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Research in Religious Studies

Our research centres around the lived realities of religions and their intersections with societies, politics, geographies and cultures. Our staff have a wide range of expertise, working across disciplines including history, anthropology, folklore studies, sociology and critical theory, but with a common focus on contemporary religion in historical perspective.

Stephanie Sinclair, John Holmwood and Matt Woodhead at The Trojan Horse, 2019

Stephanie Sinclair, John Holmwood and Matt Woodhead at The Trojan Horse, The Lowry, 2019. Photo credit: Ellie Cloughton/Stephanie Sinclair.

Engaging the wider world

Beyond academia, we have established relationships with a range of secular and religious organisations and groups, including: Bath Interfaith, the Milton Keynes Interfaith network, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre, the New Testament Church of God, the Northampton Theological Society, the Panacea Trust, the Bear Tribe, and the Religious Archives Group.

We are committed to promoting religious literacy of various kinds. Our FutureLearn MOOC, Why Religion Matters: Religious Literacy, Culture and Diversity, was developed to help policy makers and anyone concerned with contemporary religious developments. Suzanne Newcombe is Honorary Director of Inform, an organisation which advises government and media on minority religious groups, while John Wolffe is a trustee of Faith in Media, which promotes religious literacy in journalism. We contributed evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education's report Improving Religious Literacy (2016) and to its inquiry into religious literacy in print and broadcast media (2020).

How we work with others

We recognise the importance of collaboration within our discipline. We believe in nurturing existing partnerships and developing new ones to undertake world-class and innovative research. We lead and participate in various national and international scholarly associations, including the British Association for the Study of Religions, European Association for the Study of Religions, Theology and Religious Studies UK, Ecclesiastical History Society, the Religious Studies Project and the Folklore Society. We have established strong collaborative links in the UK and beyond. Some examples of current collaborations are noted further down the page. Our postgraduate (PhD) researchers can benefit from our participation in the Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Training Programme.

Our publications

We have several widely respected publications that unpack cutting-edge issues and help advance the debate with innovative ideas and approaches. We believe research should be accessible to as many people as possible – you can read some of our publications for free via publishers’ websites and via The Open University’s Open Research Online collection. Our academics and research degree students are on the editorial boards of twelve peer reviewed journals. In addition, they contribute editorially towards several books and journals, some of which are listed below:

Religion and the Senses (Equinox)
Religions in Focus (Routledge)
Religion, Space and Place (Bloomsbury)
Vitality of Indigenous Religions (Routledge)
Journal of Yoga Studies (online open-access)
Implicit Religion: Journal of the Critical Study of Religion (Equinox)
Religious Studies Project
Culture and Religion (Routledge)
Religions of South Asia (Equinox)

Current projects

RETOPEA | Religious Toleration and Peace
RETOPEA website banner and logo.

We live in a largely secular society, yet as religious issues and identity debates continue to surface, religious symbols abound. This 2.4 million euro EU-funded international research project investigates the ways in which religious coexistence is considered in different environments. It explores how religion has been managed in peace treaties in the past, and aims to use the insights gained to inform thinking about present-day peaceful religious co-existence, especially among young people.

Pilgrimage and England's Cathedrals, Past and Present - York University
Votive candles in York Minster

This project asks two key questions: why did pilgrimage matter in the past and why does it still matter today? To help answer these questions it focuses on the rich histories and contemporary stories of four important English cathedrals: Canterbury, Durham, Westminster and York. As well as exploring the experience of pilgrims in the past, the research team also conducted fieldwork (led by Marion Bowman) asking those visiting and managing cathedrals today to share their own experiences and views.

Find out more

Discover more about what we do via our departmental blog and on Twitter @religion_ou.

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