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Matthew Wilkinson

Professor Matthew Wilkinson

Professor of Religion in Public Life

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

+44 29225 11806
John Percival Building, Room Room 2.64, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU


Matthew is a philosopher and social scientist of religion in public life, whose work has made a practical difference in the law courts, schools and prisons.

LANGUAGES  Matthew speaks Arabic, French and Spanish. 

Matthew believes that:

  • well understood religious faith can bring success to people's lives, just as badly understood religious faith causes harm;

  • the contemporary world is suffering from an absence of well-understood religious faith, and this absence has contributed to extremism, environmental degradation and legal injustice;

  • proper theoretical and empirical research into religious faith can address these absences of understanding in order that institutions of public life can promote human flourishing;

  • human flourishing cannot be achieved without stewardship of the natural world.

Practically, Matthew has shown how faith - using Islam as an example - can be understood in a rational and systematic way that is suitable for life in Western contexts by developing the philosophy of Islamic Critical Realism.

Islamic Critical Realism has been made useful in public life in three key areas:  (1) law courts (2) schools (3) prisons. 


  • Based on these findings, Matthew and his team are designing innovative training for Correctional Staff, Prison Chaplains and for Incarcerated People for the UK Prison Service (HMPPS) and other prison services, accredited by Cardiff University:



Matthew has Advanced proficiency in Arabic and French, and Fluent proficiency in Spanish.  He also has Advanced proficiency in 2 ancient languages: Latin and Classical Greek.

LANGUAGES  Arabic - Advanced 

ACTFL: Advanced Higher

CEFR: Vantage

ILR: Professional Working Proficiency Level 3

LANGUAGES  Spanish - Fluent

ACTFL: Distinguished

CEFR: C2 Mastery

ILR: Bilingual Proficiency Level 5

LANGUAGES  French - Advanced

ACTFL: Advanced Higher

CEFR: Vantage

ILR: Professional Working Proficiency Level 3

LANGUAGES  Latin - Advanced

Intermediate High I-5: ACTFL ALIRA

LANGUAGES  Classical Greek - Advanced

University of Cambridge Advanced New Testament Ancient Greek.













Book sections




Matthew's theoretical and empirical research has focussed on: (1) law courts (2) schools (3) prisons:

(1) Law Courts

Matthew developed the only widely accepted definition of Islamist Extremism:

(2) In Schools

Through the UK Government's National Curriculum Review for History, Matthew showed how alienated Muslim school pupils could be re-connected to the national community by removing the 'absent' curriculum of Islamic civilization and integrating it into the National Curriculum for History. 

(3) In Prisons

Matthew and his team conducted the largest international study on Islam in prison. The findings of the 3-year research have been published in Islam in Prison: finding faith, freedom and fraternity.  

Based on these findings, Matthew and his team are designing innovative training for the UK Prison Service (HMPPS) for accreditation by Cardiff University through PRIMO:

  • For Incarcerated People: PRIMO is using Islam to help them process their guilt and re-engage with a productive life.
  • For Correctional Staff: PRIMO is building their religious literacy to give them confidence in their dealings with Muslim incarcerated people.
  • For Prison Chaplains: PRIMO is enhancing their pastoral care by improving their theological and criminological awareness.
  • The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, USA have asked Matthew to give them the same programme and he has agreed in principle.


I am often asked, "Why did you become Muslim?"

My life has been inspired by a quest for the rational understanding of God’s purposes and to serve Creation knowledgeably and effectively.

I come from an Anglican Christian family. My father,
Sir William Wilkinson was guided by his faith to work as a nature conservationist as a pioneering Chair of the Nature Conservancy Council. Tragically, though, my father went blind after a faulty operation, which effectively ended his professional life.

Seeking my own answers to life’s Big Questions against a backdrop of the family crisis of my father's blindness, I won a scholarship in Theology & Religious Studies at Trinity College, University of Cambridge in 1989.

