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How have religious faith and experience motivated people in the past, and how do they continue to influence people today?
Our work emphasizes the variety and diversity of religious expressions, including the Protestant and Catholic divisions in post-Reformation Christianity, the relationship between religion, the state and politics, new religious movements and the philosophical basis for faith and religion.
The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History holds major archives and art collections, produces a journal, Wesley and Methodist Studies, and hosts regular conferences.
Our academic staff have published very widely on topics such as sacred space, witchcraft in the early modern period, religion and the state in the eighteenth century, Methodism in the eighteenth century, theological responses to Nazism, religion and psychoanalysis, the material and visual cultures of religion, blasphemy, and secularism.
Current research projects include the eighteenth century church and sex, the religious culture of Europe in the seventeenth century, and Freud and feminism.
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School of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+44 (0)1865 488358
Principal Lecturer: Quality Assurance, Enhancement and Validations
Course Coordinator Religion and Theology
I began working for Oxford Brookes in May 2000. I was employed to establish the Religious Studies undergraduate degree at Oxford Brookes University. I have developed deep interests in wider perspectives of professional engagement at the University and nationally, in areas of learning and teaching and quality enhancement. The key foci of my work have been: research into religious practices in modern and contemporary secular culture; the practice, pedagogy and methodology of HE teaching; policy, procedures and mechanisms in assuring and enhancing quality in HE.
The introduction in the UK of the Civil Partnership Act (2004) and it's enactment (2005) seemed to herald a new plurality and inclusiveness in the ceremonial law and practices of marriage. However, the provisions of the Act maintain an historically exclusive demarcation between secular and religious elements. Neither the ceremony nor the approved premises may have any relation to religious content or usage. Consequently, three groups remain unable to participate in religious weddings: same-sex couples, members of small religious communities, and dissidents. The public act of a wedding for these groups is not only exclusive, we argue, but pays little heed to the private needs of participants nor the private ritual significance such acts necessarily include. Moreover, the exclusion of religious elements is both difficult to interpret and police. We examine the nature and limitations of the provisions and guidance on the Civil Partnership Act and argue that maintenance of a standardised secularism within public law, as in marriage law and the Civil Partnership Act, is anachronous in a modern plural state. This article challenges the division between public secular acts and private acts of ritual and personal significance. We suggest that private actors import religious elements and meanings into secular ceremonies and that guidance to registrars officiating in civil ceremonies does not provide absolute prohibitions to couples using religiously significant elements of ritual or practice. We conclude that the Act continues practices of unjustified differential treatment and that reform to a more inclusive legal framework is both possible and necessary.
The intellectual history of the idea of world religions involves a complex interplay of historical, political, cultural and academic discourses (see, for example, Masuzawa 2005a, 2005b; Owen 2011; Segal 2007). It has become a stream of knowledge accepted and implicit in common understanding and curricula. The Encyclopedia of Religion includes an entry for ‘world religions’ which, though it is written by a key challenger to the paradigm, notes its ubiquity (while stating it is not a ‘technical term’, and identifying diﬀerent uses of the term; Masuzawa, 2005b). World religions has become a category paradigm in social understanding: it is often used uncritically, occasionally reﬂectively as a useful shorthand, or a pointer to varied patterns of behaviour and belief. It is an umbrella term for diverse phenomena. In the study of religions, the term ‘religion’ is also generally understood as an umbrella term, a lexical signiﬁer for diversity. As will be discussed below, category construction requires such ‘shorthands’. But knowledge and understanding require reﬂexive application – even as we use knowledge to develop greater understanding we critically reﬂect upon the substance of that knowledge. Academic study requires an eternal return to its foundations, modes and representations. Just so, in the study of religions students and tutors begin, repeatedly with each new year’s intake, deﬁning, challenging and investigating the primary category of religion. The study of religions is the subject of study and the cumulative history of a variety of approaches to a subject area. It is also a discourse that critically considers itself as an object, and that is the beginning of the pedagogic enterprise for undergraduates; it is ideally the key topic of the ﬁrst class of the ﬁrst module introducing the study of religions. The study of religions is concerned to critically consider the labels and categories used in discourses on religion. Matters of what these phenomena should be called and who has the authority to decide, insiders or outsiders, are core to this academic project. At a deeper level, the eﬀects of these categories are also a serious area of consideration. To what extent are they accurate representations? How much do they mould disparate phenomena within the boundaries of an external category? How much do the categories exclude? And to what extent are the borders and liminalities an aﬀective part of the category? There is, within this analysis of categories, a linguistic and philosophical question about the relationship between language and the ‘world’. Epithetical responses to this question include Ferdinand de Saussure’s foundational linguistic observation that the sign is not the signiﬁed (1974). Jonathan Z. Smith emphasized this point with the epithet ‘map is not territory’ (1978). Both de Saussure and Smith provide an important epistemological warning for the study of religions: signs and maps are constructs created by scholars of religion from their (equally constructed) evidence base, that which is signiﬁed, or the ‘territory’. The substance of knowledge is attained in the ﬁeld. Perhaps it might be argued that this perspective, simply described, oﬀers an unsophisticated philosophy of language by separating perception of the world from the linguistic bases by which humans bring the world into being – when there is a much more symbiotic relationship between the world and language. As Russell McCutcheon states, in relation to the terms religion and religious experience, it could be persuasively argued that the only reason scholars ﬁnd religions everywhere in the world, and religious experience in everyone’s heads, is because those very scholars approach the world – in fact make their world – by using this term, deﬁned broadly enough, so as always to ﬁnd suﬃcient things that they can deem/group together as religion – suggesting to me that a theory of deeming (i.e. a theory of signiﬁcation) and grouping (i.e. a theory of classiﬁcation) are far more required than theory of religion.
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