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Professor Linda Woodhead

Distinguished Professor

Linda Woodhead

County South



Tel: +44 1524 510819

PhD supervision

Happy to consider proposals in the areas of: religion and no religion; contemporary Christianity; cultural and religious change; new forms of ritual practice.


I study and write about what matters to people and how we make life meaningful – individually and collectively. Religion is an obvious place to look and I have written widely on that topic, but I am also interested in culture, values and beliefs more broadly. 

 My current research is on the rise of ‘no religion’ and implications for state-religion relations, education (e.g. RE) and society more generally. I am interested in how organised religion responds, and in the new beliefs and rituals which are taking the place or modifying a Christian legacy. I am also researching beliefs, and practices amongst the digital in the USA and UK, and how they build solidarities on and offline.  This last project is with Stanford Univesity, USA.



Additional Information

ABOUT ME - A quick tour of my books and research contribution

I graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Theology and Religious Studies (including a dollop of philosophy and sociology). After a spell at Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford teaching theology and ethics, I moved into the empirical study of religion and culture and was appointed to a post at Lancaster University, where I still am (lovely hills and coast, wonderful students, great university).


 I began my research career by looking at the rise of alternative spirituality at the start of the 20th century, doing research in India and Britain and the colonial context of this development. This led to a collaborative research project in the town of Kendal in Cumbria which discovered church decline but the rapid growth of a plethora of different kinds of ‘mind-body-spirit’ practice, mostly led by women.  My book with Paul Heelas The Spiritual Revolution (2013) presented the results and helped put spirituality on the map.


By then I was convinced me that you couldn’t understand religion and culture properly without taking gender into account. I attacked the gender-blind approach to the study of religion which was still so dominant, and showed how we could understand secularization and the growth of new forms of religion and spirituality much better if we took account of gender, power and religion. I proposed the ‘Labour Force Thesis’ which shows how women’s changing occupations and identities are correlated with church decline and the growth of alternatives. I still think that feminism has transformed religion and how we study it and that we haven’t taken this seriously enough (I plan more books).


This led me to more detailed study of church decline with the CofE as my case study. In That Was the Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People (2016, with Guardian religious correspondent Andrew Brown) I showed how massive social changes – including those to do with women and children – were negotiated about as badly as possibly by church leaders. This, combined with growing indifference by state and wider society, led to precipitous decline. To set the CofE in context, I took part in a collaborative study of similar churches (most of which are NOT collapsing). This will be published soon as The Persistence of Societal Religion: The Old National Churches of Northern Europe.


The other side of the coin of church decline is the rise of the ‘nones’ – those who say they have ‘no religion’.  That is a major focus of my current work, and I am planning a large cross-national study of countries which have no-religion majorities (from China to Estonia). A summary discussion of my survey findings no religion is available here


The study of ‘no religion’ has led me into the study of how people make meaning and establish solidarities outside of organised religion. A lot of my current work is on of new publics including more-than-human publics focused around place, environment, objects, ancestors and other shared matters of concern and importance. I’m currently working with colleagues at Stanford University USA on a Knight Foundation-funded project looking at the new publics of post-millenials and how online and offline relate.


 So, to sum it up, I am interested in what I call ‘affective, meaningful cultures’ – what matters to people and why. I lay out the foundations of this approach in my book with Ole Riis A Sociology of Religious Emotion (2011) and the practical implications in the forthcoming edited book How to Research Religion and ‘No Religion’.


Oh, and the book which has sold the most and made me the most money is also my shortest: Christianity: A Very Short Introduction. One of those little OUP paperbacks with a bright cover you see at airports. 







Nationally-representative surveys of beliefs and values in GB (with YouGov), 2012-. Results and research reports at http://faithdebates.org.uk/research/


1989    MA Theology and Religious Studies, University of Cambridge, UK

1985    BA Theology and Religious Studies, University of Cambridge, UK (Double First Class Honours)


2014-   Director, Institute of Social Futures, Lancaster University, UK

2006-   Professor of Sociology of Religion, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University, UK 


2017 Honorary doctorate, Agder Unversity, Norway

2016    Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, UK

2014    Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, University of Zurich

2013    MBE (Member of the British Empire), New Year’s Honours 

2009    Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, University of Uppsala


Member of Council (the governing body) of the Economic and Social Research UK (ESRC), (2013-16)

Chair of the Theology and Religious Studies panel for REF 2014 (the national research assessment exercise).

Director of the Religion and Society Research Programme (2007-12). A £12M AHRC/ESRC international research initiative. 


2018-19 Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University.

2016    Visiting Professor, Stanford University, USA

2013    Visiting Professor, University of Bern, Switzerland

2016    Visiting Professor, Ateneo de Manila, Philippines

2013    British Council Fellow, University of Indiana, USA

2012    Visiting Professor, University of Hannover, Germany

2010    Visiting Professor, University of Aarhus, Denmark

2009    Visiting ESRC-SSRC Fellow, University of Ottawa, Canada 


£12m – Religion and Society Programme, 2007-12 (Director)

€1.2m ‘VEIL Project: Values, Equality and Differences in Liberal Democracies’, EU FP6(Co-I)


Linda Woodhead and Charles Clarke, A New Settlement: Religion in Schools 2015(18 recommendations for legislative change) http://faithdebates.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/A-New-Settlement-for-Religion-and-Belief-in-schools.pdf

Co-founder of the Westminster Faith Debates www.faithdebates.org.uk  six series of national debates engaging new research on religion and values. 


Research Interests

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