I was appointed Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Surrey in October 2021, having previously held academic posts at University of Brighton (2020-21), Cardiff University (2011-20), and Brunel University (2009-11).
Areas of specialism
University roles and responsibilities
- Director of Employability, Department of Sociology (from January 2022)
Affiliations and memberships
My research interests focus on children’s and young people’s religious/non-religious lives and identities; religious diversity, citizenship and post-secularism in education; faith schools in urban and rural communities; the socio-cultural study of mindfulness; and ethnographic and child-/youth-centred methodologies.
I have written over 20 items in peer-reviewed journals and scholarly books. My monograph: Religion in the Primary School: Ethos, Diversity, Citizenship, was published by Routledge in 2015.
I am currently co-investigator on this Leverhulme Trust funded project with PI Anna Strhan (York) and Co-I Sarah Neal (Sheffield). The study aims to investigate the role of religion in the work that schools do to foster notions of citizenship and national identity, how children and their parents experience these processes, and what this means for children’s sense of belonging in wider society.
Postgraduate research supervision
I am interested in supervising PhD students on a broad range of topics in the fields of sociology of religion, education, and childhood/youth. I have particular expertise in the following areas:
- Religion/spirituality and education (including faith schools, collective worship and mindfulness)
- Children's and young people's (non-) religious lives and identities
- Schools, citizenship and diversity (in relation to religion or more broadly)
If you are interested in undertaking doctoral study with me, please feel free to get in touch, preferably with a CV and a 1-2 page proposal outlining your ideas.
Completed postgraduate research projects I have supervised
I have previously supervised the following doctoral candidates to successful completion, and have contributed to a range of other supervisory teams:
- Amber Fensham-Smith: Online networks in home schooling (2012-17)
- Elena Hailwood: Mindfulness in schools (2016-20)
I have examined a number of doctoral theses, including in an internal and external capacity.
I have undertaken a range of teaching roles at all levels, including course leadership, curriculum design and development, admissions, module convening, large and small group teaching, dissertation supervision, personal tuition, assessment and feedback, and e-learning activities. My teaching philosophy is underpinned by values and ethics, and influenced by humanism and constructivism, leading to a student-centred approach and commitment to equal opportunities.
At University of Surrey, I make contributions to the following modules:
- SOC1049 - Social Divisions and Social Identities (module leader)
- SOC1051 - Researching the Social World: Qualitative Methods (contributor)
- SOC2094 - Advanced Qualitative Methods (module leader)
The word ‘community’ is currently back in fashion in the UK, particularly relating to concerns over social cohesion between different ethnic and religious groups in urban localities. Schooling provision, particularly of a faith-based nature, has become entangled within these debates, but there remains a clear lack of research about what actually happens within schools to facilitate or deter the development of social cohesion. Drawing on two qualitative case studies, this chapter will focus in on the embodied processes that occur within schools to build a sense of belonging and togetherness among children. It will examine the inclusive or exclusive nature of such processes within a Community primary school and a Catholic primary school context. The way in which the two schools engage with their wider community will also be considered, along with the implications for social cohesion debates.
Research on children, young people and religion is becoming more prevalent following an increased interest in this traditionally under-researched area. However, little discussion has taken place to date on the appropriateness of past frameworks for making sense of children’s religious lives. This article calls attention to the issue of religious identity in relation to children and young people. By drawing on the diffuse body of interdisciplinary social scientific research in this area, the article seeks to apply the new social studies of childhood model through the two concepts of complexity and agency. Following this, it then goes on to make some suggestions for future directions in the study of children, young people and religious identity.
This chapter outlines the broader interdisciplinary field of emerging academic work on childhood, youth, and religious identity, identifying and investigating the geography that can be found within it. It begins by outlining the foundations of the field, before introducing the concept of religious identity and some of its key features. The chapter then goes on to explore a range of cross-cutting themes including socialization, agency, expression, and belonging. The role of geographical concepts and perspectives are considered in each of these four sections. The chapter ends with reflections on future directions and challenges for the study of religion and religious identity in geographies of children and young people.
