Shortlist announced for Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018

‘In these difficult times it is important to be reminded of the ties that bind us, whoever and wherever we are. The books shortlisted for this prize do just that, and magnificently.’
(Professor Ash Amin, Chair of the jury)

Tuesday 11 September

London: The shortlist for The Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018, the British Academy’s prestigious international prize, is announced today, Tuesday 11 September.

Worth £25,000, the Prize rewards and celebrates the best works of non-fiction that have contributed to global cultural understanding and illuminate the interconnections and divisions that shape cultural identity worldwide.

The six books on the 2018 shortlist, alphabetically by author, are:

  • The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue (UK)(The Bodley Head)
  • Al-Britannia: A Journey Through Muslim Britain by James Fergusson (UK) (Bantum Press)
  • Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Bulgaria) (Granta Books)
  • Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann (UK)(One World)
  • I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet (Germany) (Virago)
  • Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds by Dame Anne Salmond (New Zealand)(Auckland University Press)

Chaired by Professor Ash Amin CBE FBA, the Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, the jury has selected a shortlist of six exceptional books, each chosen for its meticulous and original research, and the cogency and public relevance of its argument.

Commenting on behalf of the jury he says:

“All of these fine books display an appetite for both research and original thinking that sets them apart in the rapidly changing, and often shallow, information world of today. Here, the truth counts, as does the commitment to delve deep into the making of cultural identities, affiliations, and connections. This prize is awarded for global cultural understanding, and that is precisely what all of these books deliver.

“In these difficult times it is important to be reminded of the ties that bind us, whoever and wherever we are. The books shortlisted for this prize do just that, and magnificently.”

Alun Evans, Chief Executive at the British Academy, added:

“We are delighted to announce today the shortlist for the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. In Britain, and across the globe, we stand at a crossroads: the challenges mankind faces know no borders, from the rapid development of new technologies to climate change, from military conflicts to the spread of disease – yet we remain divided. Never has there been a greater need for the global cultural understanding this prize seeks to celebrate.

“The British Academy proudly champions the humanities and social sciences, and these subjects’ power to illustrate and illuminate. That is why we are grateful to Nayef Al-Rodhan for establishing such an important and timely prize, and for highlighting the benefit of tackling these challenges.”

Each of the six books on the shortlist addresses questions of identity and culture in one form or another.

The Muslim world is explored in three of the six titles. In The Islamic Enlightenment, The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason, Christopher de Bellaigue introduces the key ideas, cities and figures that shaped modern Islam, while journalist James Fergusson explores the nuances of Muslim identity and longing in Britain today in Al-Britannia: A Journey Through Muslim Britain.

I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad is a compelling memoir by German-born journalist Souad Mekhennet, in which she documents her often perilous assignments in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

In Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, Bulgarian-born writer Kapka Kassabova not only explores the borderzone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece but also the borderlines that exist between cultures.

Black Tudors is the debut by Miranda Kaufmann in which she uncovers the long-forgotten records – and remarkable stories – of Africans who lived in Tudor England.

In her most ambitious book to date, Dame Anne Salmond looks at New Zealand as a site of cosmo-diversity, a place where multiple worlds collide, beginning with a fine-grained inquiry into the early encounters between Maori and Europeans (1769-1840).

Professor Ash Amin (Chair) is joined on the 2018 jury by: historian and political scientist Rana Mitter FBA; social anthropologist Dame Henrietta Moore DBE FBA; writer and broadcaster Professor Patrick Wright FBA and writer Madeleine Bunting.

The Prize was founded and is generously sponsored by the International Relations scholar Dr Nayef Al-Rodhan. It was first awarded in 2013 and this is the first year that a shortlist has been introduced.

The last three winners were Timothy Garton Ash for Free Speech (2017), Professor Carole Hillenbrand for Islam: A New Historical Introduction (2016), and Dr Neil MacGregor for A History of the World in 100 Objects and Germany: Memories of a Nation (2015).

The winner will be announced at an evening ceremony held at the British Academy on Tuesday 30 October.


