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Research in Religious Studies

Religious Studies at The Open University is a global leader in research about the lived realities of religions in the contemporary world. Working across disciplines including history, anthropology, sociology and critical theory, but with a common focus on contemporary religion in historical perspective, our staff have a wide range of expertise, and regularly contribute to our departmental blog.

Our leadership in national and international scholarly associations (including the British Association for the Study of ReligionsEuropean Association for the Study of Religions, Theology and Religious Studies UK, Ecclesiastical History Society, the Religious Studies Project and the Folklore Society), and the influence of our publications in advancing cutting edge issues and approaches, demonstrates widespread respect for our work.

We are editors of four book series: Religion and the Senses (Equinox),  Religions in Focus (Routledge), Religion, Space and Place (Bloomsbury), and Vitality of Indigenous Religions (Routledge). We are editors of two peer reviewed journals: Journal of Yoga Studies (online open-access) and Implicit Religion: Journal of the Critical Study of Religion (Equinox), and of the Religious Studies Project podcast and resource site. We are book reviews editors for Culture and Religion (Routledge) and Religions of South Asia (Equinox). In addition, we are on the editorial boards of twelve peer reviewed journals.

We have established strong collaborative links in the UK and beyond, with collaborative research projects with colleagues in Belgium, Lithuania, Norway, and elsewhere; and nationally with the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and York.
 

Impact

Beyond academia, we have established relationships with such groups as Bath Interfaith, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre, the Milton Keynes Interfaith network the New Testament Church of God,, the Northampton Theological Society, the Panacea Trust, and the Religious Archives Group.

We have developed a strong reputation for promoting ‘religious literacy’ of various kinds. Our FutureLearn MOOC, Why Religion Matters: Religious Literacy, Culture and Diversity, is intended to help our research reach policy makers and others concerned with contemporary religious developments. Suzanne Newcombe is Honorary Director of Inform, a Research Fellow at INFORM, an organisation which advises government and media on minority religious groups and sects, while John Wolffe is a trustee of Faith in Media, which promotes religious literacy in journalism, and was an evidence contributor for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education’s report Improving Religious Literacy (2016).
 

Current Projects

RETOPEA | Religious Toleration and Peace

Although we live in a largely secular society, religious issues emerge once again, and in identity debates religious symbols abound. Several members of the department are involved in this (2.4 million euros) EU-funded international research project, which investigates the different ways in which religious coexistence is thought of in different environments and how religion has been managed in peace treaties in the past, aiming 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

This project is a new, wide-ranging analysis of the meaning and breadth of 'pilgrimage' and the role of sacred places past and present. It focuses on the role of cathedrals to investigate the core dynamics of pilgrimage and sacred sites in England from the 11th to 21st centuries, assess the growing significance of cathedrals as sacred/heritage sites today, and inform management of and public engagement with these iconic buildings.

Our Impact case studies from the 2014 REF can be viewed here: 

Applied religious history: understanding the past to inform the future

Understanding alternative and vernacular religions and spiritualities

 

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