Since the Children Act 2004 in both England and Wales, schools are expected to give due attention to the issue of children's rights, particularly respect for the views of pupils in matters that affect them, as outlined in Article 12 of the UNCRC. However, one theme that has been relatively unexplored in the literature on children's rights and education is religion and the role it plays in everyday school life, an issue that has relevance for Article 12, but also Article 14, which refers to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This article approaches the topic of religion, schooling and children's rights empirically, through a focus on rural church schools. It draws on in-depth qualitative research with pupils and other stakeholders from two case study schools in order to explore the significance of ethos values and experiences of religious practices for debates in this area.
This article contributes to an understanding of diversity in beliefs and practices among young religious 'nones' who report the absence of a specific religious faith. It focuses on those describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or otherwise of 'no religion' within (a) a large-scale survey of over ten thousand 13-17-year-olds, and (b) interviews, discussion groups and eJournal entries involving one hundred and fifty-seven 17-18-year-olds, in three British multi-faith locations. Compared to the study population as a whole, the young religious 'nones' were particularly likely to be white and born in Britain. There was, nonetheless, considerable diversity among this group in beliefs and practices: almost half the survey members mentioned some level of belief in God and most of the interview participants pointed to some presence of religion in their lives. Being a religious 'none' is, furthermore, not necessarily a stable identity and some young people had already shown considerable fluidity over their life cycles. Around half the survey members said they had maintained similar religious views to their mothers, but participants in both quantitative and qualitative studies pointed to the impact of their experiences and interactions, as well as the role of science, as factors affecting their beliefs and practices.
Religion and its relationship to schooling is an issue that has become more and more topical in recent years. In many countries, developments such as the diversification of state school sectors, concerns about social cohesion between ethnic and religious groups, and debates about national identity and values have raised old and new questions about the role of religion in education. Whilst the significance of this issue has been reflected in renewed interest from the academic community, much of this work has continued to be based around theoretical or pedagogical debates and stances, rather than evidence-based empirical research. This book aims to address this gap by exploring the social and political role of religion in the context of the primary school. Drawing on original ethnographic research with a child-centred orientation, comparisons are drawn between Community and Roman Catholic primary schools situated within a multi-faith urban area in the UK. In doing so, the study explores a number of ways in which religion has the potential to contribute to everyday school life, including through school ethos and values, inter-pupil relations, community cohesion and social identity and difference. At the centre of the analysis are two key sociological debates about the significance of religion in late modern societies. The first is concerned with the place of religion in public life and the influence of secularisation and post-secularism on the relationship between religion and schooling. The second relates to the increasingly multi-faith nature of many national populations and the implications for religious citizenship in educational settings. Religion in the Primary School will be a useful resource for academics, researchers and students as a key addition to existing knowledge in the disciplines of education, sociology and human geography. It will also be of value to both policy-makers and educationalists interested in the role of religion in schools and the implications for the wider community and society in a range of national contexts.
Ten years ago, the decision was taken to close Brunel University's Department of Geography and Earth Sciences and its undergraduate programmes. Since this time, most of the human geographers have remained at Brunel, but now work from beyond the boundaries of conventional academic Geography. In this paper we argue that this situation, which is not uncommon for geographers in the UK and elsewhere, has significant implications for both individuals and the discipline more broadly. Through our everyday experiences of interdisciplinary working, this paper reflects on what it means to be a geographer working outside of ‘Geography’. The paper examines the implications of this at three different yet related scales: the immediately personal scale in terms of identity and individual academic performance, the institutional scale and its organisation that can lead to the presence/absence of academic subject areas, and then finally the disciplinary scale with its attendant spaces of knowledge generation, dissemination and protectionism. Our arguments are framed by neoliberal‐led higher education changes and conceptualisations of institutions, (inter)disciplinarity and identity, and point to broader significances for the shape of the discipline.
This chapter addresses the contentious issue of faith in education, especially the role that religion plays in and around state-funded education systems. It focuses on the significance of geography for making sense of these debates and its potential to enrich this interdisciplinary field of research. The chapter begins by outlining recent developments in the “new” geographies of education, particularly the significance of space, place and scale for analyzing educational processes. It then goes on to consider three main areas in which religion often features in educational arrangements and experiences. The first of these is the contested curriculum, where religious education, science and sex education are central concerns. The second is the faith schools debate, which features competing constructions of community, some that emphasize belonging and cohesion and others segregation and division. The third is the relationship between religion, citizenship and identity, particularly the extent to which schools recognize and accommodate religious minorities. In each of these contexts, the importance of geography is highlighted through reference to various spatial and scalar dimensions. The chapter ends with reflections on the contributions that geographical scholarship on religion in education could make to broader questions about the purpose of education and the place of religion in wider society.
