Claire Dwyer, 1964-2019

Tributes paid to a scholar with ‘empathy’ for understanding people of different faiths

August 1, 2019
Claire Dwyer, 1964-2019

A leading feminist geographer, known for her research into faith communities, has died.

Claire Dwyer was born on 24 December 1964 and grew up in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. After studying geography at the University of Oxford (1987), she went on to teacher training at the University of Nottingham (1988) and taught in secondary schools. In 1991, however, she decided to return to the academy for a master’s in geography at the University of Syracuse, where her dissertation examined Muslim schools in Britain. She followed this up with a PhD at UCL about young Muslim women in Watford.

Taken on to the teaching staff from 1995, Professor Dwyer was appointed a lecturer at UCL two years later, on completion of her doctorate. She remained there for the rest of her life and secured a professorship in 2018, although she also held visiting fellowships at York University in Toronto, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Uppsala and Utrecht universities.

Her master’s dissertation and doctorate set the agenda for much of Professor Dwyer’s subsequent research, some of whose themes she defined as “the transnational geographies of faith communities”, “ongoing debates about religion, multiculturalism and the public sphere” and “the intersection of gender, ethnicity and religion, particularly in relation to Islam, and the ways in which migration processes are gendered”. She co-edited books on Geographies of New Femininities (1999), on Transnational Spaces (2004), which included a paper by her on commodity cultures and fashion, and on New Geographies of Race and Racism (2009). She also founded a master's programme in global migration at UCL and served as co-director of its Migration Research Unit.

More recently, Professor Dwyer joined forces with David Gilbert, professor of urban and historical geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, to run a project on creativity within suburban faith communities (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council).

A tribute to Professor Dwyer by Professor Gilbert and Ben Page, reader in human geography at UCL, described how this project “played to her strengths. She had a real gift for putting people at their ease, and brought together different publics with artists and other creative professionals in a series of genuinely participatory projects.

“The work drew upon her academic expertise and also her religious faith – she had a brilliant capacity to listen and understand the beliefs, practices and creativities of people with different faiths, an empathy that was generous but also critical and questioning.”

Diagnosed last year with a rare form of cancer, Professor Dwyer died on 14 July and is survived by her husband Paul and two sons.

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