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Religion in Modern Britain - 20 credits (RT7336)

Module Tutor: Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray

Summary of course content

Britain is often described as being a ‘secular’ society and yet, paradoxically, religion is highly visible, contested, and influential in public life.  From the debate over the funding of ‘faith schools’ to the controversies over the ‘religion’ question in the 2001 Census of England and Wales, religion has a significant place in British social life and debate.  This course aims to explore some of these issues, and the paradox of religion in a supposedly ‘secular’ society.

Theoretical & methodological approaches
Classical social theorists of religion
Contemporary social theorists of religion
Principles of research design: qualitative and quantitative approaches
Qualitative research methods  Accessing faith communities ‘ethically’
Qualitative research methods  Interviews and interviewing
Qualitative research methods Ethnography and fieldwork
Analysis and presentation of research findings

Contemporary debates and issues
Religion in Britain since 1945: the growth of religious diversity
Religion in Britain since 1945: the growth of alternative spiritualities
The secularisation theory
Religion in public life: media
Religion in public life: chaplaincy
Religion in public life: law
Religion in public life: government and ‘faith communities’

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Every year

Prerequisites: None

Necessary for: N/A


The course covers two distinct areas: 

a) theoretical & methodological approaches, and 

b) religion as lived and debated in modern Britain.  In particular, the course aims to equip you to undertake an independent fieldwork project in order that you might develop skills of observation, recording, analysing and presentation of social scientific survey findings.  You will be given every assistance and encouragement to think of imaginative ways of doing a very personal and individual piece of assessed work.  

Learning outcomes

• Describe and evaluate different methods for qualitative research
• Carry out, report upon, and evaluate an appropriate methodology for an independent qualitative fieldwork project
• Describe the diversity of religious traditions in modern Britain and the implications of this for public life
• Trace and identify changing patterns of religious belief and belonging in Britain
• Explain the ambiguity of current theory on secularisation

Teaching methods

Lectures, seminars, group work, student presentations


An essay of 3,000 words and a fieldwork report of 3,000 words

Suggested book purchases

Religion and Change in Modern Britain (L. Woodhead, R. Catto, eds), 2012

Suggested preparatory reading

Angrosino, M. 2007. Doing Ethnographic and Observational Research, London: Sage

Atkinson, P. and Coffey, A. 2002. 'Revisiting the relationship between participant observation and interviewing', in Gubrium, J. and Holstein, J., (eds.), Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method, London: Sage, pp. 801-814  

Avis, P. (ed.), 2003, Public Faith?  The State of Religious Belief and Practice in Britain, London: SPCK.

Bell, J. 1999. Doing Your Research Project. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Bruce, S. 2002. God is Dead: secularisation in the West. Oxford: Blackwell.

Coffey, A. 1999. The Ethnographic Self: fieldwork and the representation of identity, London: SAGE

Denscombe, M. 1998. The Good Research Guide. Milton Keynes: Open University.

Furseth, I., and P. Repstad. 2006, An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion: classical and contemporary perspectives, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging (G. Davie, 1994)

Muslims in Britain: an introduction (S. Gilliat-Ray), 2010

Social Theory and Religion (J. Beckford), 2006