It’s been a long time since I last posted on this blog. This seems to be a typical refrain in my last few posts. But I am delighted to break my radio silence to announce that I shall be joining the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh in September 2017 as Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow. For the next three years, I will be working on a project entitled A Comparative Study of Unbelief in Northern Ireland and Scotland. This project builds upon my previous research, much of which was carried out within the School of Divinity, and through which I have assembled a portfolio of methodological and theoretical tools suited to the critical academic study of ‘religion’ and its ‘others’—atheism, non-religion, secularism, religious indifference—which each contribute to the more general concept of ‘unbelief’ underpinning this project.
My undergraduate dissertation (at Edinburgh) consisted of a content analysis on the major publications of several well-known ‘New Atheists’. This initial interest was developed further in my MSc by Research (again, at Edinburgh; supervised by Dr Steven Sutcliffe) which produced an analytic typology of the narratives of ostensibly ‘non-religious’ students at the University of Edinburgh. My doctoral thesis (at Lancaster University; supervised by Professor Kim Knott) then placed the burgeoning body of contemporary research on ‘non-religion’ into conversation with the critical academic study of ‘religion’. Through an analysis religion-related discourses in Edinburgh’s Southside (historical and contemporary), I concluded that ‘non-religion’ is a contextual phenomenon, entangled with a variety of pervasive discourses that are inflected by local and national particularity. Furthermore, I argued that the performance of ‘religious indifference’ can be a tactic for coping with social difference. In addition, I have co-edited three books which expand upon these themes—Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular (2013), After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies (2016), and New Atheism: Critical Perspectives and Contemporary Debates (2017).
My current project continues this research trajectory, by focusing upon two constituent parts of the UK that are closely linked by centuries of migration across the North Channel; by problematic entanglements between various forms of Christianity and the state; and by their peripheral position in relation to the locus of UK power. Among my key questions are:
- Does ‘unbelief’ look and function in the same way for people from Catholic, Protestant and other religious backgrounds?
- Does ‘unbelief’ differ between rural areas and metropolitan centres?
- Do societies characterized by long traditions of Christianity and politicized religious identifications produce particular practices and processes of ‘unbelief’?
- Where and how do these relate to other social practices and processes of individuals, groups and communities in these two contexts?
My hope is that the project will enrich understandings of ‘unbelief’ and entangled concepts in two under-researched contexts, and contribute to broader scholarly debates surrounding the articulation and construction of ‘religion’ and ‘unbelief’.
In 2017/18 I shall be teaching on Studying Religions (Level 8) and Theory and Method in the Study of Religion (Level 11) and working to develop an honours course on ‘atheism’, ‘non-religion’ and related topics. I shall also continue in my capacities as co-editor-in-chief of the international podcast and academic hub, The Religious Studies Project, co-director of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, and treasurer of the British Association for the Study of Religions.
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…
- I’ve recently had a book chapter published, in Atheist Identities: Spaces and Social Contexts
- I’ve recently been appointed a director at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.
- The Religious Studies Project continues to go from strength to strength. Now into our fourth year, I’ve been doing a bit more interviewing recently, including interviews on Bricolage, the Post-Secular, African Christianity in the West, The Emerging Church, Religion and Memory, and Geographies of Religion and the Secular in Ireland.
In my ‘real life’…
- The wonderful Lindsey and I got married in November!! Here are some photos…
- I continue to sing regularly in Edinburgh with the St Andrew Camerata, who are going from strength-to-strength lately. Check here for details of our next concert (21 March). And please follow us on Twitter!
- And probably much more…
Ciao for now.
The Academic Résumé: Some Recommendations
By L. W. Hurtado, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh
The following remarks are intended to give some assistance to the candidate who is perhaps applying for the first academic appointment. They are based on the writer’s experiences as applicant and (as a result of successful applications!) as a participant in the selection and hiring process at academic institutions (on both sides of the Atlantic). I do not claim that these remarks are comprehensive, but I do hope that they may be of help. I should also mention that these observations have to do particularly with the application and hiring processes in a North American setting.1 The procedures are somewhat different in the UK. E.g., British universities tend not to ask for references at application stage, but only for those applicants whom they short-list. Also, whereas you will likely apply directly to the academic department or to the search committee in North America, in the UK you may be asked to send the application through the university’s personnel office.
