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Dr Marion Bowman

Profile summary

Professional biography

As an undergraduate, I started out by studying Archaeology, Medieval History and Drama at the University of Glasgow, but in my second year took Principles of Religion. I became totally hooked on the study of religions and transferred to Lancaster University to specialise in Religious Studies.  A studentship then enabled me to spend two years at Memorial University of Newfoundland studying for the MA in Folklore. This subject combination explains why, ever since, I've been working at the intersection of religious studies and folklore/ ethnology, and my research interests are very much rooted in contemporary vernacular religion - the experiences, worldviews, beliefs, practices and material culture of individuals and groups in in specific locations and contexts.

I joined the Religious Studies department at The Open University in 2000 and was Head of Department 2010-2013. Prior to the OU, I worked for ten years in the Study of Religions department at Bath Spa University. (Before coming to academia I had worked as an archivist and archival researcher in Canada, Bahrain and the UK, and I also taught English for Academic Purposes while living in Bahrain and Hong Kong.)

At The Open University we have a strong tradition of inter-disciplinary collaboration, and I am delighted to serve on the Steering Committee of The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion with colleagues from Classical Studies.

I have been involved actively and consistently in Religious Studies beyond departmental duties.I was formerly Vice-President of Theology and Religious Studies UK (2017-20) and  Vice-President of the European Association for the Study of Religions (2013-2019); I have been President of both the British Association for the Study of Religions and of The Folklore Society.  In 2021 I was elected an International Fellow of the American Folklore Society.

Research interests

My research has tended to be fieldwork-based, with people within, on the margins of and outside institutional religion; I have helped to pioneer the study of Vernacular Religion in the UK. My research interests include: non-traditional pilgrimage, including the growth of 'Caminoised' pilgrimage in northern Europe; material religion; spiritual economies;  airport chapels;  new expressions of mourning and memorialisation; contemporary Celtic spirituality and religion in Newfoundland.

I have conducted long term research in Glastonbury, a significant pilgrimage destination and microcosm of contemporary spirituality and vernacular religiosity. (For an insight into how I became involved in fieldwork in Glastonbury, see !)

Having researched pilgrimage for many years, it was a pleasure to be Co-Investigator leading the fieldwork activity on the AHRC funded project Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present, 2014-2018, a project that splendidly encapsulated the department’s interest and expertise in ‘contemporary religion in historical perspective’.  Working with the Principal Investigator, medieval historian Dee Dyas, anthropologist Simon Coleman and our researchers John Jenkins and Tiina Sepp, this interdisciplinary project generated a variety of publications, including a special issue of Religion ‘Religion in Cathedrals: Pilgrimage, Place, Heritage, and the Politics of Replication’.  (  ). It also involved considerable opportunities for stimulating and useful public engagement, and it has been great to see how our findings had have an impact both on our partner cathedrals and more broadly.  ( )

As a visiting Professor at the University of Oslo (2016-18), I was involved in researching the phenomenon of ‘new’ and ‘renewed’ pilgrimage in Norway and other parts of northern Europe, which led to a number of conference panels and collaborations, and the publication of a special issue of the journal NUMEN, Reframing Pilgrimage in Northern Europe. ( )

I am currently External Scientific Expert on a collaborative project Re-storied Sites and Routes as Inclusive Spaces and Places: Shared Imaginations and Multi-layered Heritage (EMP340), funded by the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014–2021, Baltic Research Programme in Estonia. This project involves researchers in Estonia, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia and the UK. ( )

Publications include

Bowman, Marion (2022) Vernacular Religion and Contemporary Spiritualities. Tribute to Leonard Norman Primiano (1957-2021). Traditiones [Internet]. 2022 50(3):7–14 (2022). Available from:

Bowman, Marion. 2021. ‘Trees, Benches and Contemporary Commemoration: When the Ordinary becomes Extraordinary’. Journal for the Study of Religious Experience, Vol 7, No 3 (2021): Festschrift: Essays in Honour of Peggy Morgan, 33-49.

Bowman, Marion, Dirk Johannsen and Ane Ohrvik. 2020.
‘Reframing Pilgrimage in Northern Europe. Introduction to the Special Issue’, NUMEN 67 (5-6): 439-452.

