I became fascinated by religion growing up in Kansas, my experience of the landscape strongly affected by the passion and religious beliefs of the people who live there. Religion became a formal focus of study while I was an undergraduate at Amherst College in Massachusetts. In order to explore living religion further, I enrolled in an MSc in Religion in Contemporary Society in the Sociology Department of the London School of Economics. I completed my PhD in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge looking at the popularsiation of yoga and ayurvedic medicine in Britain. Prior to joining the OU, I spent a long period of mentorship under Professor Eileen Barker at the London School of Economics, being associated with an organsiation she founded, Inform from 2002.
I have broad and active research interests in the sociology and social history of religion (broadly understood) and extensive specialist knowledge in new and minority religious movements in modern and contemporary Britain and the modern history of yoga. My monograph on Yoga in Britain was published by Equinox in 2019. I am currently working on editing a Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation with Karen O'Brien-Kop. I am particularly interested in the interfaces between religion, health and healing.
I have also reserached topics related to assessing the security threats posed by minority religions, conspiracy theories, hate speach and the harm caused by minority religions. Through my work at Inform, I am currently consulting on a research project which hopes to explore the experiences of spirit mediums in Britain. I also have a long-term interest in prophecy, millenarianism and apocalyptic groups.
I currently chair A227: Exploring Religion: Places, Practices, Texts and Experiences and have formally chaired and taught on A332: Why is Religion Controversial?. I also had a lead role in creating the free FutureLearn course Why Religion Matters which presented for the first time in November 2019 and wrote the material on Buddhism in Practice for A111: Discovering the Arts and Hummaities.
I have a passionate interest in making complex and controversial subjects intelligible for the general public and have often given talks to A-level students and to the media.
I am the Honorary Director of Inform an indepedent charitable organsiation which provides information about minority religions and sects which is as accurate, up-to-date and as evidence-based as possible. It was founded in 1988 by Professor Eileen Barker at the LSE and is now based in Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London.
Since 2016, I have served on the educational advisory committee for the Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM) at the Panacea Charitable Trust. I worked with Inform and the CenSAMM to create accessible online Profiles of Millenarian Movements.
Between 2015-2020 I was part of a a European Research Council (Horizon 2020) grant entitled ‘Medicine, Immortality and Moksha: Entangled Histories of Yoga, Ayurveda and Alchemy in South Asia’ where I explored overlaps between yoga, ayurveda and Indian alchemy in the modern period.