Tag Archive | Edinburgh

Next Steps: A Comparative Study of Unbelief in Northern Ireland and Scotland

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:

  1. Does ‘unbelief’ look and function in the same way for people from Catholic, Protestant and other religious backgrounds?
  2. Does ‘unbelief’ differ between rural areas and metropolitan centres?
  3. Do societies characterized by long traditions of Christianity and politicized religious identifications produce particular practices and processes of ‘unbelief’?
  4. 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.


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!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1yvQV7J47o]

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:


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…)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLwzb7EFZD8&t=802]

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

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 scottishsweets.com

Image from scottishsweets.com

In Memoriam: William George Kingston, 1985-2012

Those of you who know me well will know that this past few months have been particularly turbulent in terms of my personal life. Back in June, my world was turned upside down when my dear friend Will died tragically and unexpectedly. I had known Will from the start of high school, and since then we had both moved over from Northern Ireland to Edinburgh at the same time, where we maintained frequent contact for the next eight years. I was going through one of my suit pockets the other day and discovered the short tribute that I read at Will’s cremation, and thought that it was about time that I shared it with the world, in some sort of attempt at a memorial. No doubt, it will not compare with the lovely piece that is residing on his departmental website at the University of Edinburgh, written by his PhD supervisor. I don’t personally believe in life after death in any sort of spiritual or religious sense, but I believe that we all leave our mark on the world and in the memories and lives of those who knew and loved us. Will shall certainly never be forgotten.

In October, a group of Will’s friends did a 5km run in his memory, and raised over £2000 for PIPS (Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self Harm) Newry & Mourne, and I believe that my JustGiving page is still functional, should you want to donate anything.

What follows are the scans of my tribute, and some pictures of Will and his friends. This is not intended in any way to be self-indulgent… it just seemed in some way appropriate.

Back in the day, I used to study #Physics and #Maths

We’re moving house… that means downsizing… and in this case a lot. I have been carrying a lot of things from place to place in the past, but this time some things just have to go. I found a folder entitled ‘Year 2 Physics, University of Edinburgh’ which contained my notes from Physics 2, Mathematical Methods 2 & 3, and Applicable Mathematics 2 & 3 from September – December 2004.

These were the subjects that got me into University… before I decided that Religious Studies was actually where my interests lay.

Apparently I used to understand this stuff… it is my handwriting after all:


The Academic Résumé: Some Recommendations

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.

Continue here

What is Phenomenology?

What is Phenomenology? By Jonathan Tuckett, University of Stirling

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 20 January 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with James Cox on ”The Phenomenology of Religion” (14 January 2012).

In a recent podcast (2012), Professor James Cox has briefly sketched an outline of the phenomenology of religion. His overview has taken broadly the concept of Husserl’s notions of epoche and the eidetic intuition and carried them through to typologies for the purpose of comparisons. Now, Cox provides us with a rather comprehensive phenomenology which, though briefly explained in the podcast, is expounded upon in greater detail in his book An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion (2010). However, Cox is possibly the great syncretist of phenomenology and draws upon a rich and ultimately varied history in the field. In truth, despite Cox’s presentation, what the phenomenology of religion entails is perhaps not as monolithic as he would suggest.

Quite rightly Cox indicates that the beginnings of the phenomenology of religion can be found in what he calls (2010) the Dutch school of phenomenology. However, in a detailed survey of the history of religious studies in the Dutch context, Arie Molendijk (2000) highlights a problem: it is not entirely clear with whom the phenomenology of religion began. He points to authors such as Sharpe, Waardenburgh and Hirschmann as not only differing in deciding when phenomenology first began, but also when considering who does and does not count as phenomenologists. Thus, to give just a brief deluge of figures we might think of as phenomenologists, Molendijk lists at various points: Chantepie de la Saussaye, Nathan Soderblom, Edward Lehmann, William Kristensen, Gerardus van der Leeuw, C.J. Bleeker, Joachim Wach, Joseph Kitagawa, Mircea Eliade, C.P. Tiele, Friedrich Pfister, Max Scheler, Georg Wobbermin, Robert Winkler, Rudolf Otto, Heinrich Frick, Gustav Mensching (2000:28-29). Nor is there much consensus on the matter, Hischmann who was a student of van der Leeuw does not include Kristensen, van der Leeuw’s teacher, on her list of phenomenologists. This is also a predominantly Dutch and Scandinavian dominated list, to which we might wish to add the further British figures of Edwin W. Smith, Geoffrey Parrinder, Ninian Smart and Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