Bowman, Marion. 2020. ‘Rehabilitating’ Pilgrimage in Scotland: Heritage, Protestant Pilgrimage and Caledonian Caminos. NUMEN 67 (5-6): 453-482.

Bowman, Marion with John Jenkins. 2020. ‘Leaving and Taking Away: Cathedrals and Material Culture’. In Dee Dyas D and John Jenkins, eds. Pilgrimage and England's Cathedrals: Past, Present, and Future. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 215-233.

Coleman, Simon and Marion Bowman. 2019. ‘Religion in cathedrals: pilgrimage, heritage, adjacency, and the politics of replication in Northern Europe’, Introduction to co-edited, themed issue of Religion 49 (1): 1-23.  [republished in book form 2022, Religion in Cathedrals: Pilgrimage, Place, Heritage, and the Politics (]

Bowman, Marion and Tiina Sepp. 2019. ‘Caminoisation and Cathedrals: replication, the heritagisation of religion, and the spiritualisation of heritage’ Religion 49 (1): 74–98. 

Bowman, Marion, Simon Coleman, John Jenkins and Tiina Sepp. 2019. ‘Visibly different: Continuity and change at Westminster Cathedral’. In David Goodhew and Anthony-Paul Cooper, eds. The Desecularisation of the City: London’s Churches, 1980 to the Present London: Routledge, pp 300-327.

Colman, Simon, Marion Bowman and Tiina Sepp. 2019. ‘A Cathedral Is Not Just for Christmas: Civic Christianity in the Multicultural City’ In Pamela E. Klassen and Monique Scheer, eds. The Public Work of Christmas: Difference and Belonging in Multicultural Societies. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, pp. 240–261.

Bowman, Marion. 2017. ‘From production to performance: Candles, creativity and connectivity’. In Tim Hutchings and Joanne McKenzie, eds. Materiality and the Study of Religion: The Stuff of the Sacred. London and New York: Routledge, pp.35-52

Bowman, Marion. 2016.  ‘Crisis, Change and “the Continuous Art of Individual Interpretation and Negotiation”: The Aftermath of Clerical Sexual Abuse in Newfoundland’ The Journal of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions, Vol 3: 140-167. 

Bowman, Marion. 2016. ‘”He’s My Best Friend” : Relationality, Materiality, and the Manipulation of Motherhood in Devotion to St Gerard Majella in Newfoundland’. In Terry Woo & Becky Lee, eds. Canadian Women Shaping Diasporic Religious Identities Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, pp. 3-34.

Bowman, Marion. 2016. 'The Contented Collector: Materiality, Relationality and the Power of Things’ Material Religion 12 (3): 393–397.

Bowman, Marion. 2015. ‘Christianity, Plurality and Vernacular Religion in early Twentieth Century Glastonbury: A Sign of Things to Come?’.  In Christianity and Religious Plurality Studies in Church History 51. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, pp.302-321.

Bowman, Marion. 2015. ‘Railways, Rivalry and the Revival of Pilgrimage in Glastonbury, 1895 and 1897’. In Gábor Barna with Orsolya Gyöngyössy, eds. Religion, Culture, Society: Yearbook of the MTA-SZTE Research Group for the Study of Religious Culture 2,  Szeged, pp. 168-190.

Bowman, Marion. 2015. ‘“Helping Glastonbury to Come into Its Own”: Practical Spirituality, Materiality, and Community Cohesion in Glastonbury’. In Curtis C Coats and Monica M Emerich, eds. Practical Spiritualities in a Media Age, London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 51-65.

Bowman, Marion. 2014. ‘Vernacular Religion, Contemporary Spirituality and Emergent Identities: Lessons from Lauri Honko’, Approaching Religion 4(1): The Legacy of Lauri Honko: Contemporary Conversations.

Bowman, Marion. 2014. ‘Vernacular/ Lived Religion’. In George D. Chryssides and Benjamin E. Zeller, eds. The Bloomsbury Companion to New Religious Movements. London, New Delhi, etc: Bloomsbury, pp. 253-269.

Bowman, Marion. 2013. ‘Valuing Spirituality: Commodification, Consumption and Community in Glastonbury’. In Francois Gauthier and Tuomas Martikainen, eds. Religion in Consumer Society: brands, consumers and markets. Farnham and Burlington, VA: Ashgate, pp. 207-224.

