Professor Gordon Lynch

Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology

About

Professor Gordon Lynch is Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology at the University of Kent. He was previously Professor in the Sociology of Religion at Birkbeck College, University of London, and has also held posts at the University of Birmingham and University of Chester. He is a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University and also serves as the national sub-panel chair for Theology and Religious Studies for REF2021. 

Gordon has been awarded a range of externally-funded grants – including ten awards from the Arts & Humanities Research Council – many relating to the study of meaning and values in modern Western societies. Most recently, these have focused on histories of abuse involving religious organisations. 

His public engagement work has included serving as an expert witness for both the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry; co-curating a major exhibition with the V&A Museum of Childhood; collaborating on the national music project The Ballads of Child Migration; and co-producing educational films with the BAFTA award-winning digital channel TrueTube. 

Research interests

Over the past twenty years, Gordon's research has explored the nature and role of moral meanings in modern society, focusing particularly on forms of meaning beyond traditional, institutional forms of religion. This has included exploring the nature of ‘belief’ amongst young people, ‘religious’ and moral dimensions of media and popular culture, and the significance of sacred moral meanings in shaping social life. Key publications from this work include Understanding Theology and Popular Culture (Blackwell, 2004), The New Spirituality (IB Tauris, 2007), The Sacred in the Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2012) and On the Sacred (Routledge, 2012). He also co-edited special journal issues on the mediatisation of religion (for Culture and Religion) and on the performance of belief amongst young people (for the Journal of Contemporary Religion). 

Since 2011, his work has focused increasingly on histories of abuse of children and vulnerable adults involving religious organisations. In 2014, a collaborative film with TrueTube on Magdalene Laundries in Ireland won a national Learning on Screen Award from the British Universities Film and Video Council. 

His underpinning research for the Museum of Childhood’s exhibition, On Their Own: Britain’s Child Migrants, was published as Remembering Child Migration: Faith, Nation-Building and the Wounds of Charity by Bloomsbury in 2015. For much of 2016/2017, he worked as an expert witness for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse’s investigation into the abuse of British child migrants, with Professor Stephen Constantine. Evidence presented by professors Lynch and Constantine to the Inquiry underpinned its recommendation that the UK Government urgently establish a redress scheme for all surviving British child migrants. The UK Government agreed to implement this recommendation in December 2018. 

Gordon is currently writing a monograph on policy failure and the post-war British child migration schemes to Australia. He is also working on the relevance of principles of transitional justice for religious organisations’ responses to their involvement in histories of abuse.

Teaching

Gordon is currently on study leave from an AHRC Leadership Fellows award. 

His teaching normally covers religion in contemporary Britain, the sociology of religion, the cultural sociology of the sacred and research methods for the social and cultural study of religion.

Supervision

Over the past decade, Gordon has supported a number of doctoral students working broadly in the cultural study of religion and often using ethnographic approaches to research. Former students have gone on to post-doctoral and permanent lecturer posts, with two having monographs based on their PhDs shortlisted for the BSA Philip Abrams prize.  

Previously completed theses include the formation of conservative Evangelical subjectivities, moral meanings enacted through conflict at British universities in relation to Palestine-Israel, visitor engagement with religious objects at the British Museum, the role of public relations in relation to media narratives about Islam, and the lived ethics of women’s engagement with the natural birth movement. 

Gordon is interested in supervising further doctoral work exploring lived uses of moral meaning as well issues relating to historic abuse involving religious organisations. 

