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.
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 (23) 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.
I am now part-time at Lancaster and have until now been teaching in Lent Term. I will be leaving the university this autumn to spend more time with my research and to pursue other interests.
In Lent Term I have been teaching the following two courses:
PPR362 Religion and Violence
However I have just taught these for the last time, and look forward to moving on to something different later this year.
My most recent book is Pilgrimage: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford UNiversity Press, April 2015), which is for a general readership. I recently gave a talk about this book at the Oxford Literary Festival.
The book before that was titled 'Pilgrimage in the Marketplace' (Routledge) which came out in 2014 and 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.
I have various 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.
Erica, Birgit and I are Co-Directors of the Japanese New Religions Project of the online World Religions and Spirituality Project (http://www.wrs.vcu.edu/SPECIAL%20PROJECTS/JAPANESE%20NEW%20RELIGIONS/JapaneseNewReligions.htm) and have been compiling an open access database of information on this topic, including my overview article on Japanese new religions.
We are also involved in collaborative researcg seminars at Tubingen and held a workshop together there in December 2014, with plans for a follow-up in late 2015.
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:
Research output: Contribution to journal › Journal article