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Professor Ian Reader

Formerly at Lancaster University

Ian Reader

Office Hours:

I no longer have an office or office hours. If you wish to contact me do so by email at



Research overview

Please note I am leaving Lancaster at the end of December.

If you wish to contact me do so on


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 returned to Lancaster in 2012 to teach but am now retiring from teaching but will remain academically active. I have accepted an Emeritus Professorship at the University of Manchester, which has become my new academic home and where I continue to work with colleagues on research projects/


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 leaving Lancaster in December and henceforth will be Professor Emeritus at the University of Manchester (email ian.reader@manchester.ac.uk) and am working on various projects with colleagues at Manchester.

Current Teaching

I no longer work or teach at Lancaster. 

If you wish to contact me do so at the University of Manchester, ian.reader@manchester.ac.uk

Current Research

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.Other projects together and with other people include work on authority in Asian religions and on gender, religion and violence.

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. We are having a second joint research seminar with Tubingen, at Manchester, in February 2016.


 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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