Publications

Article

  • Lynch, G. (2019). Pathways to the 1946 Curtis Report and the post-war reconstruction of children’s out-of-home care. Contemporary British History [Online]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13619462.2019.1609947.
    The publication of the Report of the Care of Children Committee in 1946 was a pivotal moment for the out-of-home care of children in Britain. With its key recommendations implemented in the 1948 Children Act and the creation of bodies such as the Central Training Council in Child Care and the Home Office’s Advisory Council on Child Care, the report also had wider public significance in associating progressive approaches to child-care with the emerging post-war welfare state. This article argues that the creation of the Curtis Committee was far from inevitable and resulted from the inter-play of the growing recognition of the problems associated with a fragmented legislative and administrative framework for children’s care and a successful public campaign to reform standards in residential child-care which created the political conditions in which the Labour Government felt obliged to establish a formal Committee of Inquiry. The degree of interest that these processes generated in the Committee’s work led to its final report receiving substantial public attention. Although its effects as a mechanism of policy change were uneven, the context through which the report was produced meant that it became a significant benchmark for child-care standards in the emerging post-war welfare state.
  • Lynch, G. (2014). Saving the Child for the Sake of the Nation: Moral Framing and the Civic, Moral and Religious Redemption of Children. American Journal of Cultural Sociology [Online] 2:165-196. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/ajcs.2014.5.
    This article argues that a range of child welfare interventions that sought to relocate children away from their birth families and home communities between the middle decades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries drew on a common moral frame. These interventions – child migration schemes, assimilationist policies towards indigenous children, institutions of corrective confinement and the child protection movement – have typically been previously studied as isolated national or organisational phenomena. However, this article outlines a common moral frame to which they made reference structured around the figure of the redeemable child, vulnerable to the effects of polluted social environments, seen as needing to be re-located to new environments that would enable their civic, moral and spiritual redemption. This argument is situated within a discussion of the articulation of moral meanings as a social practice, which addresses both the central elements of this moral frame and the contexts in which it was articulated. This moral frame did not determine child-care practices within these schemes, but was one source of influence on them. In particular, the article examines the role of economic rationality in the management of these schemes, arguing that the sacralised status of the child within the family discussed in the work of Vivianna Zelizer was not extended to the children to whom these schemes were addressed. The article concludes by identifying key areas for future comparative study of these diverse schemes in relation to these shared moral meanings.
  • Lynch, G. and Sheldon, R. (2013). The Sociology of the Sacred: A Conversation with Jeffrey Alexander. Culture and Religion [Online] 14:253-267. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14755610.2012.758163.
    Over the past 20 years, Jeffrey C. Alexander has been a leading social theorist and a pioneer of the ‘strong program’ in cultural sociology, which emphasises the significance of cultural structures of meaning for social life. Following an introductory overview of his work, this article records a public conversation with Alexander about the role and significance of the concept of the sacred in his sociological work. Issues addressed in this conversation include situating Alexander's interest in the sacred in his intellectual biography (including his significant intellectual influences), the mistrust of the concept of the sacred within the wider sociological community, the universality of cultural structures of sacred meaning, the limitations of sociological analysis focused on sacred meaning and methodological approaches to the study of the sacred.
  • Day, A. and Lynch, G. (2013). Introduction: Belief as Cultural Performance.: Special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Religion, 28:2, edited by Gordon Lynch and Abby Day. Journal of Contemporary Religion [Special Issue of Journal] 28:199-206. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13537903.2013.783315.
    Although the concept of belief has become a focus of critical discussion in other disciplines, sociologists of religion have tended to assume that belief is a universal phenomenon, structured around cognitive propositions which can be made explicit in the context of research surveys and interviews The articles in this special issue of the Journal of Contemporary Religion explore belief in the lives of young people in different religious, cultural, and national contexts to suggest more complex ways in which belief might be conceptualised and researched. While the ‘authenticity’ of belief is a significant value for young people across these cases, the authors show how belief can, in different contexts, be a marker of identity, an expression of socially significant relationships or an organising centre for the lives of individuals and groups. Belief can also be understood as the performance of embodied practices shaped by one’s spatial and cultural environment. In this wider context, training young people in propositional forms of belief is shown to be a particular kind of religious project, which can be unstable and have unintended consequences.
