Lived Religion and Spiritualities

Researchers in this stream have diverse research interests and disciplinary backgrounds but share an interest in spiritual or religious practices and beliefs that are often ignored in mainstream religious studies. Areas of expertise include indigenous belief systems and the intersections between these and established religions, hyper-real and popular religions, monsters and the supernatural, and spiritualities. Rather than looking at the veracity of particular beliefs or ideologies, researchers focus on how these phenomena emerge in particular social and cultural contexts and are perceived and experienced by humans in different circumstances. In doing so they are able to uncover new understandings of more general questions regarding the nature of belief, religious diversity and socio-cultural change.

Keywords:  spiritualities, monsters, supernatural, belief, social change, hyper-real religions.

Current Projects:

  •  Hyper-real religion

Professor Adam Possamai is a key researcher in this stream. He is an international leader in the field of religion and popular culture by coining the term 'hyper-real religion' and recently editing a Handbook (opens in a new window)on the topic. His research marked the first attempt to analyse from a social scientific perspective what people do with popular culture religiously. Professor Possamai is also series editor of the book series 'Popular Culture, Religion and Contemporary Society: A Social-Scientific Approach' (opens in a new window) published by Springer.

  • John of God: a Global Healer

Associate Professor Cristina Rocha is researching Western followers of John of God, a Brazilian faith healer who has become an international healer superstar (visited by thousands of the desperately ill, the wealthy, and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey) purportedly performing miraculous cures operating on people with a kitchen knife without asepsis or anaesthetics. This project explores the appeal of his very alternative healing practices, how they are globalized in late modernity, the establishment of transnational communities of belief, the transformation of poor rural areas into sites of globalization, the efficacy of healing across cultures, and the prominent place of healing (of the body, the spirit and the planet) and its intimate connection with spirituality and religion in late modernity. This project led to the publication of several articles, and her monograph John of God: The Globalisation of Brazilian Faith Healing is coming out with Oxford University Press in September 2016.

  • Aborigines and Contemporary Religion

In 2009, Helena Onnudottir, Adam Possamai and Bryan Turner began an extensive analysis of Australian and New Zealand Census data over the past 15 years. Focusing on those questions in the Census relating to religion, they discovered that an increasingly growing number of aboriginals in these countries were reporting themselves to be 'non-religious'. This finding led to the publication of various articles/book chapters and media accounts on this topic, as well as a symposium on the broader issue of aborigines and contemporary religion in March 2012 (Religious Change and Indigenous Populations in the Antipodes (PDF, 195.11 KB). (opens in a new window) The first phase of this project ended up with the publication of Indigenous Change and Indigenous People: The Making of Religious Identities (opens in a new window) in 2013 with Ashgate.

In 2013, a successful UWS IRIS grant brought Prof James Cox (University of Edinburgh), an internationally recognised expert in the areas of the phenomenology of religion and indigenous religions, to study with Adam Possamai and George Morgan aboriginal understanding of 'religion'. This has resulted in the publication of an edited volume on this topic in 2016. (Religion and Non-Religion among Australian Aboriginal Peoples) (opens in a new window)

  • Belief in monsters and the supernatural.

Drawing on the expertise of Tony Jinks on the Psychology of Paranormal Belief and Experience (opens in a new window), and Geir Henning Presterudstuen's work on the anthropology of popular religion (, the center is currently developing this new project.

  • Spiritualities

Professor Julia Howell has an ongoing research agenda in the notion of 'spirituality', drawing on themes from the global spiritual marketplace, specifically in popular Islamic discourse in Southeast Asia. She has shown that this has occurred largely through the neo-Sufism movement but is now pervasive across the spectrum of moderate to liberal Islamic religiosity. Her work on Islamic televangelism in Southeast Asia and new 'training' businesses offering hybridised Islamic spirituality and popular psychology for personal development and business management is also contributing to the comparative study of contemporary popular religion and modernisation.

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