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.
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
- Building a Theoretical Case for the Discursive Study of Non-Religion
- There is Method to this Madness: Edinburgh’s Southside as Container for Religion-Related Discourse
- Religion-Related Discourses in the Peoples of Edinburgh Project (PEP)
- Religion-Related Discourses in Edinburgh’s Southside: 2014 (and 2011)
- (Non-)Religious Discourses of Moderation, Tolerance, and Indifference
- Non-Religion, Discourse, and Locality: Methodological Gains and (Theoretical) Conclusions
- 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).
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]
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.
OMG! Someone with a family connection to the land-mass beside the one on which I was born has won I sporting event I care/know little about AND a lady who has married into the ‘world’s best-known hereditary monarchy’ is having a baby AND David Cameron has decided to protect my eyes (and therefore my mind?) from images (and ideas?) which he deems ‘offensive’… I love my Big Brother unequivocally.
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.
Functionally Secular / Substantively Nonreligious: Scottish Students, their Secular Sacreds, and the Sacred Secular
The next batch of conferences are coming up… and I am finally attempting to really push the boat out with my material. I have just had the following abstract accepted for the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network‘s Conference in London, 4-6 July 2012:
Functionally Secular / Substantively Nonreligious: Scottish Students, their Secular Sacreds, and the Sacred Secular
The academic study of religion and related categories is populated with reified, mutually constitutive, and superficially synonymous dichotomies – religion/secular, sacred/profane, sacred/secular, religion/nonreligion – yet each serves a distinct, contextually dependent purpose. In this presentation I shall utilise a case study amongst notionally ‘nonreligious’ undergraduate students, in combination with a discussion of these dichotomies, to problematise the complex relationship between nonreligion and the secular.
When asked about their beliefs and ‘religious’ identities, many of these students were substantively nonreligious (utilising Lois Lee’s understanding of nonreligion as defined primarily by the way it differs from religion). This nonreligiosity manifested itself in divers ways, dependent upon idiosyncratic interpretations of ‘religion’, and always linked to particular ‘secular sacreds’, which corresponded to five distinct-yet-overlapping nonreligious types. Individual narratives exemplify pragmatic negotiation of nonreligious identities, ‘fluctuation’ in nonreligious beliefs, and the rhetorical creation of religious ‘others’ against which substantive nonreligiosity was constructed.
In terms of salience and practice, many of these students appeared functionally secular i.e. ‘being nonreligious’ was generally unimportant and had little impact upon day-to-day life. However, the interaction of religion with personal sacreds precipitated the recognition and reaffirmation of subjective nonreligiosity. In many cases, the sacred in question was the ‘secular’ itself, which was profaned by the incursion of religion into individual narratives.
This overview of the complex dynamics between these terms provides empirical clarification of the relationship between nonreligion and the secular, and demonstrates that nonreligion is a substantive phenomenon in its own right and, as such, an important component of secular society.
I have yet to (as promised) present a blogged version of my presentation on New Atheism, Open-Mindedness and Critical Thinking (Lancaster University, 3 April 2012; University of Edinburgh, 25 April 2012). This WILL happen… in fact, I am in discussions with a colleague regarding developing this presentation as a book chapter… watch this space.
For now, here’s a picture of me just about to deliver that presentation:
For the past few months I have been alluding to a secretive project that I have been working on… now it is finally here, and I could use all the support I can get in terms of spreading the word, facebook liking etc etc.
Every Monday, we’ll be putting out a new podcast featuring an interview with a leading international scholar, presenting a key idea in the contemporary socio-scientific study of religion in a concise and accessible way. Our first podcast features Professor Emeritus James Cox (University of Edinburgh) speaking to David about the phenomenology of religion. You can find the podcast and accompanying notes here, or alternatively subscribe on iTunes.
Every Wednesday, we’ll feature a resource to help postgraduate students and aspiring academics. And every Friday, we’ll be publishing a response to the podcast, reflecting on, expanding upon or disagreeing with the Monday podcast. Plus conference reports, opinion, publishing opportunities, book reviews and more when we have them.
Many, many thanks!
I’ve decided to enter the world of YouTube. Not because I had any burning desire to do so, but because I had some material and thought it couldn’t hurt to share it. The following two videos are audio recordings with the accompanying PowerPoint presentation of a paper I presented at the European Association for the Study of Religions’ Annual Conference in Budapest on 19 September 2011. I’m not in the habit of recording my presentations, but as I am writing a conference report on our panel session for the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, it made sense for me to record the full panel. Unfortunately I cannot share the full six-paper panel, or the ensuing discussion, as that would be a breach of privacy/copyright etc etc.
If you have 15 minutes… have a listen. Tell me what you think… and if you would like to read something more substantial, I can send through the full 25,000-word thesis. Feel free to cite this as you will – if you do can you use the following format:
Cotter, Christopher R. 2011. “Toward a Typology of Nonreligion: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students”, European Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference, 19 September. Budapest. Available here: <URL>