Portrait of Professor Gordon Lynch

Professor Gordon Lynch

Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology


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.


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.


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. 



  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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). 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. (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. (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.
  • 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. (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). After Religion: ’Generation X’ and the Search for Meaning. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
  • Lynch, G. (2002). Pastoral Care and Counselling. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

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. (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. 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. (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). 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. (2009). Cultural Theory and Cultural Studies. In: Lyden, J. ed. The Routledge Companion to Religion and Film. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 275-291.
  • Lynch, G. (2008). Religious Experience and Popular Culture: Developing a Critical Frame of Enquiry. In: Zock, T. 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). 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. (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. (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. (2005). Theologie säkularer Kultur. In: Betz, H. D., Browning, D. S., Janowski, B. and Jüngel, E. eds. Religion in Geschichte Und Gegenwart. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
  • 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.

Edited book

  • Lynch, G. and Strhan, A. (2011). Religion, Media and Culture: A Reader. Lynch, G., Mitchell, J. and Strhan, A. eds. 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]. Vol. 12(2). 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. (2007). Between Sacred and Profane: Researching Religion and Popular Culture. Lynch, G. ed. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.
  • Foskett, J. and Lynch, G. (2001). Pastoral Counselling in Britain. [Special Issue of Journal]. Vol. 29. 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.


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

Research report (external)

  • Lynch, G. (2019). Possible Collusion Between Individuals Alleged to Have Sexually Abused Boys at Four Christian Brother’s Institutions in Western Australia, 1947-1965: A Secondary Analysis of Material Collated by Historical Abuse Inquiries. N/A.


  • Harvey, S. (2018). ’The Birth I Want’: Negotiating the Ideal and the Practical in Natural Birth.
    This thesis explores the disjunction between a public, moralised discourse of natural birth and women's own more complex narratives of practical decision making and lived experience. I focus on women's negotiations of these two dimensions, which I term 'the work of birth', which includes the planning, preparation and practice in which some women are involved during their pregnancies. I argue that this work can be considered an ethical self-formation in which women work on the self in order to construct and present a particular subjectivity - of the good and responsible mother. I address questions which are not adequately answered in the sociology of childbirth literature, including how and why some women become involved in natural birth groups; why they consider investing time and money in antenatal education as a good thing to do; and why they report the need to practice for a natural birth. I approach their natural birth practices as things of 'value' or 'matter' (Bender and Taves 2012), as their search for meaning-making within a particular embodied event. As such, I argue that theoretical approaches from both cultural sociology and religious studies, including theories of lived religion and of ritual, can shed new light on the meanings and motivations of these practices. The thesis draws on analysis of primary materials, on observation of different antenatal groups and on over 40 interviews with pregnant women, new mothers, midwives and antenatal teachers, all of whom were involved in natural birth practices including Hypnobirth, home birth and using the services of a doula. I analyse the ideal of natural birth within the women's own narratives in order to understand the concept of the 'natural' in this particular context; what do women mean when they use this term and what work does it do here? I argue that the natural is not in a simple dichotomy with a medicalised birth and is not just the content of a particular type of birth but rather is intricately connected to the perception of choice, of having 'the birth I want'. I analyse the ideal in connection with the non-ideal or the 'profane'. Central to this is the constructed 'other' who does not do birth 'right', which reveals a changing location of expertise not only away from the medical establishment towards the birthing woman but also away from the midwife and towards the doula and other 'birth workers'. The interview narratives reveal a process of negotiation between the ideal birth and women's own practical considerations, including her embodied experiences (or lack thereof in first pregnancies) and her relationships with significant others (including her partner, baby and the expert). This negotiation takes the form of 'work'; of planning, preparation and practice for the ideal birth through the physical, mental and emotional working on the self. I suggest that this bears parallels to a western spiritual legacy of work on the self and shares its understandings of self-in-relation. As a result, I argue that the work should not be seen as a narcissistic pursuit of individualism, nor a futile practice which sets women up for failure. Rather, it can be seen as an expression of lived and embodied ethics, of attempting to make the best possible decisions in light of individual and relational circumstances within a plethora of choices in the field of consumption and a strong moral discourse in the public sphere. Through the performance of particular choices and practices, some women seek to demonstrate their good and responsible motherhood, regardless of whether the ideal birth is attained.
  • Hanemann, R. (2016). Educating Catholics for a Liberal Society: An Ethnographic Study of Religious Transmission.
    Current debates in the UK about faith schools often focus on whether they are able to promote liberal values while maintaining the values and doctrine of their religious tradition. These debates, worked out through education policy, legislation and the media, are typically conducted at the level of macro or meso-level generalisations, but are not informed by micro-level studies of how the transmission of religious tradition in relation to liberal values takes place through specific interactions between staff and students.
    This thesis seeks to contribute to such a knowledge-base through an ethnographic study of interactions between staff and students in relation to processes of religious transmission in a Catholic secondary school in London. Drawing on a Bourdieusian theoretical framework, informed by related work on the transmission of religious memory and the formation of religious emotion, the study examines how staff in this school try to enable students to develop a religious habitus in which Catholicism and liberal values are not experienced as being in tension with each other.
    The staff project of forming this Catholic habitus in their students is pursued in both conscious and non-conscious ways. Recognising the importance of reconciling Catholicism with wider liberal values, staff pursue a range of strategies with students to manage any tension that arises between them, with varying degrees of success. Conflict between liberal values and aspects of Catholic doctrine and ethical teaching is, in particular, avoided through emphasising the development of a distinctive Catholic habitus through the transformation of students' bodies and emotions through ritual and other forms of devotional practice. Staff seek to nurture such embodied and emotional formation particularly through the management of students' interactions with particular sacred times and spaces, trying to negotiate between enacting their authority over students and their understanding of students as active agents who need to come to their own authentic and freely chosen performance of Catholicism.
    Students engage with this project of formation in a variety of ways, ranging from committed collaboration to covert or overt forms of resistance. Whilst students' engagement with this staff project can sometimes reflect a shared sympathy for its devotional aims, it can also be motivated by an interest in the greater opportunities that arise through cultivating religious capital. For many students, this project of formation is approached through compliance rather than enthusiasm or hostility, but in ways where 'surface-acting' of devotional performance belies a lack of cultivation of more strongly-felt religious emotion or belief.
    Through its analysis of these micro-level processes, the thesis contributes to existing research on religious transmission in schools by extending an understanding of how this can take the form of particular kinds of interaction relating to students' embodied and emotional formation. It also generates a
    typology of staff approaches to managing potential tensions between their religious tradition and liberal values that could be utilised in other studies. It contributes to wider policy debates by problematizing simplistic notions of faith schools as inherently authoritarian sites of religious transmission, hostile to liberal values, by considering how staff can seek to reconcile religious tradition and liberal values through their practice as well as how students retain considerable agency in responding to such processes of religious formation.
  • Forbes, C. (2015). Playing the Game: A Study of Public Relations, Politics and the Construction of Islam in the UK Public Sphere.
    This doctoral thesis explores the relationship between politics, Islam and the news media in the UK. Using the theory of mediatisation as a framework for understanding media power, it argues that the relationship between politics and the media cannot be fully appreciated without a consideration of the role of public relations practice within it. Drawing on Bourdieusian field theory, it utilises textual analysis and 31 semi-structured interviews with public relations practitioners, representatives of Muslim organisations and others with professional experience of Islam and the media to establish whether public relations can be understood as a distinct field, how it mediates between the political and journalistic fields and what the implications of this might be for Muslim organisations seeking to shape news media content.
  • Berns, S. (2015). Sacred Entanglements: Studying Interactions Between Visitors, Objects and Religion in the Museum.
    The study of religious dimensions of visitor experiences in public museums is an under-researched area, partly because of assumptions of the secular nature of the museum space, the dominant assumptions and methods of museum evaluation studies and the relative lack of study of material religion in public spaces not intended to be devotional. This project addresses this by examining the processes through which visitors experience sacred presences in the museum.