Bowman, Marion and Ülo Valk. eds. 2012. Vernacular Religion in Everyday Life: Expressions of Belief. New York & London: Routledge.

Bowman, Marion. 2012. ‘Restoring/Restorying Arthur and Bridget: Vernacular Religion and Contemporary Spirituality in Glastonbury’. In Marion Bowman and Ülo Valk. eds.  Vernacular Religion in Everyday Life: Expressions of Belief. New York & London: Routledge, pp.328-348.

Bowman, Marion. 2011. ‘Understanding Glastonbury as a Site of Consumption’.  In Gordon Lynch, Jolyon Mitchell, Anna Strhan (eds.).  Religion, Media and Culture: A Reader. London: Routledge,  pp.11-22.

Bowman, Marion. 2009.  'Learning from experience: The value of analysing Avalon. Religion, 39:2, 161–168.

Bowman, Marion. 2009. ‘Glastonbury festival and the performance of remembrance’. DISKUS, 10.

Bowman, Marion. 2009. ‘From Glastonbury to Hungary: Contemporary Integrative Spirituality and Vernacular Religion in Context’. In Gábor Vargyas, ed. Passageways. From Hungarian Ethnography to European Ethnology and Sociocultural Anthropology. Department of European Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, The University of Pécs - L’Harmattan Publishing House, Budapest, pp.195-221

(Hungarian language version ‘Glastonburytől  Magyarországig. Kortárs integratív spiritualitás és vernakuláris vallás’ in Átjárók. A magyar néprajztól az európai etnológiáig és a kulturális antropológiáig. Szerkesztette) Vargyas Gábor. L'Harmattan - Pécsi Tudományegyetem Néprajz - Kulturális Antropológia Tanszék, pp. 181-208.)

Bowman, Marion. 2008. ‘Going with the Flow: Contemporary Pilgrimage in Glastonbury’. In Peter Jan Margy, ed.  Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World: New Itineraries into the Sacred.  Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 241-280.

Bowman, Marion. 2007. ‘Arthur and Bridget in Avalon: Celtic Myth, Vernacular Religion and Contemporary Spirituality in Glastonbury’. FabulaJournal of Folktale Studies, 48 (1/2): 1-17.

Bowman, Marion. 2007. ‘A tale of two Celticities: sacred springs, legendary landscape and Celtic revival in Bath’. Australian Religious Studies Review, Special Issue on "Tradition as a Resource: Invention, Innovation, Inheritance", ed. Michael Hill, 20 (1): 95-117.

Bowman, Marion. 2006. ‘The Holy Thorn Ceremony: Revival, Rivalry and Civil Religion in Glastonbury’. Folklore 117 (2):123-140 Read this online or download in PDF format.

Bowman, Marion. 2005. ‘Ancient Avalon, New Jerusalem, Heart Chakra of Planet Earth: Localisation and Globalisation in Glastonbury’ NUMEN 52 (2):157-190.

Bowman, Marion. 2003-2004. ‘Taking Stories Seriously: Vernacular Religion, Contemporary Spirituality and the Myth of Jesus in Glastonbury’ Temenos, 39-40:125-142.

Bowman, Marion. 2004. ‘Healing in the Spiritual Marketplace: Consumers, Courses and Credentialism’ reprinted in James R. Lewis, ed The Encyclopedic Sourcebook of New Age Religions, (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books), pp. 339-348.

Bowman, Marion. 2004. ‘Phenomenology, fieldwork and folk religion’ reprinted (with newly written Afterword) in Steven Sutcliffe, ed. Religion: Empirical Studies, (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 3-18.

Bowman, Marion. 2004. ‘Procession and Possession in Glastonbury: Continuity, Change and the Manipulation of Tradition’ Folklore 115 (3): 1-13.

Bowman, Marion. 2003. ‘Vernacular Religion and Nature: The “Bible of the Folk” Tradition in Newfoundland’ Folklore 114 (3): 285-295.

Bowman, Marion. 2001. ‘The People’s Princess: Religion and Politics in the Mourning for Diana’ In Gabor Barna, ed. Politics and Folk Religion. (Szeged, Hungary: Department of Ethnology, University of Szeged)

Bowman, Marion and Steven Sutcliffe. 2000. ‘Introduction’. In Steven Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman, eds. Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press) pp.1-13.