  • Lövheim, M. and Lynch, G. (2011). The Mediatisation of Religion Debate: An Introduction. Culture and Religion [Online] 12:111-117. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14755610.2011.579715.
    Within the growing literature on religion and media, a more specific debate has recently developed in relation to the mediatisation of religion. The Danish scholar, Stig Hjarvard, has undertaken leading work in articulating a detailed theory of the mediatisation of religion, arguing that contemporary religion is increasingly mediated through secular, autonomous media institutions and is shaped according to the logics of those media. This special issue is the first extended discussion of Hjarvard's thesis by researchers working across different disciplines and areas of study. This introduction sets out the background and key concepts for this debate, discusses why the mediatisation of religion debate is important for sociological and cultural understandings of contemporary religion, and provides a brief summary of the arguments of the individual articles within this collection.
  • Lynch, G. (2011). What can we Learn from the Mediatisation of Religion Debate? Culture and Religion [Online] 12:203-210. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14755610.2011.579714.
    The criticisms of Hjarvard's theory of mediatisation presented in the articles of this special issue indicate that it may only be applicable to particular religious, historical, social and political contexts. More specifically, Hjarvard's theory seems most relevant to societies characterised by the prevalence of non-confessional media institutions, declining direct public engagement with religious institutions, the association of religious authority with specific traditional institutions and wider evidence of secularisation. His theory, therefore, has more explanatory power for Northern and Western, de-Christianised societies, than for other times and places. Although Hjarvard's theory may help us to understand some specific contexts, the mediatisation of religion debate helps to clarify the structures and relationships that need to be examined if we are to develop a wider range of models of religion, media and social change. These include the intersections between religious and media institutions, technologies, cultural frames, sacred forms, publics, shared communicative spaces, power, stratification and significant social agents. This article concludes with comments about the implications of this framework for future research.
  • Campbell, H., Lynch, G. and Ward, P. (2009). “Can You Hear the Army?” Exploring Evangelical Discourse in Scottish Youth Prayer Meetings. Journal of Contemporary Religion [Online] 24:219-236. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13537900902816699.
    This article explores how public prayer events can serve as a space for evangelical youth to perform and construct a public discourse related to their personal and corporate faith. Claims are based on a detailed content analysis of 14 youth-led prayer meetings held across Scotland over a two-year period. This study uncovers some dominant themes related to how evangelical youth create and present their religious identity in order to create community ownership in certain beliefs and understandings. Analysing transcripts from the meetings demonstrates that public prayer is not just an act of devotion, but a tool for evangelical identity construction. It is argued that the prayer meetings function as cultural spaces in which young people negotiate the challenges of maintaining a sense of connection to a longer tradition of theological discourses, while also making innovative use of these discourses to construct meaning and identity in relation to their social and geographical context.
  • Beck, G. and Lynch, G. (2009). ‘We Are All One, We Are All Gods’: Negotiating Spirituality in the Conscious Partying Movement. Journal of Contemporary Religion [Online] 24:339-355. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13537900903080444.
    Research literature has been growing over the past five years which explores the religious significance of electronic dance music cultures. This article adds to this work by offering an analysis of spiritual discourses used within a particular underground dance scene in the UK, the ‘conscious partying’ movement. An ethnographic account is given of a typical dance night within this scene, which demonstrates how these spiritual discourses are embedded within a range of musical, artistic, therapeutic, and political networks and practices. The use and salience of spiritual discourses of oneness, energy, and immediatism within this scene are then analysed. It is argued that the conscious partying scene in the UK reflects spiritual ideas and practices within the wider global psy-trance music scene and that this study demonstrates the importance of ethnographic research for examining the complex ways in which such broader spiritual discourses may be negotiated within specific groups. The article concludes by identifying possible future research that explores in more depth the relationships between spiritual discourses, the aural properties of electronic dance music, and embodied practices of dance.
  • Lynch, G. (2006). The Role of Popular Music in the Construction of Alternative Spiritual Identities and Ideologies. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion [Online] 45:481-488. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2006.00322.x.
