An update on my attempt at online accountability: Falling at the first hurdle

Hi folks,

Time another update. I fell at the first hurdle of may amazing timetable to full thesis draft. I didn’t get my data analysis completed by 2 June. That is no great surprise given that I was in Northern Ireland visiting family and attending a conference for a full week in the middle of that period, and given the fact that analyzing data is incredibly monotonous. But a there a few positives to come out of this… first of all, my supervisor is awesome and completely understood the situation, particularly given the other projects I have been boxing off of late. We were able to revise my schedule and things should hopefully stay on track. Secondly, my workrate has been improving day by day as I get into the groove of working like a normal human being… this has been greatly helped by listening to the back catalogue of Kiss on Spotify… God most definitely gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to me!

So, here is my revised schedule as it currently stands… additions in bold, changes scored through. You’ll notice that I have been accepted to attend an intensive 3 day writing workshop at Lancaster which will help me enormously in getting these chapters off the ground.

  • 2 June 2015: Complete Data Analysis. (4 June Supervision). MISSED DEADLINE… but Kim and I had a very useful discussion.
  • 15 June 2015: Additional Meeting to Discuss Data Analysis.
  • 24 June 2015: Draft Chapter 5. Written descriptions of key discourses, plan Chapters 5 and 6 (26 June Supervision).
  • 1–3 July 2015: Lancaster University Writing Retreat .
  • 13 July 2015: Draft Chapter 6. Drafts of Chapters 5 and 6 (15 July Supervision).
  • 5 August 2015: Re-worked Chapters 5 and 6. Structures for 2 IAHR papers (and potentially BASR paper). (7 August Supervision).
  • 23 August 2015: Completed IAHR Papers. (Supervision/Meeting during conference in Erfurt, 23-29 August).
  • 23 September 2015: Draft Chapter 7. (25 September Supervision).

And, in case any of you are interested in my bizarre motivational tools… here is how my data analysis chart is currently looking…


I’m not even going to attempt to explain it, but once both of those pages are coloured in, I am DONE!

Finally, I’ve also been rehearsing for what is shaping up to be an excellent concert of very challenging music. Saturday 20 June 2015, Old Saint Paul’s, Edinburgh… do come along if you can:


My writing schedule – an exercise in online accountability

Hi folks,

As ever, it’s been too long. Today I finally submitted an overdue chapter for (fingers crossed) publication in a book resulting from the workshop I attended in Frankfurt last November on “religious indifference”. The chapter is titled “A Discursive Approach to ‘Religious Indifference’: Critical Reflections from Edinburgh’s Southside.” I’ll update you as and when I have more news.

In other academic news, it looks like David and I will be formally submitting the manuscript for our edited volume After World Religions to Routledge in the next few days. Just a few niggly points on a marketing questionnaire to go. Again, more information when I have it.

I’ll save “non-academic” life updates for another post… the main purpose of this post is to publish my writing schedule for the coming months. This has resulted from me getting through my third (and hopefully final) annual review at Lancaster University, and I am posting it a) to let you all have a flavour of what it is that I am doing, and b) perhaps most importantly to provide some form of accountability. My reasoning is that if I publish this in some form, and keep posting occasional writing updates, there will be more pressure on me to actually meet my targets – even if no one reads the posts. Keep reading over the next few months to see how things are going… For now, here is my thesis title, chapter headings, and list of deadlines. I currently have completed drafts of chapters 2, 3 and 4.

Non-Religion, Non-Religions, Non-Religious: Discourses on (Non-)Religion in Edinburgh’s Southside

  1. Introduction
  2. Building a Theoretical Case for the Discursive Study of Non-Religion
  3. There is Method to this Madness: Edinburgh’s Southside as Container for Religion-Related Discourse
  4. Religion-Related Discourses in the Peoples of Edinburgh Project (PEP)
  5. Religion-Related Discourses in Edinburgh’s Southside: 2014 (and 2011)
  6. (Non-)Religious Discourses of Moderation, Tolerance, and Indifference
  7. Non-Religion, Discourse, and Locality: Methodological Gains and (Theoretical) Conclusions
  8. Conclusion


  • 2 June 2015: Complete Data Analysis. (4 June Supervision).
  • 24 June 2015: Draft Chapter 5. (26 June Supervision).
  • 13 July 2015: Draft Chapter 6. (15 July Supervision).
  •  5 August 2015: Re-worked Chapters 5 and 6. Structures for 2 IAHR papers (and potentially BASR paper). (7 August Supervision).
  • 23 August 2015: Completed IAHR Papers. (Supervision/Meeting during conference in Erfurt, 23-29 August).
  • 23 September 2015: Draft Chapter 7. (25 September Supervision).