At Cambridge, I became fascinated by the Protestant philosophical theology of Hegel, Schleiermacher and Barth, though my own Christian faith was shaken by theological textual criticisms of the Gospels. As a result of losing my faith in the ability of humans alone to determine the Truth, I became convinced of the need for Divine revelation and principles to guide humanity.

This conviction led me on a journey to seek Islam since, inexplicably, Islam, the third Abrahamic faith and the world’s second largest religion of 2 billion people, was at this time completely absent from the Theology degree course at Cambridge University.

I sought and met Muslims and was immediately impressed by their discipline and dignity in performing five daily prayers and the doctrinal simplicity of the core Islamic belief in one Omnipotent God. Islam provided the spiritual clarity and purpose that I had been seeking and in 1991 I became Muslim.

I understand my choice of Islam as a natural development of my Judaeo-Christian heritage rather than a rejection of it. I feel that by embracing Islam, I have embraced the best of the West by taking on the values of worship of God, healthy human relationships and stewardship of nature.

To deepen my understanding of Islam, I embarked on a seven-year period of travel to study The Quran, Islamic Law and Arabic in the UK, Spain, Morocco and West Africa, where I also enhanced my French and Spanish to fluent levels. During this time, I was immersed primarily in the Maliki religious and legal tradition and experienced first-hand how Islam shapes the lives of different African and European peoples. I also witnessed how Muslims and non-Muslims often mutually polarise each other powerfully and quite unnecessarily.

My desire to share a love of scholarship and to build Muslim-non-Muslim bridges led me to qualify as a QTS History teacher, I taught History, Citizenship and Islamic Studies in London secondary schools for ten years.

During this period, I was influenced by an inspiring Headteacher, Dr. Naseem Butt, who modelled for teachers and pupils alike the fact that Islam stands for academic, moral and professional excellence and the importance of integrating faithfully and successfully into Western life.

Inspired to investigate more fully how Islamic principles of excellence and faithful integration could be accessed through the school curriculum, in 2011 I completed an ESRC-funded PhD in Education at King’s College London, examining how history education might help under-achieving Muslim boys engage better with education and engage more fully with British life.

This PhD study led to a watershed moment when I attended a lecture at King's given by Professor Roy Bhaskar (1944-2014). Bhaskar was the founder of the philosophy of critical realism, whose brilliant schema of dialectical philosophy to explain the transformation of Being prompted me to realise that Islamic principles of worship, justice and excellence could be integrated into fields of research, education and law.

Professor Bhaskar invited me to become his post-doctoral student, and, with Roy’s guidance, I developed an original educational philosophy of Islam called Islamic Critical Realism which is designed to help young people of faith flourish in multi-faith contexts by showing how they can tap into Islam’s deep, systematic rationality.

Islamic Critical Realism was published in 
A Fresh Look at Islam in a Multi-faith World: a philosophy for success through education which was awarded the Cheryl Frank Memorial Prize as the most “creative and innovative” work of critical realist philosophy.

Using the philosophy of Islamic Critical Realism, I developed the 
Concept of the Absent Curriculum based on research of 400 Muslim boys’ experience of school history. This study showed how school history that included the contribution of Islamic civilization at natural moments, such as the History of Science, would be more accurate and useful for all pupils. 

The UK Muslim community chose to use my report of this research, called A Broader, Truer History for All, as their submission to the UK Government’s National Curriculum Review.

This combination of expertise in Islamic theology and in practical dialectical philosophy, together with my lived experience of the Muslim community in the UK, Spain and Africa, is the reason why I have been instructed as an Expert Witness in Islamic theology and Islamist radicalization in 34 Terrorism and Hate Crime trials.

This has included the Manchester Arena Inquiry where I was asked to describe and explain the radicalization of the bomber of the Manchester Arena, as it occurred both in the UK and in Libya. The Chair of the Manchester Arena Inquiry, The Hon Sir John Saunders, commended my evidence as follows,

"I hope that his [Matthew's] evidence to this Inquiry will be considered carefully by the authorities, as it could enhance their ability to identify signs of radicalisation and the appropriate level of importance to be attached to them."               

