Research excellence at the University of Kent

School of European Culture and Languages

The Research Excellence Framework also assesses the impact that the research has outside academia. The case studies below are a selection of the research submitted by the School of European Culture and Languages.

Humanism and Religion

Professor Richard Norman

Unlike the movement often referred to as New Atheism which is hostile to all manifestations of religious belief, Richard Norman’s research into humanism argues for a deeper understanding of both religious belief and humanist thought. He believes this could encourage a more productive debate on issues of morality, highlighting the historical influence of religious traditions as well as the humanist contribution.

Norman is a Vice-President of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and his report The Case for Secularism, published by the BHA, was the centrepiece of a debate in the House of Lords. His work often encourages public awareness of humanist thought through articles, lectures and radio talks.

Ethics in healthcare

Professor Robin Gill

Drawing on his long-standing research in theology and ethics, Robin Gill has been an important influence on medical ethics and bioethics in the UK. His scholarly research on ethics emphasises the four virtues of compassion, care, faith and humility, as described in his book Health Care and Christian Ethics.

This work informs Gill’s participation on a number of medical committees. He has contributed to policy debates on stem cell research and continues to be involved in producing content for the ethical guidance of medical practitioners in the UK

Poetry Beyond Text

Dr Anna Katharina Schaffner, Dr Kim Knowles, Dr Ulrich Weger

In the innovative project Poetry Beyond Text, academics, artists and poets joined forces to analyse creative works that merge visual elements with poetic text, such as ‘Tower’ by Simon Biggs with Mark Shovman.

For the project, Kent’s research team combined psychological and literary methodologies to investigate how readers/viewers process the information and respond when a creative work includes both text and image. Drawing on the fields of literary theory, art theory, and experimental psychology, the researchers used methods such as eye-tracking and heatmaps. These were employed to test empirical and literary theories on how people process spatial values when reading ‘visual poems’ and ‘concrete poems’. Examples included poetry by Stéphane Mallarmé, Guillaume Apollinaire, ee cummings, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Eugen Gomringer.

The team’s experiments demonstrated how difficult it is for people to ignore verbal meanings, even while attending to the visual aspects of a text. Published in an academic journal, their findings also fed back into other strands of the project, including the website and a travelling exhibition.

Roman children animation wihth Cognitive

Roman culture in Canterbury

Ray Laurence

When plans were announced to close Canterbury Roman Museum, Ray Laurence drew on research at Kent to offer an alternative. He demonstrated the potential for research related to the museum’s collection, as well as novel ways to engage with its visitors.

Laurence’s academic work includes the study of Roman children in public spaces. This informed his suggestion that the museum lacked positive portrayals of women and children; when they did appear in the displays, they were disconnected from a concept of the family – an important audience for the museum sector.

Canterbury City Council reversed its decision to close the museum; instead making its development a priority. Laurence continues to collaborate with the museum, by developing related research and delivering talks. He has also worked with the company Cognitive to develop animated content, based on Kent’s 3D laser-scan of a figurine from the museum’s collection.

Other collaborations with Cognitive have included the production of animations with educational content for the free-to-view network, TED-Ed.

Peruvian political history

Dr Natalia Sobrevilla Perea

Natalia Sobrevilla Perea’s research into Peruvian political history included a detailed account of the country’s repeated attempts to establish constitutional government. She has situated current political processes within a broader historical context, demonstrating the centrality of elections and the importance of constitutions for political transformation.

This perspective has enabled her to provide valuable commentary on a range of issues in contemporary politics, such as the trial of former president Alberto Fujimori (convicted of human rights abuses), or the plight of the women who underwent forced sterilisation in the 1990s. Her writings have been highly influential; her blog on the Fujimori trial sparked a new debate on his legacy, and an article in the Guardian about forced sterilisation was used as part of the campaign to reopen the case.

Sobrevilla Perea has also led a project to catalogue and digitise newspapers held in provincial Peruvian archives, in order to inform political debate.

Literature and the visual arts

Professor Peter Read

The perception of the interplay between art and literature in 20th-century France has been transformed by Peter Read’s research. His books Picasso and Apollinaire: The Persistence of Memory and Guillaume Apollinaire: Correspondance avec les Artistes drew on unpublished archive materials to reveal rich relationships between the poet and the artists of his time.

Thanks to Read’s work, Apollinaire’s essential influence on the development of literary and artistic modernism is now more widely acknowledged by scholars. Read’s demonstration of how visual artists respond to their cultural environment, and to the literary company they keep, has also been influential within the art world. Read has acted as an adviser for two exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou- Metz in France, contributed to international exhibition catalogues, and produced illustrated books, magazine and newspaper articles.

The sacred in the modern world

Professor Gordon Lynch

Gordon Lynch’s research investigates contemporary visions of the sacred and the profane. In his work, the sacred refers not necessarily to traditional forms of religious belief, but to whatever people collectively experience as unquestionable moral realities.

In articles for the press, blogs for influential websites and online films for use in schools, Lynch has introduced the public to this way of thinking about the sacred and has shown its relevance for making sense of contemporary cases that evoke strong public moral emotion.

These have ranged from the phone hacking scandal in the UK to the murders committed by Anders Behring Breivik. In both cases, these ‘profanations’ prompted reactions of outrage, disgust and the search for restitution and renewed moral solidarity. Lynch’s work on such cases allows public audiences to identify sacred passions in the modern world and gain another perspective on instinctive moral reactions.

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Last Updated: 11/02/2015

Banner photo (c) Simon Tollington, DICE