International political events of the past few years have prompted Birmingham to widen its range of courses with a focus on Christian-Muslim relations. Chris Johnston reports
A growing interest in aspects of Islam among students and the rising political importance of Muslim countries has prompted Birmingham University to create the new post of lecturer in contemporary African Islam.
The successful applicant will create an introductory undergraduate course on African Islam for the Centre of West African Studies, which was created in 1963 and earned a 5* in the 1996 and 2001 research assessment exercises.
The centre has six staff and is one of the country's prestigious research centres in the subject alongside the School of African and Oriental Studies in London. It is one of only four 5* departments at Birmingham.
Islam also features in the university's theology department, which houses the high-profile Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. The centre was founded in 1976 and offers courses including a BA in Islamic studies.
The School of Historical Studies separated from the faculty of arts seven years ago. Its other departments are American and Canadian studies, the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, history of art, medieval history and modern history.
The lectureship is one of six positions advertised this week by the school on page 37 of The Times Higher . It is also seeking to fill two new posts - for lecturers in English history and in American and Canadian studies - as well as a 12-month fixed-term contract for a lecturer in modern economic history, a senior lecturer in American and Canadian studies and a chair of modern history. Starting salary for the lectureships is £22,191, while for the chair the salary will be "by negotiation".
John Haldon, the head of school, says the positions had been created in response to rising demand for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the past two to three years and to help maintain the departments' ratings in the research assessment exercise. Six were rated 5 or 5*, with American and Canadian Studies earning a 4.
The chair of modern history has been advertised following the decision of John Breuilly to move to the London School of Economics in September.
Professor Haldon expects a large number of high-quality applications. He says: "Modern languages recently advertised a post in Italian and received 112 applications. While some could be immediately discarded there were many very well-qualified applicants."
The school is enjoying a rise in enrolments for courses in American and Canadian studies. The majority of undergraduates are British, about 10 per cent are from European Union states and 10 per cent from other countries.
Efforts are being made to increase the number of overseas students, Professor Haldon says, not only to generate income but to help internationalise the student body.