    This research employed Actor Network Theory (Latour 2004) in order to decentre the more prominent components within visitor studies and evaluations (such as the visitor). Using ANT, this study conceives religious interactions as networks that combine objects, people and divine/supernatural presences, all of which have the capacity to affect the network. This network approach was then used to explore and analyse interactions at two religious-themed exhibitions at the British Museum, and the religious tour groups that visit its permanent galleries.

    The study found that the sacred was evoked in a number of ways in the museum; through embodied interactions with artefacts, as memories, and through engagements with scripture. Each encounter had to negotiate an array of actors that were both present and absent within the museum space. These actors, which had the ability to facilitate and inhibit visitors' religious experiences, included elements often overlooked by museum professionals and within visitor studies (such as overheard comments and glass display cases). The findings also revealed how perceptions of the museum as secular shaped visitor norms and thereby influenced whether the museum became a site of conflict or opportunity for sacred encounters. Furthermore, the research demonstrated the limited capacity of museum staff to influence visitors’ interactions as, irrespective of the museum’s intentions, the commingling of certain objects, spaces and visitors can
    facilitate experiences of the divine.


  • Lynch, G. (2019). The Church of England Advisory Council of Empire Settlement and Post-War Child Migration to Australia. Journal of Ecclesiastical History.
    Between 1947 and 1965, 408 children were migrated to Australia under the auspices of the Church of England Advisory Council of Empire Settlement and its successor bodies. Situating this work in wider policy contexts, the article examines how the Council involved itself in this work with support
    from some senior clergy and laity despite being poorly resourced to do so. Noting the Council’s failure to maintain standards expected of this work by the Home Office and child-care professionals, the article considers factors underlying this which both reflected wider tensions over child migration
    in the post-war period as well as those specific to the Council.
  • Lynch, G. (2019). Catholic child migration schemes from the United Kingdom to Australia: systemic failures and religious legitimation. Journal of Religious History.
    Between 1938 and 1956, an estimated 1,147 children were sent from the United Kingdom to Australia through child migration initiatives delivered by Catholic organisations. Whilst experiences of child migrants varied, there has been a growing public recognition over the past thirty years of the trauma experienced by many. Although the suffering of child migrants occurred in the context of wider policy failures, this article argues that there was a particular pattern of systemic failures characteristic of these Catholic schemes. After providing an overview of the complex organisational structure through which Catholic child migration operated, the article identifies six systemic failures in this work relating both to organisational processes and the institutional conditions to which child migrants were sent. It goes on to argue that these occurred in a framework of religious legitimation which emphasised the unique role of the Church as a mediator of salvation, the need to safeguard children's faith, the child as a member of a corporate body more than as an individual and the relative moral authority of the Church over secular institutions. Within this framework, these systemic failures were either unrecognised or seen as tolerable in the context of wider organisational and theological priorities.
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