Globalisation has led to increasing cultural and religious diversity in cities around the world. What are the implications for young people growing up in these settings? How do they develop their religious identities, and what roles do families, friends and peers, teachers, religious leaders and wider cultural influences play in the process? Furthermore, how do members of similar and different cultural and faith backgrounds get on together, and what can young people tell us about reducing conflict and promoting social solidarity amid diversity? Youth On Religion outlines the findings from a unique large-scale project investigating the meaning of religion to young people in three multi-faith locations. Drawing on survey data from over 10,000 young people with a range of faith positions, as well as a series of fascinating interviews, discussion groups and diary reports involving 160 adolescents, this book examines myriad aspects of their daily lives. It provides the most comprehensive account yet of the role of religion for young people growing up in contemporary, multicultural urban contexts. Youth On Religion is a rigorous and engaging account of developing religiosity in a changing society. It presents young people’s own perspectives on their attitudes and experiences and how they negotiate their identities. The book will be an instructive and valuable resource for psychologists, sociologists, criminologists, educationalists and anthropologists, as well as youth workers, social workers and anyone working with young people today. It will also provide essential understanding for policy makers tackling issues of multiculturalism in advanced societies.
This article addresses the issue of children's spiritual, relational and emotional encounters with the primary school environment, with reference to concepts and theories from both education studies and human geography. Drawing on mixed-method qualitative research in two case study institutions, the article examines pupils' photographed 'special places' and the embodied spiritual practices that occurred within everyday informal spaces around the school environments. The significance of adult power and children's spiritual agency is explored in the analysis, emphasising the potentially political nature of spiritual practices and processes. In so doing, the implications for spiritual citizenship are addressed as part of the current wider interest in children's rights and participation in school ethos and decision-making.
In recent years, diversity of religion and belief has been increasingly recognised within educational and social policy debates, as a strand of social difference distinct from ethnicity and culture, and worthy of attention in its own right. However, primary schools in England and Wales have not always had easy access to clear guidance on how to approach this topic. It seemed to us that there was a need to bring together relevant policy frameworks, academic research, and good practice into one single document, which would also provide signposts to helpful resources in the field. This is what Diversity of Religion and Belief: A guidance and resource pack for primary schools in England and Wales sets out to achieve.The guidance and resource pack forms part of a wider engagement, impact and knowledge-exchange project that aims to build on the research of Dr Peter Hemming, which has explored the role of religion in primary schools in both urban and rural contexts (Hemming 2015, Hemming 2018). To date, the project has included a seminar and workshop event at Cardiff University in March 2017 for researchers, teaching professionals and educational organisations. The event attracted over 30 attendees, who participated in presentations and discussions about research and good practice in the field of diversity of religion and belief, and accompanied a wider email consultation with relevant experts and educational bodies. These activities were important for informing the guidance on good practice that makes up a significant part of this document.The pack begins with a section on the various policy contexts and frameworks that inform our focus on diversity of religion and belief in primary schools. Next, it includes substantial sections providing guidance to schools, drawing on research and good practice, on how to approach this issue in everyday school life. Following this, we have included a section listing a range of resources that we hope may prove useful in exploring this topic further. Finally, the pack contains sections listing references to cited academic and policy sources, as well as acknowledgements to individuals whose ideas have contributed to the pack, including attendees of the original seminar and workshop event, and the wider email consultation.