Bowman, Marion. 2000. ‘More of the same?: Christianity, Vernacular Religion and Alternative Spirituality in Glastonbury’. In Steven Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman, eds. Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press) pp. 83-104

Bowman, Marion. 2000. ‘Introduction’ and ‘The Need for Healing: A Bath Case Study’. In Marion Bowman, ed. Healing and Religion. (Middlesex: Hisarlik Press) pp. ix-xii and 95-107.

Bowman, Marion. 2000. ‘Nature, the Natural and Pagan Pluralism,’ DISKUS 6.

See also Open Research Online for further details of Marion Bowman’s research publications.

Teaching interests

One of the great joys of teaching at The Open University is writing and creating teaching materials collaboratively, working with colleagues, pooling our varied research expertise.  

Since joining The Open University I have contributed to the production and presentation of numerous interdisciplinary and Religious Studies modules. Most recently I have produced units on ‘Consuming religion: materiality, markets and spiritually shopping around’ and on the aftermath of clerical sexual abuse in Newfoundland for A332 Why is Religion Controversial?;  ‘Pilgrimage: Routes with Roots and ‘What does religion sound like?’ for A227 Exploring religion: places, practices, texts and experiences; and ‘Christianity and its material Culture’  for A111 Discovering the Arts and Humanities. My research interests in Glastonbury, vernacular religion, material religion, airport chapels, Celtic spirituality, religion in Newfoundland, and pilgrimage have been reflected in many of my units. 

At The Open University I have co-supervised 11 PhD candidates through to successful completion, and I have been external examiner for over 30 PhD theses at universities in the UK, USA, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Estonia and Australia.

Impact and engagement

Much of my research has been fieldwork based, and I am grateful to the many people who have shared their time, opinions, ideas and expertise with me over the years, and allowed to me to participate in and observe events, ceremonies and other praxis. In return, it has been a pleasure to be invited to share some of my research results over the years in public events in places as varied as Glastonbury,  Finland and Switzerland, and to participate in BBC Radio 4 programmes such as Making History (2018), and Beyond Belief (2012).

 Impact planning was integral to the design and execution of the AHRC funded project Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present [PEC] which ran from October 2014 – March 2018 (see ). Principal Investigator Dee Dyas (Centre for Christianity and Culture, University of York) led the historical research, with full-time historical researcher John Jenkins, University of York;  as Co-Investigator (.2) I led on the fieldwork side, with Simon Coleman (.1, based at Toronto University) and Tiina Sepp (University of York) as full-time researcher.

The project included the production of four comprehensive reports based on a combination of fieldwork and historical research, produced for and presented to each of our partner institutions: Anglican York Minster, Canterbury and Durham Cathedrals, and Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral   ( ). Impact activities included pilgrimage experience events held in collaboration with partners to raise issues and trial ideas and activities; plus workshops and events for Cathedral staff, broader Anglican and Catholic constituents and practitioners, and National Trust, Heritage England and other heritage sector professionals.

PEC employed interdisciplinary historical and fieldwork-based perspectives and methodologies to identify and analyse the core dynamics of pilgrimage and sacred sites in England from the 11th to 21st centuries; to assess the growing significance of English cathedrals as sacred/heritage sites today; and to inform management of and public engagement with these buildings.

Our multifaceted field research, conducted over three years and returning to each Cathedral at different times of the year (winter, Easter, summer, Christmas, etc.), employed qualitative and quantitative methods, including distribution of questionnaires to visitors,  interviews with visitors and a range of cathedral ‘staff’ from Deans to educational staff, volunteers and shop managers. Additionally we participated in Cathedral services, and structured observation of particular sites within the cathedrals.