    Setting its discussion in the wider context of the decline of institutional religion among young adults, the rise of alternative spiritualities, and the mediatization of religion, the article explores the significance of popular music in the development of alternative spiritual identities and ideologies. A summary is given of leading research conducted in this field by Christopher Partridge and Graham St. John. It is argued that they demonstrate the encoding of alternative spiritual symbols and ideologies into certain forms of popular music, they fail to give an adequate account of how audiences actively make use of this music to construct alternative spiritual identities or frameworks of meaning. The article concludes that researchers in the field of religion and popular music need to draw more on theories and methods developed in ethno-musicology and the sociology of music, and suggests that the work of Tia De Nora on music in everyday life raises important questions about the qualities and context of the act of listening to music that could generate more nuanced accounts of how popular music shapes alternative spiritual identities and ideologies.
  • Lynch, G. and Badger, E. (2006). The Mainstream Post-Rave Club Scene As a Secondary Institution: A British Perspective. Culture and Religion [Online] 7:27-40. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01438300600625333.
    This article focuses on the importance of analysing the mainstream post-rave dance scene in the context of studies of the religious significance of electronic dance cultures. Drawing on their own ethnographic research, as well as other recent comparable studies in Britain, the authors argue that the mainstream post-rave dance scene is a ‘secondary institution’ supporting the new social form of religion identified by Luckmann, which emphasises self-realisation and self-expression. The study serves as an invitation to re-consider the definition of ‘religion’ in relation to electronic dance cultures and points to the role of mainstream leisure industries in supporting contemporary secular worldviews.
  • Lynch, G. and Pattison, S. (2005). Exploring Positive Learning Experiences in the Context of Practical Theological Education. Teaching Theology and Religion [Online] 8:144-154. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9647.2005.00238.x.
    This article presents findings from an empirical study exploring student and teacher perspectives on positive learning experiences in practical theological education. Forty-five students and twenty teachers were interviewed in focus groups in four educational institutions delivering programs in practical theology. The findings indicated that students valued practical theological education when it enabled them to think critically in relation to their personal or professional experience, and that students valued tutors, their peers and a flexible curriculum design in promoting this kind of learning. There was a high correlation between students’ views of positive learning experiences and what tutors perceived as important qualities that they hoped their students would develop. Difficulties associated with the students’ lack of clarity about the learning process and the tensions between academic and professional contexts are also discussed.
  • Lynch, G. (1998). Counselling and the Dislocation of Representation and Reality. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling [Online] 26:525-531. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069889808253861.
    Counselling theories have typically assumed a nomenclaturist view of language. This has been subject to increasing criticism in this century. Two alternative views of language and reality to nomenclaturism are discussed as a basis for post-modern therapeutic practice. It is argued that a post-moderm view of counselling should recognise both the value and limitations of language, and in doing so should recognise the value and limitations of counselling as a means of therapy.
  • Lynch, G. (1998). The Application of Self-psychology to Short-term Counselling. Psychodynamic Counselling [Online] 4:473-485. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13533339808402524.
    This article explores how key aspects of Heinz Kohut's self-psychology can inform short-term counselling work. Initially a summary is offered of Kohut's developmental theory, his understanding of the nature and causes of psychopathology and his view of the analytic cure. The application of his ideas to short-term counselling is then discussed. Specifically, it is suggested that short-term therapeutic work based on self-psychology involves a stronger emphasis on the curative aspects of the selfobject transference between client and therapist, a more limited notion of the role of interpretation, and a different understanding of working through to that of long-term self-psychological analysis.
  • Lynch, G. (1997). Therapeutic Theory and Social Context: A Social Constructionist Perspective. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling [Online] 25:5-15. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069889708253717.
    This paper explores the formation of therapeutic theory from the perspective of social constructionism. A theoretical description of the interaction between an individual and their social context in the formation of therapeutic theory is proposed. This description is then explored in relation to the early life and subsequent therapeutic theory of Carl Rogers. The wider implication of this discussion for therapeutic theory is noted.
  • Lynch, G. (1997). The Oedipus Complex in the Work of Sigmund Freud and Heinz Kohut: A Post-modern Critique. Psychodynamic Counselling [Online] 3:371-385. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13533339708402502.
    The work of Sigmund Freud and Heinz Kohut in relation to the concept of the Oedipus complex is presented. A summary is given of post-modern assumptions about the nature and role of knowledge, and, on the basis of these assumptions, two questions are raised in relation to Freud's and Kohut's Oedipal theories. Provisional responses are made to these questions, which focus on the hermeneutical value and ethical-political implications of the concept of the Oedipus complex.

