Programme for the study of religion and non-religion

The Programme for the study of religion and non-religion encourages work on, and discussion of, relevant matters in cross-cultural and global perspective

The Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion, based in the Department of Anthropology, aims to bring together staff and research students from across LSE, and within the wider academic and policy communities, working on issues to do with religion, secularism, and “non-religious” practices, beliefs, and traditions.


The role of religion in public life and contemporary society has been increasingly highlighted in the past decade. This has been spurred in part by international politics but, equally, recognition that a strong version of secularization theory, in which modernity and the decline of religion are thought to go hand in hand, is more problematic than once thought. Even within the United Kingdom, where church attendance and other such markers of religiosity are low, scholars have shown belief and other markers of enchantment to be malleable, durable, and multifaceted.

In relation to these observations and insights, the longstanding scholarly interest in secularism has changed. These days, studying secularism is not only about tracing the triumph of liberal democracy, or the scientific method; it is about exploring the ways in which “religion” and “the secular” are mutually constitutive terms, and how their deployment has shaped our understandings of ostensibly religious concepts (faith, belief, spirituality), political ideals and social projects (human rights, equality, freedom of speech, environmental activism), and, even, the nature and position of humanity (as expressed in debates over stem cell research and assisted dying, or animal rights and medical testing). Equally, for scholars of religion, it is not possible to treat “religion” as something distinct and bounded, separated out as a private concern or matter of personal belief. In many non-Western contexts, furthermore, religion has never been bracketed out. To talk about religion is to talk about politics, economy, kinship, law.

Discussions within the public square and the academy are now outpacing the conceptual terminology at our disposal. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of a new framework, one that hinges not on the religious/secular divide but, rather, a more comprehensive religious/non-religious one. Atheism and humanism in particular have come to the fore, and the extent to which people identify as “non-religious” or having “no religion” is garnering both academic and public attention.

The Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion is devoted to the exploration of these developments, trajectories, and trends. And while the Programme recognizes the importance of current debates—not least in the UK—it also stresses the fact that debates have histories and cultural specificities. As such, and building on the long-standing strengths of the Anthropology Department, the Programme encourages work on, and discussion of, these matters in cross-cultural and global perspective. “Religion” itself is a term with a history, and it can only be properly understood in this and its “non-religious” invocations with that in mind. 

The Programme is supported by a generous grant from the LSE Annual Fund.


The main aims of the Programme are to:

  • Foster and provide a framework for primary research
  • Facilitate academic and public discussions on issues relevant to religion, atheism, secularism, humanism and post-humanism
  • Provide a platform for researchers and stakeholders to showcase and communicate their findings to broader academic, public, and public policy audiences


There are staff and research students throughout the School working on religion, secularism, and related topics. The list below includes those directly involved in Programme and Forum on Religion activities.

Professor Rita Astuti
 is an expert in the anthropology of Madagascar. Her research aims to integrate the study of culture and cognition and to showcase the unique contribution that anthropology can make to cognitive science. She has an interest in the cognitive science of religion and has contributed to on-going debates on the origins of afterlife beliefs.

Professor Eileen Barker
 (Advisory Board) is the Professor Emeritus of Sociology with special reference to the study of religion. Her main research interest over the past 30 years has been, and continues to be, 'cults', 'sects' and new religious movements – and the social reactions to which they give rise; but since 1989 she has spent much of her time investigating changes in the religious situation in Eastern Europe. She is also the Chair and Honorary Director of Inform, an NGO based at LSE which supplies information on minority religions. See INFORM for more information.

Dr Gregorio Bettiza is a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute and an LSE IDEAS Transatlantic Relations Programme Research Associate. He is particularly interested in issues of culture, religion and identity in international relations. His recently completed thesis explored the shifting boundaries between secular and religious norms and practices in American foreign policy in the context of the global resurgence of religion.