Yn y blynyddoedd diwethaf, mae amrywiaeth crefydd a chred wedi cael ei chydnabod yn gynyddol mewn trafodaethau ar bolisi cymdeithasol ac addysgol, fel cangen o wahaniaeth cymdeithasol ar wahân i ethnigrwydd a diwylliant, sy’n haeddu sylw yn ei rhinwedd ei hun. Fodd bynnag, nid yw ysgolion cynradd yng Nghymru aLloegr bob amser wedi cael mynediad hawdd at ganllawiau clir ynglŷn â sut i ymdrin â'r maes hwn. Yr oedd yn ymddangos i ni fod angen dod â fframweithiau polisi, ymchwil academaidd ac arfer da perthnasol ynghyd mewn un ddogfen, a fyddai’n cynnig gwybodaeth am adnoddau defnyddiol yn y maes hefyd. Dyma yw nod Amrywiaeth Crefydd a Chred: Canllawiau a phecyn adnoddau ar gyfer ysgolion cynradd yng Nghymru a Lloegr.Mae’r canllawiau a’r pecyn adnoddau yn rhan o brosiect cyfnewid gwybodaeth, effaith ac ymgysylltu ehangach sydd â’r nod o adeiladu ar ymchwil Dr Peter Hemming, sydd wedi archwilio rôl addysg grefyddol mewn ysgolion cynradd mewn cyd-destunau gwledig a threfol (Hemming 2015, Hemming 2018). Hyd yma, mae prosiect wedi cynnwys seminar a gweithdy ym Mhrifysgol Caerdydd ym mis Mawrth 2017 ar gyfer ymchwilwyr, gweithwyr addysgu proffesiynol a sefydliadau addysgol.Denodd y digwyddiad dros 30 o fynychwyr, a gymerodd ran mewn cyflwyniadau a thrafodaethau am ymchwil ac arfer da ym maes amrywiaeth crefydd a chred, ac roedd yn cyd-fynd ag ymgynghoriad ehangach drwy’r e-bost ag arbenigwyr a chyrff addysgol perthnasol. Roedd y gweithgareddau hyn yn bwysig ar gyfer llywio’r canllawiau ar arfer da, sy'n llunio rhan sylweddol o'r ddogfen hon.Mae'r pecyn yn dechrau gydag adran ar y cyd-destunau polisi a fframweithiau amrywiol sy'n llywio ein ffocws ar amrywiaeth crefydd a chred mewn ysgolion cynradd. Nesaf, mae'n cynnwys adrannau sylweddol gyda chanllawiau i ysgolion, yn manteisio ar ymchwil ac arfer da, ar sut i ymdrin â’r maes hwn ym mywyd yr ysgol o ddydd i ddydd. Yn dilyn hyn, rydym wedi cynnwys adran yn rhestru amrywiaeth o adnoddau a all, gobeithio, fod yn ddefnyddiol wrth archwilio’r maes hwn ymhellach. Yn olaf, mae'r pecyn yn cynnwys adrannau sy'n rhestru cyfeiriadau at ffynonellau academaidd a pholisi sydd wedi’u dyfynnu, yn ogystal â chydnabod yr unigolion y mae eu syniadau wedi cyfrannu at y pecyn, gan gynnwys y rhai a fynychodd y seminar a'r gweithdy gwreiddiol, a’r ymgynghoriad ehangach drwy’r e-bost.
Much of the debate surrounding the impact of faith schools on wider society has focused on the extent to which they promote social cohesion in urban communities. Yet, much of the faith‐based sector in both England and Wales actually consists of small, rural, Anglican primary schools. This article takes a closer look at these schools to further investigate their influence on social cohesion and community relations, as well as wider questions concerning the significance of religion for contemporary rural life. With reference to an in‐depth case study comparison of two Anglican primary schools in western England and southern Wales, the article draws on qualitative data from staff, pupils, parents and local villagers to explore different approaches to community engagement and their consequences for social cohesion. In so doing, the article makes important contributions to the literatures on faith‐based schooling, rural education, social cohesion, and religion in rural contexts.
This chapter explores the concept of “religious citizenship,” in the context of state-funded schooling in England and Wales, and against a backdrop of growing religious pluralism. The chapter considers the role of various educational actors in determining the extent to which schools recognize and accommodate diversity of religion and belief. With reference to the existing research literature, religious citizenship is explored through various dimensions of education, including faith schools and pupil admissions, religious education and festivals, collective worship and prayer, and pupil values and interfaith relations. In so doing, the chapter highlights an important dimension of the informal citizenship education that state-funded schools in England and Wales provide to pupils on the basis of their religion and belief.