For media enquiries, please contact: Jane Acton E:
T: 07971 661576

Notes to editors

  • Professor Ash Amin and the shortlisted authors are available for interview
  • Images are available from Jane Acton PR

About the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize

  • The Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding was first awarded in 2013.
  • To be eligible for entry, books must be works of non-fiction published in the two years since 1 March 2016. Authors may be of any nationality, based anywhere in the world and working in any language provided that the nominated work is available in the English language.
  • Nominations are invited from publishers, Fellows of the British Academy and, for the first time this year, by open call.
  • A shortlist for the Prize was introduced for the first time in 2018
  • Prof. Nayef Al-Rodhan is a neuro-philosopher, neuroscientist, geostrategist, and author. In 2014, he was voted one of the top 30 most influential neuroscientists in the world. In 2017, he was named amongst the Geopolitics Top 100 in the world. His website is
Follow Nayef Al-Rodhan on Twitter @SustainHistory

About the British Academy

  • The British Academy is the voice of the humanities and social sciences. The Academy is an independent fellowship of world-leading scholars and researchers; a funding body for research, nationally and internationally; and a forum for debate and engagement.
  • For more information, please visit
  • Follow the British Academy on Twitter @BritishAcademy  #AlRodhanPrize


Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding 2018:

Shortlist in alphabetical order, by author


The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason

by Christopher de Bellaigue (UK)

Published by The Bodley Head

The Muslim world has often been accused of a failure to modernise, reform and adapt. But, from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day, Islamic society in its Middle Eastern heartlands has in fact been transformed by modern ideals and practices, including the adoption of modern medicine, the emergence of women from purdah and the development of democracy.  Who were the scholars and scientists, writers and politicians that brought about these remarkable changes? And why is their legacy now under threat? 

Beginning with the dramatic collision of East and West following Napoleon’s arrival in Egypt, and taking us through 200 tumultuous years of Middle Eastern history, Christopher de Bellaigue introduces us to key figures and reformers; from Egypt’s visionary ruler Muhammad Ali to brave radicals like Iran’s first feminist Qurrat al-Ayn and the writer Ibrahim Sinasi, who transformed Ottoman Turkey’s language and literature.

This book tells the forgotten story of the Islamic Enlightenment. It shows us how to look beyond sensationalist headlines to foster a genuine understanding of modern Islam and Muslim culture, and is essential reading for anyone engaged with the state of the world today.

Christopher de Bellaigue was born in London in 1971, and was educated at Cambridge University, where he read Iranian and Indian Studies. Between 1995 and 2007, he lived and worked as a journalist in south Asia and the Middle East, writing for the Economist, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books. He is the award-winning author of four books and has made several BBC television and radio programmes. He lives in London.


Al-Britannia: A Journey Through Muslim Britain

by James Fergusson (UK)

Published by Bantum Press

In this groundbreaking book, James Fergusson travels the length of Britain to explore our often misunderstood Muslim communities, and to experience life on both sides of our increasingly segregated society.

The face of Britain is changing. The Muslim population has more than doubled over the last twenty years, and is projected to do so again over the next twenty. A societal shift of this size and speed has inevitably brought growing pains, with the impact on our communities becoming ever more profound – as well as painful, because in the eyes of many, Islam has a problem: the extremist views of a tiny minority, which, when translated into action, can result in catastrophic violence. 

The danger of this extremist threat – or our response to it – is that we are collectively starting to lose faith in the cultural diversity that has glued our nation together for so long. Our tolerance of others, so often celebrated as a ‘fundamental British value,’ is at risk.

James Fergusson travels the length of Britain to evaluate the impact these seismic shifts have had on our communities. With the rise of nationalist movements, growing racial tensions and an increasingly out of touch political elite, what does it mean to be a Muslim in Britain? What is life like on both sides of this growing religious divide? And what can we do to heal the fractures appearing in our national fabric?

Al-Britannia is a timely and urgent account of life in Britain today, a call to action filled with real-life experience, hard truths and important suggestions for our future.

James Fergusson is a freelance journalist and foreign correspondent who has written for many publications including the Independent, The Times, the Daily Mail and The Economist. A regular television and radio commentator on Africa and the Middle East, he is the author of five previous books including the award-winning A Million Bullets. He is married with four children and lives in Edinburgh.


Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe

by Kapka Kassabova (Bulgaria)

Published by Granta Books

When Kapka Kassabova was a child, the borderzone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece was rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall so it swarmed with soldiers, spies and fugitives. On holidays close to the border on the Black Sea coast, she remembers playing on the beach, only miles from where an electrified fence bristled, its barbs pointing inwards toward the enemy: the holiday-makers, the potential escapees.
Today, this densely forested landscape is no longer heavily militarised, but it is scarred by its past. In Border, Kapka Kassabova sets out on a journey to meet the people of this triple border – Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, and the latest wave of refugees fleeing conflict further afield. She discovers a region that has been shaped by the successive forces of history: by its own past migration crises, by communism, by two World wars, by the Ottoman Empire, and – older still – by the ancient legacy of myths and legends. As Kapka Kassabova explores this enigmatic region in the company of border guards and treasure hunters, entrepreneurs and botanists, psychic healers and ritual fire-walkers, refugees and smugglers, she traces the physical and psychological borders that criss-cross its villages and mountains, and goes in search of the stories that will unlock its secrets.
Border is a sharply observed portrait of a little-known corner of Europe, and a fascinating meditation on the borderlines that exist between countries, between cultures, between people, and within each of us.
Kapka Kassabova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. She is the author of several poetry collections, numerous travel essays, the novel Villa Pacifica (2011), and the acclaimed memoirs Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria (2008) and Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story (2011). She has written for the Sunday Times, the Guardian, Vogue, and 1843 magazine.