Book

  • Lynch, G. (2015). Remembering Child Migration: Faith, Nation-Building and the Wounds of Charity. [Online]. Bloomsbury Academic. Available at: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/remembering-child-migration-9781472591173/.
    Between 1850 and 1970, around three hundred thousand children were sent to new homes through child migration programmes run by churches, charities and religious orders in the United States and the United Kingdom. Intended as humanitarian initiatives to save children from social and moral harm and to build them up as national and imperial citizens, these schemes have in many cases since become the focus of public censure, apology and sometimes financial redress.

    Remembering Child Migration is the first book to examine both the American 'orphan train' programmes and Britain's child migration schemes to its imperial colonies. Setting their work in historical context, it discusses their assumptions, methods and effects on the lives of those they claimed to help. Rather than seeing them as reflecting conventional child-care practice of their time, the book demonstrates that they were subject to criticism for much of the period in which they operated. Noting similarities between the American 'orphan trains' and early British migration schemes to Canada, it also shows how later British child migration schemes to Australia constituted a reversal of what had been understood to be good practice in the late Victorian period.

    At its heart, the book considers how welfare interventions motivated by humanitarian piety came to have such harmful effects in the lives of many child migrants. By examining how strong moral motivations can deflect critical reflection, legitimise power and build unwarranted bonds of trust, it explores the promise and risks of humanitarian sentiment.
  • Lynch, G. (2012). On the Sacred. [Online]. London: Acumen. Available at: http://www.acumenpublishing.co.uk/display.asp?K=e2012031413352105&dtspan=180:420&sort=sort_date/d&m=15&dc=22.
  • Lynch, G. (2012). The Sacred in the Modern World: A Cultural Sociological Approach. [Online]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available at: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199557011.do.
  • Lynch, G. (2007). New Spirituality: An Introduction to Belief Beyond Religion. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.
  • Lynch, G. (2004). Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Lynch, G. (2003). Losing My Religion: Exploring the Process of Moving on from Evangelical Faith. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
  • Lynch, G. (2002). Pastoral Care and Counselling. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Lynch, G. (2002). After Religion: 'Generation X' and the Search for Meaning. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

Book section

  • Lynch, G. (2012). Media and the Sacred: An Evaluation of the ‘Strong Program’ within Cultural Sociology. in: Gillespie, M., Herbert, D. E. J. and Greenhill, A. eds. Social Media, Religion and Spirituality. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co, pp. 16-35.
  • Lynch, G. and Brown, C. (2012). Cultural Perspectives. in: Woodhead, L. and Catto, R. eds. Religion and Change in Modern Britain. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 329-351.
  • Lynch, G. (2012). Living with Two Cultural Turns: The Case of the Study of Religion. in: Roseneil, S. and Frosh, S. eds. Social Research after the Cultural Turn. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 73-92. Available at: http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?pid=377958.
  • Lynch, G. (2010). Generation X Religion: A Critical Approach. in: Collins-Mayo, S. and Dandelion, P. eds. Religion and Youth. Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 33-38.
  • Lynch, G. (2009). Cultural Theory and Cultural Studies. in: Lyden, J. ed. The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 275-291.
  • Lynch, G. (2009). Object Theory: Toward an Intersubjective, Mediated and Dynamic Theory of Religion. in: Morgan, D. ed. Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, pp. 40-55. Available at: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415481168/.
  • Lynch, G. (2009). Religion, Media and Cultures of Everyday Life. in: Hinnells, J. ed. The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 543-557.
  • Lynch, G. (2008). Religious Experience and Popular Culture: Developing a Critical Frame of Enquiry. in: Zock, T. H. ed. At the Crossroads of Art and Religion: Imagination, Commitment, Transcendence. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters Publishers, pp. 71-84.
  • Lynch, G. (2008). The Dreams of the Autonomous and Reflexive Self: Exploring the Religious Significance of Contemporary Lifestyle Media. in: Spalek, B. and Imtoual, A. eds. Religion, Spirituality and the Social Sciences: Challenging Marginalisation. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 63-76.
  • Lynch, G. (2007). Film and the Subjective Turn: How the Sociology of Religion can Contribute to Theological Readings of Film. in: Johnston, R. K. ed. Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, pp. 109-125.
  • Lynch, G. (2007). What is This “Religion” in the Study of Religion and Popular Culture? in: Lynch, G. ed. Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture. London: I B Tauris & Co Ltd, pp. 125-142.
  • Lynch, G. (2006). Beyond Conversion: Exploring the Process of Moving Away from Evangelical Christianity. in: Partridge, C. and Reid, H. eds. Finding and Losing Faith: Studies in Conversion. Milton Keynes: Paternoster Press, pp. 23-38.
  • Lynch, G. and Pattison, S. (2005). Pastoral and Practical Theology. in: Ford, D. F. and Muers, R. eds. The Modern Theologians. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 408-426.
  • Lynch, G. (2005). Theologie säkularer Kultur. in: Betz, H. D. et al. eds. Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).

Edited book

  • Lynch, G., Mitchell, J. and Strhan, A. eds. (2011). Religion, Media and Culture: A Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.
    This Reader brings together a selection of key writings to explore the relationship between religion, media and cultures of everyday life. It provides an overview of the main debates and developments in this growing field, focusing on four major themes:

    - Religion, spirituality and consumer culture
    - Media and the transformation of religion
    - The sacred senses: visual, material and audio culture
    - Religion, and the ethics of media and culture.
  • Lynch, G. and Lövheim, M. (2011). The Mediatisation of Religion. [Journal]. Lynch, G. and Lövheim, M. eds. Taylor and Francis. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rcar20/12/2.
    Special issue of 'Culture and Religion journal'
  • Lynch, G. ed. (2007). Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.
  • Foskett, J. and Lynch, G. (2001). Pastoral Counselling in Britain. [Special Issue of Journal]. Lynch, G. and Foskett, J. eds. Abingdon: Routledge.
    Special issue of The British Journal of Guidance and Counselling
  • Lynch, G. and Lees, J. eds. (1999). Clinical Counselling in Pastoral Settings. London: Routledge.

Monograph

  • Lynch, G. (2015). British Child Migration to Australia: A Historical Overview. Child Migration Project.
    Child Migration Project working paper, 2015
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