About Me & My Blog
It’s time for this page to be updated [20 November 2011]… for a formalised list of my academic qualifications and activities, see my Academic CV.
I’m Chris, a twenty-something year-old recent postgraduate student in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. I originally come from Northern Ireland (Carrickfergus and then Jordanstown) but moved pretty much totally over to Edinburgh in 2004 when I came to study Physics… so you could say I don’t really fit into a box when it comes to the arts/science divide. I am intending upon spending the academic year 2011/12 working on PhD applications, trying to get a few more publications out, working on my new academic commitments with the NSRN, and working on a Religious Studies podcasting and blogging project (more details to follow).
In November 2011, I graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MSc by Research in Divinity (Religious Studies) with distinction, a year and a half after graduating with a first class MA (Honours) in Religious Studies from the same institution. Throughout my undergraduate study I engaged with a wide variety of subjects in the social-scientific study of religion, ranging from New Age Religion and Systematic Theology, to Islamic Eschatology and New Indigenous Religious Movements (in Africa and the African Diaspora). My 10,000 word undergraduate dissertation was an independently conceived literary study under the supervision of Dr Steven Sutcliffe, looking at the implicit and explicit agenda(s) in the writings of four contemporary ‘New Atheists’. An edited and expanded version of the paper has subsequently been published in the International Journal for the Study of New Religions, entitled “Consciousness Raising: The Critique, Agenda and Inherent Precariousness of Contemporary Anglophone Atheism” (Cotter 2011a). My 25,000 word MSc dissertation took my initial enthusiasm for this work and directed it to the broader and under-researched field of ‘nonreligion’ – “something which is defined primarily by the way it differs from religion” (Lee 2011, 2). This project was also carried out under Steven Sutcliffe’s supervision, and entitled “Toward a Typology of Nonreligion: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students”. I have subsequently presented papers based on my thesis at the British and European Associations for the Study of Religions’ annual conferences (Durham and Budapest), and at the recent Society for the Scientific Study of Religion annual meeting in Milwaukee.
In my MSc dissertation, I suggested that the majority of existing scholarship fails to give adequate nuance to the wide variety of nonreligious positions. The nonreligious are frequently ignored in studies of ‘religion’, or treated as a monolithic group, despite the plethora of terms which divide the ‘nonreligious’ along dimensions of ‘belief’, ‘practice’ or ‘affiliation’. Thus, I aimed to address this situation by providing an alternative typology of nonreligion which was rooted in the narrative frameworks of individuals, expressed by individuals themselves, and “independent of religious categories” (Quack 2011, 2). In addition, I also aimed to use the variety of positions on display to demonstrate the artificial nature of the religion-nonreligion dichotomy.
I decided to start this blog for a few reasons:
1. Because throughout my study and discussing with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, I have realised, in a totally non-patronising way, that a lot of people don’t know very much about religion, or about any religion other than a very vague caricature of Christianity. I am not claiming to know “a lot” about religion(s), or to be able to impart knowledge in any sort of coherent manner, but I just thought that a forum where a “normal” person could offer some insight in the world’s religious faiths, and promote some discussion, that this would not be a bad thing.
2. Because I discovered Twitter… and through following a few interesting individuals, I followed links to all sorts of informative blogs and thoroughly enjoyed the views, news and debate presented there, and thought “I could do that too”… I’m now in the odd position of juggling numerous twitter accounts. I dip in and out, and have periods of intense activity followed by weeks of lag… I’m trying to get more consistent, though. Likewise with this blog…
3. The “more” is important! I don’t want this to be a boring, intellectual exercise. I do want this to be a place where religion can be discussed… and I am more than happy to indulge rational debate and/or religious/anti-religious crusades. But I also want it to be a place where I can post interesting articles, or quotations that I find in other areas, or where I can just stick something random or humourous that happened to come my way/cross my mind.
I had previously written “I’m sure I will think of more reasons, and will add them here in due course” but I never added any more… I think, though, that my main objective is just to disseminate, condense and filter interesting knowledge that I find in various online and printed sources. If you like the kind of thing that I seem to stumble across, then fair enough… if you don’t, then that’s fine too.
Outside of studying, I live with my girlfriend Lindsey, do a lot of part-time work
for the University, and have a keen interest in singing and in performing – in plays, musicals, operettas and opera. I watch an awful lot of DVDs, which mostly include a lot of Star Trek and anything by Joss Whedon, have a ludicrously eclectic taste in music, enjoy playing poker and squash, reading anything and everything in general and spend an inordinate amount of time in the pub… when money allows!
Please comment, and let me know how you find the blog…
All the best,
Edinburgh, November 2011