Until June 1871, full membership of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham was confined to members of the Church of England. But the Universities Tests Act of that year removed religious restrictions and enabled non-Anglicans (Jews, Catholics, Dissenters, Muslims, Hindus, atheists and more) to obtain MAs, study for further degrees, and take up academic positions across the collegiate University. The Act was an incomplete piece of legislation, since many colleges remained only nominally open to a wider range of people, and it was not until 1920 that women were able to take degrees. But the change it heralded was hugely consequential. By opening up to people of diverse faiths – or no faith at all – and, by extension, to diverse nationalities, ethnicities, and races, the 1871 Act made it possible for Oxford to become the truly global and diverse University and city it is today.
‘Opening Oxford’ is marking the passing of the Act in several ways. It has a designated website https://openingoxford1871.web.ox.ac.uk//home which is hosting illustrated blogs from academics, alumni and others that offer histories surrounding the Act, tell of pioneers from different backgrounds who attended the University, and share the recent Oxford experiences of students from different religions and cultures. A new blog will appear weekly, and many of them will relate directly to Jews, their response to the Act and the contributions they have made to the University. On the website, you will also learn about a series of events designed to celebrate diversity in the University and discuss what more needs to be done to make Oxford a welcoming place for all faiths and none. A series of concerts, public talks and more private ‘structured conversations’ are now being planned to take place over the year until June 2022.
Prof Susan Doran, Jesus College Oxford