Defending the ‘wrong type of immigrant’, and looking to the future…

Those of you in the UK might have seen images like this one in your travels around the internet or around London. I don’t know much about the campaign, but you can find out more about it here. Essentially, it is has emerged in the context of a highly toxic public debate in the UK on the issue of immigration, and aims to ‘humanise’ the debate, showing that immigrants are real people who make ‘real contributions’ to the UK.

What follows is a version of some thoughts that I posted to Facebook this morning, and I feel comfortable making them publicly.

First off, this is definitely a good first step. Hurrah! Those of you who know me, and have read my previous posts (particularly on why I voted YES in the Scottish Independence referendum) will know that I am pro-immigration through and through. But two thoughts have crossed my mind upon learning of this campaign, and I say this having only been able to find images of about 2/3 of the posters.

The first is that ‘this type of immigrant’ is exactly the ‘type of immigrant’ that UKIP wants. No political party is saying it doesn’t want ‘hardworking immigrants’ with great cultural capital who will bring ‘economic’ and other benefits to the country. I really worry about turning immigrants into a ‘positive economic investment’. Even my own party, the Scottish Green Party, have had to bow somewhat to this dominant societal discourse and frame their progressive and compassionate views on immigration in their manifesto largely in terms of economic and cultural benefit:

We believe Scotland should be a welcoming country where immigrants are celebrated as an asset to our economy and enriching for our culture. Immigration is a great benefit to Scotland, just as Scots have benefited over the generations through migration to other countries. We will consistently challenge the toxic rhetoric used by too many politicians which turns people against their neighbours. We will reinstate the post-study work visa to allow students who study at UK universities to stay and use their education in Britain. We will reform the dysfunctional approach of the UK Visas and immigration agency to meet Scottish immigration needs. We will create an asylum system which treats people with dignity.

In my view, ‘we’ have so much and ‘need’ to be welcoming to many other immigrants, including those who may ultimately be a ‘drain’ on ‘our’ economy. ‘We’ have space and money. Let’s give it to those who need it, not just those who can help ‘us’ out.

Secondly… and not specifically related to this campaign…what are the thoughts of those parties who adopt a pro-‘hardworking, highly-skilled immigrant’ stance on the long-term impact of such a stance? For example, what happens in a hypothetical world, 20 years from now, when a ‘visible’ change has happened in the top jobs in UK society, when ‘indigenous’ people feel that ‘the government’ has let them down by targeting folk from overseas, rather than prioritizing training ‘people who are already here’, and when the top performers in ‘our’ schools are increasingly 1.5 and second generation immigrants, the children of these highly-successful and driven people, etc? Personally, I don’t have a problem with that admittedly hypothetical future, and I would hope that others would be able to have the historical consciousness to trace such a situation in part to early-21st century tougher ‘controls on immigration’. Another possibility, is that the current xenophobia towards those who don’t fall in to the ‘highly-skilled’ and/or ‘hardworking’ category will simply be extended or transferred to those who do.

Anyway, as I say I think this campaign is a great first step, and hope to see much more of this kind of positivity in the future. I realise that there are likely a lot of generalizations and over-simplifications in this rant. I also appreciate the need for the country to not simply open its borders, but would always urge policy makers to remember that immigrants are people and not merely a potential economic gain/drain, and that we should perhaps be a bit more generous with the resources at our disposal.

Some video evidence of me singing

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege and pleasure of singing the part of “Nanki Poo” in a concert performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado”.

A video of the Act 1 Finale has emerged as if by magic… and I post it below for you to do with as you please.

(Hint: I’m the bald one…)

A Brief (Life) Update: Discourses on (Non-)Religion in Edinburgh’s Southside

I was recently asked to submit a short, interdisciplinary research brief for an event that I am attending on Urban Super-Diversity next month. In the interests of updating you all on what I am up to – particularly given that this blog has not been updated in a horrendously long time – I have posted this information below as an image. You can also download it as a PDF.

I hope to get back to blogging more regularly at some point in the future…

Taking a leaf out of my pal David’s blogging book, I guess I should update you all on what’s been happening.

Academically, among other things…

In my ‘real life’…

Ciao for now.