Dr Fenella Cannell is an expert in the anthropology of Christian practice, who has conducted research in the Philippines, the US and the UK. Special themes in her work include Catholicism, Mormonism, the “secular” and the relationship between religion and kinship. Her books include Power and intimacy in the Christian Philippines (CUP 2000); The anthropology of Christianity (ed., Duke 2006) and; Vital relations: modernity and the persistent life of kinship, co-edited with Susan McKinnon (in press). 

Professor Kevin Featherstone (Advisory Board) is the Director of the Hellenic Observatory at the European Institute. His research interests cover the politics of the European integration process and contemporary politics in Greece. He has a keen interest in the relationship between religion and policymaking in the UK and in Europe. He has recently headed a new research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK, examining the position of the Muslim/Turkish minority in Western Thrace in the 1940s. 

Dr Effie Fokas (Advisory Board) was the Founding Director of the Forum on Religion and is a Visiting Fellow to the European Institute. Her research interests include the relationship between religion, national identity and nationalism; and the sociology of religion in a European perspective, with a special focus on Islam and Christian Orthodoxy. She is co-editor (with Aziz al-Azmeh) of Islam in Europe: Diversity, Identity and Influence(2007, CUP), and co-author (with Peter Berger and Grace Davie) of Religious America, Secular Europe? A theme and variations (2008, Ashgate).

Very Reverend Alexander Fostiropoulos (Advisory Board) is the Orthodox chaplain of the University of London. He studied architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in the 1970s and was ordained a priest in 1985 since when he has served as a parish priest and chaplain in London. Fr. Alexander maintains an active presence in the academic life of the LSE as well as of King's College London. He is also an active participant in interfaith events and maintains close contact with leaders of a broad range of faith communities. 

Professor Conor Gearty (Advisory Board) is the Professor of Human Rights Law in the Department of Law. He has published widely on terrorism, civil liberties and human rights. His books include Terror (Faber, 1990) and two books with K D Ewing, Freedom under Thatcher (1989) and The Struggle for Civil Liberties (2000). His Principles of Human Rights Adjudication is a study of the place of the Human Rights Act in Britain's constitutional order. His Hamlyn lectures in 2005, Can Human Rights Survive?, have been published by Cambridge University Press. His publications include Civil Liberties (OUP, 2007), Essays on Human Rights and Terrorism (Cameron May, 2008) and Debating Social Rights (with Virginia Mantouvalou, 2011). His Liberty and Security for All will be published by Polity at the end of 2012, and his co-edited (with Costas Douzinas) Cambridge Companion to Human Rights Law will also be published at the end of the year.

Professor Simon Glendinning (Advisory Board) is the Director of the Forum for European Philosophy and a Reader in European Philosophy at the European Institute. His research focuses on the philosophy of Europe. His latest publications explore the rootedness of European secularity in Christian conceptual resources. He is interested in both the naivety of the classical secularisation thesis and the exaggeration in the idea of the revival of religion. Under the auspices of the Forum on European Philosophy he was closely involved in the organisation of a recent series of talks at LSE on secularism.  

John Madeley (Advisory Board) is a lecturer in the Government Department. His principal research interests and expertise relate to church-state relations in Europe and the relationship between religion and politics. His publications include the reader Religion and Politics (Ashgate, 2003), Church and State in Contemporary Europe: the Chimera of Neutrality (co-edited with Z Enyedi, Cass, 2003) and Religion, Politics and Law in the European Union (co-edited with Lucien Leustean, Routledge, 2009).

Dr Mathijs Pelkmans is a specialist in the anthropology of the Caucasus and Central Asia. His research concentrates on the socio-political dimensions of religion as revealed in conversion dynamics, missionary encounters, and the intersection between religion and secular power on the “post-atheist” frontier between Islam and Christianity. His most recent (edited) book is titled Ethnographies of Doubt (in press). 

Dr Michael W. Scott
 studies Oceania with a primary focus on Melanesia. He is chiefly interested in the anthropology of ontology (being), a subfield that encompasses both long-standing anthropological interests in indigenous cosmologies, myth, and practice and contemporary developments such as the 'new animism', 'perspectivism', 'non-dualism', and the study of human-nonhuman relations. His current research explores experiences of confusion, fear, and wonder as indices of ontological crisis and transformation. He has also published on the anthropology of Christianity.

