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Professor Ian Reader


Ian Reader

County South

Lancaster University


Lancaster LA1 4YL

United Kingdom

Tel: +44 1524 592496

Office Hours:

My office hours are Tuesdays 11.30 - 12.30 and 2.30-3.30  during the Lent Term.  If you wish to see me outside of these times please contact me by email.


Location: County South B23

Research overview

Religion in the modern world, with a special focus on Japan; Religious decline and secularisation; Pilgrimage in cross-cultural contexts- with a special focus on the transformations and developments of pilgrimage in recent times; Buddhism in contemporary Japan; Religion and violence, with special focus on how religious doctrines and practices may give rise to and provide legitimations for violent actions; New religious movements in Japan; Millennialism; Religion and the media, especially how religious groups use media forms to market themselves.

Career Details

I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Reading in History, graduating in 1970. I then spent most of the next decade travelling around the world (Middle East, India, West Africa, North and Central America), and worked at various jobs (building sites, school teaching, gardening) before getting into academic work- partly because I was not very good at the other jobs I tried. My MA was on African religious practices and my PhD was on Buddhism in Japan.

I started learning Japanese in 1979, and worked for five years at Japanese universities, initially teaching English but later Religious Studies,  from 1984-1989 before coming back to the UK.

In 1989 I was appointed Lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Stirling. I stayed there until 1999 but during that period I was:

1992-1993 Visiting Professor, Department of Religion, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, USA

1995-1998 Senior Research Fellow, NOrdic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark.

In 1999 I became Professor of Religious Studies at Lancaster (and served as Head of Department here).

In 2007 I left Lancaster to become the inaugural Profesor of Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester, where I was hired to establish a Japanese Studies degree programme. I stayed there for five and half years, serving as  Head of East Asian Studies and building up the department and Japanese programmes there.

I planned to retire from full-time university work in 2012 but have instead been persuaded to return to  Lancaster as Professor of Religious Studies- but on a part-time basis. My next career move will be to get a life.


I live in Lancaster with my wife,  Dorothy, whom I met in 1979 in a Japanese language class. We have lived in various parts of the world (Japan, Scotland, Hawaii and Denmark) before moving to Lancaster in 1999. Our children, Rosie (now 25) and Phil (22) both went to school in Lancaster before going off to university; Rosie did her first degree in Japanese and Linguistics at Leeds and is now doing postgraduate studies in Japanese Linguistics  at Kumamoto University in Japan, and Phil, having  graduated from King's College London  is currently traveling and working in New Zealand. No idea where this wish to travel and see the world comes from.

Dorothy and I still live in Lancaster  and like it as a town (despite the weather).  Dorothy is a translator,  initially of Japanese, but since 1999 she has worked as a translator of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian and she co-runs a translation partnership with three other translators of Scandinavian languages  that is based in Lancaster.

Outside of work my interests are my family, my vegetable and fruit garden, walking, discussing the meaning of life and other matters of deep philosophical importance in pubs,  and sport (spectating mostly these days and especially cricket and  football). 

I am also deeply interested in politics, both internationally and in the UK, and in issues of freedom, human rights and environmental issues.  On such grounds I am very much opposed to many of our current government's increasingly repressive attempts to amend laws (e.g. recent proposals on 'radicalisation' and its implications for universities). I am also unhappy at the ways universities seem to have become managerialised in recent times- and regard the recent appointment of the  Blairite appartchik and failed politician Alan Milburn as Lancaster's new Chancellor as a dispiriting sign of this general malaise.

I am now part-time at Lancaster and teach in Lent Term. 

Current Teaching

In Lent Term I   teach the following two courses:
PPR362 Religion and Violence

PPR484  Pilgrimage

Current Research

I recently published a  book titled 'Pilgrimage in the Marketplace' (Routledge) which draws on research in Japan and other places over several years and looks at commcerical dynamics and pilgrimage. I am co-editor of a series on Religion, Travel and Tourism (Routledge) and am involved with a network of scholars who work on studies of pilgrimage in different parts of the world. 

My new book A Very Short Introduction to Pilgrimage (OUP) is coming out in April 2015 and I have various other articles and chapters in press or recently published.

I am also working on various projects related to religion and violence and am a senior researcher in the Canadian Network on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS): www.tsas.ca

I have been  working with Dr Erica Baffelli (University of Manchester) on various projects related to Japanese new religions, media and society; together with Birgit Staemmler (University of Tuebingen, Germany) we published an edited book on religion and the internet in Japan, and recently Erica and I have have co-authored articles on millennialism in Japanese new religions and co-edited a special edition of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (2012) on the Aftermath of the Aum Affair in Japan. We are currently working on a book together on Japanese new religions in the 1980s and 1990s.


I also work closely with colleagues at the Nanzan Institute of Religion and Culture, Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan on various projects (including the academic journal the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies) and am a member of the Research Project on ‘Religious Studies in Modern Japan. A re-examination from an International Perspective’' based at the Nanzan Institute of Religion and Culture  and funded by Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

As part of the above project we have digitised a large number of slides that I took during the 1980s of Japanese religious rituals and practices and have made them publicly and freely available for use by teachers and students, with commentaries on the images and links to additional resources on the practices illustrated. The digital archive can be accessed via the following URL:


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