A-Cad Cotter

Discourse Analysis and the Study of Atheism: Definitions, Discourse, and Ethnographic Criticism


What he said…

Originally posted on Nonreligion and Secularity:

In this post Ethan Quillen explores a discursive approach to atheism (and nonreligion) following the theoretical work of von Stuckrad (2003). Quillen suggests that researchers in this area move away from definitions and wrangling over the the meaning of words, and concentrate instead on the way in which these words are used; how these words are made meaningful and allowing research participants to ‘speak for themselves’. Here, Quillen proposes that this discursive approach has methodological implications for research in this field. 


While admittedly my initial intentions for this post were a bit more malicious—repeating my old standard of arguing against the use of ‘nonreligion’ [1] —I soon felt that to be a bit tedious and wasteful. That is, where in the past I have spent a good amount of time offering a critical perspective on the use of the term, such as was the content of my presentation at the NSRN conference in 2012, for this post…

View original 1,985 more words

Why “culture” presents scholars with no less difficulty than “religion”

While preparing a paper for a conference next month, I have been revisiting one of my supervisor’s books. Within, I found I had highlighted a great articulation of the problem I feel with some scholars who seem to advocate throwing away the term “religion” due to its ideological baggage, whilst wishing to retain other concepts and remaining seemingly blind to their ideological baggage. I have pasted below… but haven’t included the various footnotes…

“Whilst I appreciate Fitzgerald’s analysis, I draw the same conclusion as Carrette who concludes that ‘the idea of religion needs to be challenged… but it does not necessarily have to be eradicated’. Its eradication from the disciplinary agenda might very well mask ideological forces – liberal theological – of the kind that Fitzgerald is keen to identify, as well as those inherent within the secularist discourse of cultural studies. It would certainly remove a powerful – if contested – conceptual tool from the scholarly workshop. The proposed construct ‘culture’ is itself ideological charged and presents us with no less difficulty than ‘religion’ for an examination of Western spaces. Carrette calls for the strategic operation of ‘religion’ rather than its dissolution, on the grounds that the Western conception of religion provides ‘a location for understanding a regime of knowledge-power’. This brings me directly to my preferred perspective, one that elects to focus explicitly on the tension between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’, a major ‘binary constitutive of modernity’.”

Knott, Kim. The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis. London and Oakville CT: Equinox, 2005. p. 83.

Why I am voting YES to Scottish Independence

A few days ago I was asked to answer three questions by the Bogata Post – my cousin works there – regarding my stance as a “Yes” voter in the upcoming referendum on Scottish Independence. The piece hasn’t appeared yet, but I thought I might as well post what I wrote just to some of my views into the mix. Here it is…

twibbonI’ve been trying to put all of this in some form of elegant prose for quite a bit of the evening, but I figure I had better just get on with saying my piece in as concise a manner as possible, and leave the rest for you to judge. Before I answer the three questions, I feel that I should first state that I am not Scottish, but was born in Northern Ireland and have lived in Scotland for 10 years. This background makes me naturally quite jumpy when the issue of nationalism comes up – whether we are talking about Irish Nationalism, UK Nationalism or Scottish Nationalism. I deplore politics that is based upon “helping our own first”, or “defending what my grandparents fought for” and other such tropes. It took A LOT for me to come round to the idea of Scottish Independence. With this in mind, I’ll now quickly turn to the three questions posed.

  1. Why are you pro-independence?

I am voting for Indpendence because I see this as an amazing opportunity to effect change that could be immensely positive for every person living in the British Isles, and to a lesser extent those beyond this small group of islands.

Recently I bought into the #YesBecause hashtag on Twitter and posted two tweets which pretty much sum up my attitude:

“I’m #YesBecause UK politics is broken, and Independence provides the only real opportunity for actual change for everyone on these islands.”

“I’m #YesBecause both Scotland & rUK need to leave Empire behind once and for all and look to a peaceful, sustainable future of co-operation.”

To expand further on these soundbites, the future that I want for Scotland and the rest of the British Isles is one where we no longer try to play at the ‘big boys table’, where we have the courage to leave nuclear weapons behind us, where we prioritise welfare and helping those most in need, where we open our borders to those in need across the world and where we are willing to accept a much less comfortable standard of living in order to make real change for the better for everyone on the planet. The future I want is one where we care for the environment, promote equality across society, and participate fully in wonderful boundary-breaking and peace-building institutions such as the EU, rather than consistently and beligerently sitting on the sidelines refusing to compromise or change.

