Home » Discover St John's

Johnian awarded the Trevor Reese Memorial Prize for “The British Empire and the Hajj”

Pilgrims at the Masjid al-Haram on Hajj in 2008. Credit: Al Jazeera English

Former College Research Fellow Dr John Slight wins major prize from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies for his book on the relationship between the British Empire and the Hajj.

Dr John Slight has been awarded the Trevor Reese Memorial Prize by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies for his publication The British Empire and the Hajj. Dr Slight wrote the book, which explores the interactions between imperialism and Islamic practice, while he was a Research Fellow at St John’s.  

The Trevor Reese Memorial Prize is awarded once every three years to the author of a piece of work that has made “a wide-ranging, innovative and scholarly contribution in the field of Imperial and Commonwealth history”.

In his book, published by Harvard University Press in 2015, Slight argues that contrary to its remote image, the Hajj -- a pilgrimage to Mecca which millions of Muslims undertake each year -- was a matter of major British concern. Leading historical figures, and the general public, became fascinated by the ritual, as the business of running a vast Empire impelled Britain to behave as if it was a Muslim power in its own right.

The study reveals that Queen Victoria, King George V, Lord Kitchener, Lawrence of Arabia and Winston Churchill all took an active interest in the Hajj, debated its management, and pencilled it into their calendars. The pilgrimage even made its way into a Sherlock Holmes adventure, a Joseph Conrad novel, and inspired Britons across the Empire to convert to Islam.

The Trevor Reese Memorial prize is named in honour of Dr Trevor Reese, a scholar of Australian and Commonwealth history and Reader in Imperial Studies at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies until his death in 1976.