Human at the University of Chicago in 2022, where she was a Fulbright Scholar and received the Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. At Chicago, she was a Martin Marty Junior Fellow in the Divinity School, a Residential Fellow at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, and a Dissertation Fellow at the Center for International Social Science Research. Her doctoral thesis was awarded the Association for Feminist Anthropology's Dissertation Award. She an MA in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago and a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology from King’s College, Cambridge.

Austin Stevenson

- Junior Research Fellow

Austin Stevenson is a philosophical theologian who is interested in the way that philosophical ideas interact with religious beliefs to impact contemporary society. His current research concerns vaccine hesitancy among religious communities. His PhD (University of Cambridge) explored how certain philosophical ideas impact what it means to study Jesus as a historical figure. Austin has previously taught at the University of Cambridge, Ridley Hall, and the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, and is currently a visiting lecturer at London School of Theology.

Our Projects