Popular and academic interest in the phenomenon of ‘non-religion’, including atheism, humanism and agnosticism, is currently on the rise, reflected in the proliferation of social research on this important theme. Yet, despite a parallel growth in scholarship on childhood, youth and religion, little interest has so far been directed towards non-religion in this context. This article brings together these two concerns through a review of research themes concerned with non-religion and their potential relevance for childhood and youth studies. In so doing, it maps out an agenda for future social research in the field of childhood, youth and non-religion.
Researchers have begun to explore the role that faith schools play in contemporary educational markets but the emphasis to date has been on urban rather than rural contexts. This article approaches the issue of marketisation through a qualitative case-study comparison of two Anglican primary schools in contrasting rural localities in England and Wales. Engaging with a range of stakeholders, including parents and pupils, the article explores reasons why the schools were valued, drawing on wider constructions of childhood, religion and rurality. The consequences of the schools’ popularity on factors such as traffic, parking, school ethos and local community ties are also considered. The findings of the study problematise some of the prevalent assumptions about marketisation, including the role of social class and geography in these processes. As such, the article makes an important contribution to the sociological literature on faith schools, rural schools and educational markets.
We have now almost completed our third year as editors – which will be our last full year as we will be handing over to new editors at some point in 2017. As observant readers will note, we have had a slight change of editorial team. Carina Girvan joined the new editorial team of BJET (the British Journal of Educational Technology), which is also in the BERA portfolio. In her place, we have been lucky enough to be joined by two colleagues – William Baker (a sociologist of education whose work focuses broadly on educational inequality, culture, social class and aspirations) and Peter Hemming (a sociologist and human geographer with interests in schooling, faith-based education, childhood/youth, identity and citizenship and qualitative research methods). We have really enjoyed editing BERJ – it gives a wonderful opportunity to appreciate and shape (albeit in a small way) the wide field of educational research. We continue to be impressed by the scholarship and imagination of many of the articles submitted and hope we have provided you with an interesting diet. We have tried to ensure that we have included a spectrum of excellent research which covers different phases (from pre-school to higher and adult education), different disciplines and methodological approaches. We also try to ensure that every article speaks to issues that are of international concern. One of the issues that is facing the educational research community is the ongoing debate about the ‘usefulness’ of our research for policy-makers and practitioners. Last year's volume of BERJ concluded with Professor Gemma Moss's excellent BERA Presidential Address. Through a compelling analysis of the development of literacy policy in England, she maps out the complex terrain of the ‘knowledge landscape’. She argues that we need to find more profitable ways of working across the current division of labour epitomised by the policy-research-practice relationship – but in ways which do not compromise the complexity of the research process and research findings. We believe that BERJ (and BERA) has an important role to play in contributing to debates in this areas – and are confident that the research we disseminate in this Journal is both complex and ?useful'. As the following sections outlines, BERJ continues to increase its influence and reach.
Opponents of faith schools often draw on the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to argue, usually from a theoretical standpoint, that faith-based education can undermine children’s rights. Article 14 is particularly well-cited – children’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and is typically discussed in the context of debates about pupil autonomy and indoctrination. However, I would suggest that there are a number of problems with such positions
Non-religion and unbelief are under-researched phenomena in the social sciences but the growing significance of the worldwide non-religious population is leading to more interest in this previously neglected topic. However, with the exception of a handful of studies, little attention has yet been directed towards non-religious youth, despite the emergence of a substantial body of research on youth and religion, and ongoing concerns about the conduct of young people more generally. This article draws on mixed-method data from the British Youth on Religion study to explore the responses of participants identifying as religious ‘nones’. The analysis focuses specifically on young people as citizens through their relationships with wider society, including the broader meaning of non-religious identity, views on morality and values, and approaches to, and relations with, religious others. As such, the article speaks to wider debates about youth, citizenship and community cohesion, as well as non-religion and unbelief.
There are few published articles on conducting large-scale surveys in secondary schools, and this paper seeks to fill this gap. Drawing on the experiences of the Youth On Religion project, it discusses the politics of gaining access to these schools and the considerations leading to the adoption and administration of an online survey. It is concluded that successful research in schools has to be planned carefully in collaboration with key members of staff, and justified as an educational activity. Providing speedy feedback was helpful to ensure schools benefited from the research and to keep them engaged with the project.