Volume 3, Clause 25.8, p. 104

As an Expert Witness, I have developed the only widely recognised method for distinguishing between Islam, Islamism and Islamist Extremism: three different Worldviews.

In the 2016 case of S. Begg v. BBC, my Expert Witness Report was taken almost verbatim by the Judge to give a 10-point definition of Islamist Extremism which has now become the only widely accepted legal definition of Islamist Extremism. 

Please see my Expert Witness Report and the Judge's subsequent Approved Judgement Begg v. BBC

I have published my full methodology in 
The Genealogy of Terror: how to distinguish between Islam, Islamism and Islamist Extremism.

My work in the law courts made me aware that Muslims are disproportionately represented in prison. For example, in the UK 18% of the prison population is Muslim compared with 6.5% of the general population.

Therefore, from 2018-2021, my research team and I conducted the largest study of Islam in prison. This was independently funded and involved research in ten prisons in England, Switzerland and France and showed that choosing to follow Islam in prison presents significant rehabilitative opportunities and some criminogenic risk. The findings are published in Islam in Prison: finding faith, freedom and fraternity.

Based on these research findings, I established at Cardiff University the independently funded programme 
PRIMO to develop for the UK prison service innovative training accredited by Cardiff University for incarcerated people, correctional officers and Muslim Prison Chaplains in order to reduce reoffending by maximising the rehabilitative potential of the Islamic faith to help prisoners engage in work, education and the avoidance of crime.

This work will also be carried out in the USA from 2024, where there are more than 300,000 incarcerated Muslims, making up c.20% of the US prison population, although Muslims are only 1.1% of the general US population.  Many people in prison choose Islam to tap into the faith and civilization of their ancestral African past and to re-establish purpose, structure and dignity in their lives, much as I did when I found Islam for myself.

I feel most fortunate to be married to Lucy, herself a convert to Islam, and to have been blessed with a son.

Honours and awards

2021-2026 - Awarded £2M grant by the Dawes Trust as Principal Investigator of Prison-based Interventions for Muslim Offenders (PRIMO).

2017-2021 - Awarded £840k grant by the Dawes Trust as Principal Investigator of Understanding Conversion to Islam in Prison (UCIP).

2015-2017 Awarded £190k grant by the charity Curriculum for Cohesion for a Senior Research Fellowship at SOAS, University of London.

2014 - Awarded 2014 Cheryl Frank Memorial Prize for, A Fresh Look at Islam in a Multi-faith World: a philosophy for success through education as the most “creative and innovative” work of critical realist philosophy.

2011-2015 - Awarded £276k grant by the charity Curriculum for Cohesion as Principal Investigator of Curriculum for Cohesion

2007 - Awarded ESRC-King's College London CASE PhD studentship to complete PhD research entitled History Curriculum, Citizenship and Muslim Boys: learning to succeed?

1989 - Awarded Undergraduate Scholarship in Theology & Religious Studies by Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

Professional memberships

Member of the Expert Witness Institute.

Member of the European Society of Criminology.


Academic positions

2022-present - Professor of Religion in Public Life, Cardiff University.

2020-2021 - Reader in Religion & Criminal Justice, Birkbeck, University of London.

2017-2020 - Senior Research Fellow in Contemporary Islam, SOAS, University of London.

2015-2017 - Research Fellow in Contemporary Islam, SOAS, University of London.

2013-2015 - Research Fellow for Islam and Muslims in Education, UCL, Institute of Education.

2012 - Visiting Lecturer on Islam in Education, UCL, Institute of Education.

2011-2015 - Visiting Lecturer on Islam in Education, University of Cambridge.

2011-2013 - Research Fellow, Cambridge Muslim College.

2010 - Visiting Lecturer in Education, Anglia Ruskin University.

2010 - Visiting Lecturer in Education, London Metropolitan University.


  • Understanding the Relationship between Religion and Human Rights
  • Distinguishing between Islam, Islamism and Islamist Extremism
  • Islam in prison
  • Promoting Rehabilitation and Reducing Radicalization
  • Islam in Africa