I am under no illusions that Independence will bring the idealistic future that I want overnight, or at all… but I do know that if Scotland votes for Independence from the United Kingdom it will force the United Kingdom to re-assess its identity, values and priorities, and provide the people of Scotland with an unprecendented opportunity to start the democratic experiment afresh in the twenty-first century, with the benefit of hundreds of years of hindsight. It might fail… but if we don’t take the opportunity we will never know. I know that this idealistic vision invites the response “yes, but how can you effect all this change if the country has no money?” And to that I would simply say a) money isn’t everything b) money hasn’t exactly helped the UK, as far as my priorities are concerned.

  1. What has the atmosphere been like in the run-up to the vote- any tensions between the two sides etc?

This answer will be much shorter, I promise. In terms of the political ‘debate’ – if we can call it that – the atmosphere has been particularly ghastly. Both sides simply shout at each other. Both demand factual answers to questions that cannot be answered in a situation where neither side will admit that a) their position might not win b) they might have to negotiate with the other ‘side’ even if they do win. The Facebook pages of both campaigns are some of the worst cesspools of the internet, attracting the kind of abusive comments that one would expect… on most websites, to be honest.

In terms of the way things have been portrayed in the media, I am utterly frustrated by this. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE ECONOMY, FOLKS. In particular, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT “THE CURRENCY QUESTION”. As far as I am concerned, and as far as most folk that I speak to on both sides of the debate seem to be concerned, the currency issue is far down on our list of concerns… yet the media has decided that this is what the debate hangs upon, and thus reports everything within that light. It also doesn’t help that the UK media is part of the UK status quo, and like any businesses which have UK-wide markets, they understandably want to avoid unpredictability and maintain things the way they are. Understandable, perhaps… but not great for unbiased reporting.

In terms of things on the ground, apart from a few clear exceptions I would say that the ‘debate’ has been pretty good-natured… except that in my opinion no one is really going to change their views. Everyone has differing priorities, and thus we all tend to talk past each other. I have, of course, seen/heard plenty of friends make comments that they are fed up of the debate, or that they feel that the debate is ugly, causing division and forcing them to choose sides etc. To that I can only say that I imagine people would feel the same way if ‘we’ got so worked up about ‘normal’ elections. I think there is a tendency on these islands to not like being confronted with ‘opinions’, or being seen to hold ‘opinions’… and perhaps this is a problem that we will need to address come the UK General Election in 2015.

  1. What do you honestly think the outcome will be?

Honestly, I think that the vote will be a “No”. I think that people are far more likely to “bottle it” than to say “oh, what the hell” when they make it to the polling booth. And I think that most people will vote “No” for potentially very understandable reasons… worries about their job, their family, their mortgage. All I will be able to say in that case is that I voted for what I thought was right, that I tried for once in my life to not be as selfish as I normally am, and that I will try to keep this level of political engagement going forward into the coming decades and try my hardest to effect the sorts of changes I would like to see occurring in Scotland, the British Isles, Europe and beyond. But I also think that the vote will be close… and that whatever happens, there will be a high enough percentage of votes for “Yes” to cause some serious questioning and reflection for politicians going forward. And maybe… maybe… I will be pleasantly surprised.

Damn those popular operas!

More random tidbits from my research today…

The following extract appears in Mayfield and Fountainhall: A Short History (1962), which gives a history of the now defunct Mayfield and Fountainhall Church in Edinburgh. The quotation comes from a 1900 report of the Psalmody Committee to the Deacon’s Court, and suggests that there might have been a problem with some Gilbert & Sullivan creeping in on the organ…

Damn those popular operas

Pan Drops and Bored Church-goers

I came across the following text when researching the history of my current research site. The author is referring to a street in Edinburgh called “Causewayside”, which is literally 2 minutes away from my residence. He is writing about life in the 1950s/60s.

Nice and poetic, no?

“Drifting from the factory of confectioner John Millar and Sons Ltd. was the tantalizing bouquet of boiling sugar, chocolate, fruit flavourings and, above all, mint, for this was the home of the celebrated Pan Drop, one of the most popular sweets ever to have been manufactured in sweet-toothed Scotland and a boon to bored church-goers throughout the land as they slowly sucked their way through many a long, tedious sermon, the air over the pews becoming more heavy with mint than piety.”

James Beyer, “The Land of Sweets”. Scottish Memories (April 2009), p. 34.

Image from

Image from


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 809 other followers