As I have had a couple of abstracts accepted for conferences in the New Year, I thought I would share them with you so that you’d know what I’m up to. I am also currently working on editing an audio recording and powerpoint presentation together so that you can hear the presentation I delivered at the European Association for the Study of Religions in Budapest last September.
The first conference is the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Study Group Conference on ‘Religion and (In)Equalities’, University of Chester, UK, 28 – 30 March 2012.
Here I shall be presenting the following paper:
The Inherent Inequalities of the Religion-Nonreligion Dichotomy: A Narrative Approach to Individual (Non-)Religiosity
Scholars of religion tend to focus upon individuals and/or communities that are demonstrably religious. However, existing relevant scholarly literature on the non- or non-traditionally religious in contemporary society portrays a complex system of mutual experiences of marginalisation and boundary demarcation amongst both the religious and the nonreligious (cf. Edgell, Gerteis, and Hartmann 2006; Cotter 2011a; Amarasingam 2010). This paper builds upon these observations, utilising empirical narrative evidence from a yearlong MSc project (Cotter 2011b) amongst the student body of the University of Edinburgh, focussing on ‘nonreligious’ undergraduates – whether explicitly irreligious/undecided, those occupying the ‘fuzzy middle’ (Voas 2009), or those potentially termed ‘nominal’ believers (cf. Day 2009; Davie 1994).
Firstly, I shall demonstrate that the academic study of religion institutionally marginalises the nonreligious – and unjustifiably so (cf. Fitzgerald 2000). Secondly, I shall show how an approach which allows individuals to present their (non)religious identity in their own terms presents a complex process of identity negotiation. Many students pragmatically ‘altered’ their (non)religious self-representations in a manner which suggested the maintenance of differentiated narratives in multiple internally demarcated habitūs, contained within an overarching narrative framework. Many of these fluctuations appear to be motivated by subjective experiences of belonging and marginalisation, and also testify to the limited usefulness and potentially inequality-creating effects of census-type survey methods (Day 2009; 2011). Finally, I propose that in every case the student’s personal (non)religious self-description was subordinated to other overarching ideals implicit throughout their narratives. When ‘religion’ is perceived to interact with these students’ narrative frameworks, it becomes the ‘other’ against which their personal perceptions of some disparate-yet-unified ‘nonreligious’ stance is defined. This suggests an alternative approach which takes individuals and groups on their own terms, and which avoids dichotomisation into majority/minority groups, whilst highlighting the important locations in which inequalities can emerge.
The next conference is the main conference of the British Sociological Association, entitled ‘Sociology in an Age of Austerity‘, University of Leeds, UK, 11–13 April 2012.
Here I shall be presenting the following paper:
Relocating Religion: An Alternative Perspective based on the Narratives of ‘Nonreligious’ Students
This paper builds upon my yearlong project amongst the student body of the University of Edinburgh focusing on (broadly defined) ‘nonreligious’ undergraduates. Through questionnaires and in-depth interviews, I explored this neglected area, and demonstrated that the limited number of current typologies of nonreligion – based on internally and/or externally selected and defined nonreligious identity labels – tend to be inadequate and inaccurate. In this paper, I show that nonreligious students are highly aware of the subjectivity of their interpretations of key self-descriptors, and in many cases maintain multiple self-representations simultaneously, in a situational and pragmatic fashion. Using their narrative frameworks, I propose a more nuanced typology of nonreligion, which both cuts across and is independent of ‘religious’ categories, and is rooted in the specificities of what individuals considered as important and significant in their lives. I demonstrate that these particular young people are neither indifferent to religion, nor overtly religious or nonreligious: ‘religion’ was not invested with any significant ‘meaning‘ in-and-of itself. However, when it was perceived to interact with their narrative frameworks, it became the ‘other‘ against which their personal stance is defined. This raises the possibility of a new approach to ‘religion’ which aims to understand individuals according to the narrative frameworks by which they articulate what really matters. In this ‘Age of Austerity’, this shift in focus to the different ways in which individuals are (or aren’t) religious could have profound implications upon how we approach social interactions and ‘religious’ conflict in a religiously diverse United Kingdom.
Many people seem to think that I am a bit of a paradox as far as religion is concerned. Maybe this is true, maybe this isn’t. But I thought it would be amusing to share photographs of the bookshelf immediately above my desk – this should give you an idea of the sort of things that I read, or am meant to be reading at the moment. Of course, there are hundreds of journal articles and library books… but these I actually ‘own’ myself. What do you think? Have you read any? Am I missing any classics? Answers on a postcard…