Professor Charles Stafford is an anthropologist of China and Taiwan, and a specialist in issues related to learning, cognition and child development. He has carried out research on Chinese popular religion as part of broader studies on childhood (The Roads of Chinese Childhood, 1995, CUP), and on the formation of individual and collective identity (Separation and Reunion in Modern China, 2000, CUP). More recently, his work has focused on moral and ethical life in rural China (Ordinary Ethics in China, 2013, Berg).

The Revd Dr James Walters (Advisory Board) is the LSE's Anglican Chaplain and Faith Advisor. His research interests include systematic theology, political theory and continental philosophy. He is an Executive member of the Society for the Study of Theology and is particularly interested in the interface between theology and secular disciplines. He has various roles
in religious education and interfaith dialogue at LSE and beyond. 

Past Events

Angie Heo

Free and open to all

The Political Lives of Saints: Christian-Muslim Mediation in Egypt
Speaker: Angie Heo (University of Chicago)
Date: Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Time: 4.00-5.30 pm
Location: Seligman Library (6th Floor, Old Building, LSE) 

From the Arab uprisings in 2011 to ISIS's rise in 2014, Egypt's Copts have been at the center of anxious rhetorics around the politics of Christian-Muslim coexistence in the Middle East.  Despite the unprecedented levels of violence they have suffered in recent years, the current predicament of Copts signals more durable structures of church and state authoritarianism that challenge the ahistorical kernel of persecution politics and Islamophobia. 

 This talk examines the political lives of saints to specify the role that religion has played in the making of national unity and sectarian conflict in Egypt since the 1952 coup. Based on years of fieldwork throughout Egypt, it argues that the public imaginary of saints – the Virgin, martyrs (ancient and contemporary), miracle-workers - has served as a key site of mediating social relations between Christians and Muslims.  It further delves into the material aesthetics of Orthodox Christianity to grasp how saintly imaginings broker ties of sacrifice across faiths, reconfigure sacred territory in times of war, and present threats to public order and national security.  Above all, it draws attention to the ways in which an authoritarian politics of sainthood shores up Christian-Muslim unity in the aftermath of war, revolution and coup.  In doing so, this talk directly counters recurrent and prevalent invocations of Christianity's impending extinction in the Arab Muslim world.


On British Islam: Religion, Law and Everyday Practice in Shari`a Councils

10 May 2016, 6.30pm, Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building, LSE

Speaker: John Bowen (Washington University in St Louis)
Chair: Esra Ozyurek (LSE, European Institute)


Tanya Luhrmann

Local Theory of Mind: why people experience the same God differently in different parts of the world

Tuesday 19 January 2016, 6.30pm, Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building

Speaker: Professor Tanya Luhrmann
Chair: Professor Rita Astuti (LSE)

Iracema Dulley

Personal Names, Protestants Missions, and Colonial Rule in Angola (1900-1975)

Wednesday, 25 November 2015, 5.00pm, OLD 6.05 (Seligman Library), 6th Floor, Old Building, Houghton Street, LSE

Speaker: Dr Iracema Dulley

Arthur Bradley

St Paul, Wonder and World: an Encounter between Theologians and Anthropologists

Tuesday 19 May 2015, 2pm, Virginia Woolf Building (22 Kingsway), Room VB 3.01

This was the second in the Social Science and Theology seminar series, co-organized by King’s College London’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies and the LSE’s Programme for the Study of Religion and Nonreligion, supported by London Arts and Humanities Partnership.

Noted critical theorist, Prof. Arthur Bradley (Lancaster University) presented a paper on political theories of radical social change in relation to the writings of St Paul


Forum on Religion and Department of Anthropology Public Discussion

Money and its redemption

Thursday 7 May 2015, 6.30pm, Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House

Speakers: Dr Laura Bear, Professor David Graeber, Professor Bill Maurer
Chair: Reverend Dr Giles Fraser



Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion
London School of Economics
Department of Anthropology
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE

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