Much attention has been paid to the introduction of Citizenship Education in 2002 as a curriculum subject for schools in England and Wales. However, schools have a much wider role in educating children for citizenship through the informal curriculum and everyday socio-spatial practices. This article draws attention to the issue of ‘religious citizenship’ as an important area of study for geographers, through a focus on a particular space: an English multi-faith community primary school. The model of religious citizenship that was provided and promoted by the school is considered, with reference to the way in which religious minorities were recognised and accommodated. Through this analysis, the significance of procedural liberalism is highlighted, particularly the way in which the concept of neutrality may inadvertently privilege certain groups over others. The multi-scalar nature of the issues in question are also shown through reference to particular constructions of the nation and national identity, along with the significance of everyday micro-spaces for the contestation and negotiation of religious citizenship.
This article offers a reflexive account of the process of researching religious identity with young people, and considers how combining methods may enable young people to explore their own identities in different ways. Drawing upon three participant case studies it explores the public–private spectrum produced as part of discussion groups, semi-structured interviews and an innovative online e-Journal research activity. As participants moved through each stage of the research process, the way in which they represented their religious identities shifted as they encountered differing social environments, became more practised at telling their own lives, or had evolved their own perspectives over time. Employing mixed methods contributes a more nuanced understanding of the role of religion in young people’s lives yet also raises important ethical implications surrounding participant confidentiality in research.
Recent debates about state-funded faith schools in England have focused on the way in which they either promote or discourage social cohesion between different cultural, ethnic and religious groups. While one argument suggests that children must experience interfaith and intercultural encounters in order to understand each other, another insists that values of tolerance and acceptance can instead be taught as part of the curriculum. Despite this, much research to date has tended to focus on macro-processes such as selection procedures and residential segregation at the expense of micro-processes within school space itself. This article seeks to address this conspicuous lack of empirical research, by drawing on qualitative fieldwork in a state-funded Community primary school and Roman Catholic primary school located in multi-faith districts of an urban area in the North of England. It will examine a number of ways in which the two schools tried to encourage positive and meaningful encounters between children of different religious backgrounds, as well as the extent to which such attempts were successful. The article will focus particularly on the role of bodies and emotions in making sense of these processes.
The place of religion in the English education system has always been an issue of debate, ever since the establishment of universal schooling around the turn of the 20th Century. Such questions have often focused on the extent to which religion should be viewed as a public or private affair, and hence whether or not it should have a role in state schooling. This article presents qualitative research that examines the role of religion in the ethos of two different schooling models and the associated construction of state institutional space and home/civic space in each. Drawing on Davie’s (2007) concept of ‘vicarious religion’, the article highlights the continued presence of certain types of religious and spiritual manifestations in the public sphere. In so doing, it contributes to wider debates about secularization and the role of religion in modern liberal democracies.
Human geographers are increasingly employing mixed-method approaches in theirresearch, including in children’s geographies, where ‘child-centred’ methods are oftenused alongside participant observation and semi-structured interviews to investigatechildren’s perceptions and experiences. Mixing qualitative methods in this way raises anumber of ethical and methodological issues, particularly regarding the changing powerrelationships between researchers and participants. This article considers the challengesand potential benefits of combining methods from participatory and interpretiveapproaches through triangulation or ‘crystallisation’. The issues are illustrated throughan empirical case study on children, health and exercise in the everyday spaces of theprimary school.
The current UK policy concern with children's health has led to primary school practices of sport, exercise and active play aimed, in particular, at constructing children's bodies as 'healthy'. Qualitative explorations of children's own values and experiences however, reveal that their understandings of sport in school differ considerably from its potential to be healthy, instead emphasising emotional geographies of pleasure and enjoyment. This article aims to develop a better understanding of children's ability to modify and reconstitute discursive corporeal regimes through their own agency, thus highlighting the fluid nature of the primary school as an institution. Adult discourses and children's bodily challenges to these mingle and intersect, creating spaces of competing values and discourses that work to transform and renegotiate the primary school. Although this article focuses particularly on the UK context, the findings will be relevant for any country in which child obesity is of current concern for social and education policy.
London School of Economics: Religion in the Public Sphere Blog - http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/76426/1/Non-religious%20young%20people%20in%20Britain%20possess%20a%20range%20of%20different%20identities%20_%20Religion%20and%20the%20Public%20Sphere.pdf