Nevertheless, it is still a fairly safe comment to say that the phenomenology of religion began with the Dutch. Which scholar was the first phenomenologist, however, is debatable. Molendijk tells us that at the very latest the phenomenology of religion began with Gerardus van der Leeuw. Some might say that Kristensen is the first phenomenologist, and Cox is probably among this group, for his watchword ‘the believers were completely right’ (in 1969:49) has pervaded all phenomenology. Yet Kristensen had a very specific idea of what the phenomenology of religion was, and one which was far stricter than van der Leeuw’s. This general lack of clarity over what is contained in the phrase ‘phenomenology of religion’ and who are phenomenologists has generated considerable misgivings about the field. Indeed, Willard Oxtoby rightly acknowledges that there are ‘as many phenomenologies as there are phenomenolgoists’ (Oxtoby, 1968:598). Even so, we can identify three dominant forms of phenomenology. Though we can see the beginnings of such a distinction in the Kristensen’s work (he was speaking of a science of religion more generally though), it is Bettis and Smart that provide us with the most substantial classifications.

Methodological Phenomenology. In his interview, Cox spoke of how phenomenologists of religion employ Husserl’s notion of bracketing in order to let the ‘phenomena of religion speak for themselves’. The phenomenological method is characterised by the bracketing of scientific and theological theories so as not to bring any presuppositions into the study of religion. We may call this, as Bettis does, ‘psychological descriptions’, for the phenomenological method concerns itself with the activity itself rather than the object of the activity. Our focus is the believers themselves in what they do and think. It would be wrong, though, to think this idea of neutrality that underpins the phenomenological method is solely bound to Husserl’s philosophy (despite Cox’s comments to the contrary). Smart, for instance formulated his idea of methodological agnosticism almost independently of Husserl’s philosophy.

Typological Phenomenology. This type of phenomenology began with Kristensen – indeed he saw the phenomenology of religion as nothing but this – and is as Cox said in the interview, the development of typologies such as sacrifice. For Kristensen this meant a ‘systematic survey of the data’ (in Bettis 1969:36). It is the work of comparison, the consideration of data against one another for the purpose of gaining further insight into them. Kristensen maintained that this data is gathered by the History of Religion, work which later phenomenologists would bring under methodological phenomenology. Bettis refers to this as dialectical descriptions and sees this as the application of the phenomenological method to a spectrum of religious ideas, activities, institutions, customs and symbols. Smart, too, uses the phrase ‘dialectical phenomenology’ which he uses synonymously with typological phenomenology until later favouring the latter.

Speculative Phenomenology. Smart, from whom I coin the term, says of this kind of phenomenology that the data of typological phenomenology are ‘arranged according to a preconceived pattern, itself incapable of being thoroughly insulated from theological (or anti-theological) assumptions’ (2009:194-5). We can see here the work of what Cox referred to as ‘Comparative Religion’ in the interview, where much of the data is organised in gradations of superiority. And even if no gradations are made we still find much of the work of defining religion from non-religion in this area. Here we start to talk of the essence of religion, usually discovered by the eidetic intuition, which allows us to see the core of all phenomena. Bettis calls these ontological descriptions as they focused on the object of religious activity as opposed to psychological descriptions that looked at the activity itself. Good examples of this kind of phenomenology would be Eliade and Otto.

In An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion, Cox has made an impressive attempt to reconcile these three types of phenomenology. But we are left with the question of who are phenomenologists? Historically, not every scholar has employed all three kinds of phenomenology: are those who utilise only one or two kinds of phenomenology phenomenologists? Take Eliade for instance, he proclaimed himself to be a historian of religion and yet we regard him as one of the field’s seminal phenomenologists. And how do we define the phenomenology of religion when it incorporates all three kinds? The general disagreements within each kind of phenomenology mean that Cox’s attempt, impressive though it is, is by no means complete. Therefore, by extension, there is no complete understanding of the phenomenology of religion.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Jonathan  is currently a PhD student at the University of Stirling. He has an MA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MSc in Religious Studies from the University of Edinburgh. His research is on the phenomenological method in the study of religion. Areas of interest include the phenomenology of religion, theory and method in the study of religion, and philosophy of religion.


Bettis, J. (1969). Phenomenology of Religion; SCM Press, London
Cox, J. (2006)
. A Guide to the Phenomenology of Religion; T&T Clarck International, London
Cox, J. (2010). An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion; Continuum, London
Cox, J. (2012). “The Phenomenology of Religion”, interview with The Religious Studies Project published 16 January 2012 online at http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/
Molendijk, A. (2000). ‘At the Cross-roads: Early Dutch Science of Religion in International Perspective’ in Man, Meaning, and Mystery: 100 yeas of History of Religions in Norway; ed. by S. Hjelde; Brill, Leiden, (pg.19-51)
Oxtoby, W. (1968). ‘Religionswissenchaft Revisited’ in Religion in Antiquity; ed. by J. Neusner; Brill, Leiden (pg.591-608)
Smart, N. (2009). Ninian Smart on World Religions Vol.1: Religious Experience and Philosophical Analysis; ed. by J. Shepherd; Farnham, Ashgate