Our research has:

●            provided significant insights into the contemporary significance and use of cathedrals and the appeal of new forms of pilgrimage, for  religiously aligned participants from a variety of traditions and spiritually non-aligned participants;

●            helped a range of constituents to better understand and respond to contemporary social and spiritual trends and circumstances, in turn enhancing more nuanced administration of their sites (e.g. not simply segmenting people into 'worshipper' and 'tourist' categories);

●            analysed interfaces between traditional and non-traditional spiritual praxis, highlighting opportunities for engagement, welcome and community building (e.g. the importance of providing the opportunity for candle lighting and the provision of quiet ‘loose’ spaces)

●            critiqued aspects of the ‘heritagization’ of religion and ‘spiritualisation’ of heritage to inform new visitor management and engagement strategies (e.g. the need for materials that promote religious literacy to help people understand what such places were/are for, and what they are seeing there, and help people relate to them);

●            provided granular and nuanced information about Cathedral visitorship (e.g. people who self-identify as being of ‘no religion’);

●            articulated how ‘safe spaces’ and a sense of belonging are important and might be better promoted in such sites;

●            suggested ways in which an increasingly broad demographic might be enabled to engage meaningfully with religious/ cultural heritage sites (e.g. through 'trail' leaflets which help to break down a large imposing space into smaller, meaningful places);

●            argued persuasively for the importance of photography as a means of expressing relationality to both places and other people (Durham Cathedral has changed its policy in light of our findings, for example how people light a candle for someone and use their phones to instantly send a photo of 'their' candle or post on FaceBook);

●            introduced a range of stakeholders and practitioners to useful scholarly concepts and vocabulary (e.g. the importance of ‘adjacency’ - letting people see and hear what is happening, without forcing them into participation;'tight' and 'loose' spaces and activities) which has helped them to articulate and address issues within buildings for which they have responsibility.

Dyas and Bowman appeared at a ‘Fringe event’, Anglican Church Synod, University of York (10.7.17), and the Project Conference “Cathedrals, Mission and the Power of Place: Past, Present and Future” (14.11.17) held at Lambeth Palace, London, included presentations by Bowman, Coleman, Dyas and Jenkins. This event drew together representatives from all but one of England's 42 cathedrals, as well as policy makers, funders and statutory advisory bodies. The Historic England-English Heritage Staff Workshop (20.07.17) included presentation of project findings, discussions and identification of practical points to inform national strategies for heritage bodies more widely.

Follow on funding enabled the project Engaging with Place and Managing Space: Transforming policy, statutory advice, management, and visitor experience in England's historic churches (on which I had a consultative role). This drew on evidence, analysis and practical initiatives from PEC and resulted in the publicly available report DEVELOPING VISITOR ENGAGEMENT IN CATHEDRALS 


External collaborations

2016-2018: University of Oslo, Norway. Professor II (20%), Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages.

2017-2020:  AHRC Peer Review College 

2013-2014: Chair, QAA Theology and Religious Studies Subject Undergraduate Benchmarking Group

2010-2013: Member, QAA Theology and Religious Studies Subject MA Benchmarking Group

2020-: External Scientific Expert on a collaborative project involving researchers in Estonia, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia and the UK, Re-storied Sites and Routes as Inclusive Spaces and Places: Shared Imaginations and Multi-layered Heritage (EMP340), funded by the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014–2021, Baltic Research Programme in Estonia. ( )

2018- : University of Oslo, Norway. Guest Researcher, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages.

2016-2018: University of Oslo, Norway. Professor II (20%), Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages.

2014: University of Tartu, Estonia. Visiting Professor, Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore.

2010 -2015 - International Scientific Advisory Board Member, Post-secular culture and a changing religious landscape in Finland project, Abo Akademi, Finland.

2009: University of Bayreuth, Germany. William James Visiting Professor, Study of Religion.

2007: University of Pecs, Hungary, Guest lecturer, Department of Ethnography and Cultural Anthropology, (Marie Curie Host Fellowship for the Transfer of Knowledge).

2006: Abo Akademi, Turku, Finland, Visiting Lecturer on Contemporary Spirituality, Religious Studies.

2002, 1997: University of Bergen, Norway, Visiting Lecturer, "Magic, Myth and Miracle" Research Project, Departments of Folklore and Religious Studies.

International Research Proposal Referee Experience includes: Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF); National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NKFIH), Hungary: Estonian Research Council; Austrian Science Fund; Academic Research Council, Singapore; Research Council of Norway; Canadian SSRC Research Award. 

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
Cross-Cultural Identities Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
Heritage Studies Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts
Material Cultures Research GroupGroupFaculty of Arts