Black Tudors: The Untold Story

by Miranda Kaufmann (UK)

Published by One World

A black porter publicly whips a white Englishman in the hall of a Gloucestershire manor house. A Moroccan woman is baptised in a London church. Henry VIII dispatches a Mauritanian diver to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose. From long-forgotten records emerge the remarkable stories of Africans who lived free in Tudor England…

They were present at some of the defining moments of the age. They were christened, married and buried by the Church. They were paid wages like any other Tudors. The untold stories of the Black Tudors, dazzlingly brought to life by Kaufmann, will transform how we see this most intriguing period of history.

Miranda Kaufmann is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies. Her first book, Black Tudors, was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018. She has appeared on Sky News, the BBC and Al Jazeera, and she’s written for The Times, Guardian and BBC History Magazine. She lives in Pontblyddyn in North Wales.


I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad

by Souad Mekhennet (Germany)

Published by Virago

For her whole life, Souad Mekhennet, a reporter for the Washington Post who was born and educated in Germany, has had to balance the two sides of her upbringing – Muslim and Western. She has also sought to provide a mediating voice between these cultures, which too often misunderstand each other.

In this compelling and evocative memoir, we accompany Mekhennet as she journeys behind the lines of jihad, starting in the German neighbourhoods where the 9/11 plotters were radicalised and the Iraqi neighbourhoods where Sunnis and Shia turned against one another, and culminating on the Turkish/Syrian border region where ISIS is a daily presence. In her travels across the Middle East and North Africa, she documents her chilling run-ins with various intelligence services and shows why the Arab Spring never lived up to its promise. She then returns to Europe, first in London, where she uncovers the identity of the notorious ISIS executioner ‘Jihadi John’, and then in France, Belgium and her native Germany, where terror has come to the heart of Western civilisation.
Mekhennet’s background has given her unique access to some of the world’s most wanted men, who generally refuse to speak to Western journalists. She is not afraid to face personal danger to reach out to individuals in the inner circles of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and their affiliates; when she is told to come alone to an interview, she never knows what awaits at her destination.

Souad Mekhennet is an award-winning journalist who was born in Germany and grew up there and in Morocco. She is currently a correspondent for the Washington Post.


Tears of Rangi

by Dame Anne Salmond (New Zealand)

Published by Auckland University Press
Six centuries ago Polynesian explorers, who inhabited a cosmos in which islands sailed across the sea and stars across the sky, arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand where they rapidly adapted to new plants, animals, landscapes and climatic conditions. Four centuries later, European explorers arrived with maps and clocks, grids and fences, and they too adapted to a new island home. In this remote, beautiful archipelago, settlers from Polynesia and Europe (and elsewhere) have clashed and forged alliances, they have fiercely debated what is real and what is common sense, what is good and what is right.

In this, her most ambitious book to date, Dame Anne Salmond looks at New Zealand as a site of cosmo-diversity, a place where multiple worlds engage and collide. Beginning with a fine-grained inquiry into the early period of encounters between Maori and Europeans in New Zealand (1769–1840), Salmond then investigates such clashes and exchanges in key areas of contemporary life – waterways, land, the sea and people.

We live in a world of gridded maps, Outlook calendars and balance sheets – making it seem that this is the nature of reality itself. But in New Zealand, concepts of whakapapa and hau, complex networks and reciprocal exchange, may point to new ways of understanding interactions between peoples, and between people and the natural world. Like our ancestors, Anne Salmond suggests, we too may have a chance to experiment across worlds.

Dame Anne Salmond is Distinguished Professor of Māori Studies at the University of Auckland and author of numerous books including Hui: A Study of Maori Ceremonial Gatherings (1975, A.H. and A.W. Reed); Two Worlds: First Meetings between Maori and Europeans 1642–1772 (1991, Viking Press, University of Hawai‘i Press) and The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas (2003, Penguin UK, Penguin NZ, Yale University Press).

She is an International Member of the American Philosophical Society, a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy; in 2013 she became New Zealander of the Year and winner of the Rutherford Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand.