Linda Woodhead

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Linda Woodhead

Linda Woodhead MBE MA DD (born 1964) is Professor in the sociology of religion in the Department of Politics, Philosophy & Religion at Lancaster University. She is best known for her work on religious change since the 1980s, and for initiating public debates about faith. She has been described by Matthew Taylor, head of the Royal Society of Arts as ‘one of the world’s leading experts on religion.’[1]

Life and career[edit]

Woodhead grew up in rural Somerset. She attended Bishop Fox’s comprehensive school and Richard Huish Sixth Form College in Taunton. She studied Theology and Religious Studies at Emmanuel College, Cambridge University and was awarded Double First Class Honours in 1985, receiving the MA by incorporation the following year. Without earning a postgraduate academic qualification, Woodhead undertook her first post as Tutor in Doctrine and Ethics at Ripon College Cuddesdon Oxford (1988–1992). In 1992, she moved to Lancaster University. She was awarded an honorary DD by Uppsala University in 2009 and appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year’s Honours 2013 for services to higher education.[2] Woodhead is married and lives in Glasgow.

Religion and Society Research Programme[edit]

In 2007 Woodhead was appointed Director of the £12m Religion and Society research programme, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. This initiative funded 265 academics and researchers from 29 different disciplines working on 75 separate research projects and other initiatives including British Religion in Numbers [3] and[4]

Westminster Faith Debates[edit]

Woodhead co-founded the Westminster Faith Debates[5] with the Rt Hon Charles Clarke former Home Secretary in 2011. The debates were originally created to publicise findings from the Religion and Society programme, but have since become an annual series. They bring researchers into conversation with prominent figures in public life and have included Tony Blair, Richard Dawkins, and Archbishop Rowan Williams. The debates have been covered by BBC radio, LBC, The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, the Evening Standard and other UK and international media.[6]

Research and writing[edit]

Woodhead has carried out empirical research around the world. She has studied neo-Hinduism, Christianity, spirituality, and Islam in Europe. Her work examines the relationship between religions and social change, especially in modern times.

An Introduction to Christianity (Cambridge University Press 2004), Christianity: a very short introduction (ISBN 9780192803221)[7] (Oxford University Press 2005), and Religions in the Modern World (Routledge 2nd ed. 2009) consider the development of religions over time by examining how they confirm or challenge power relations in wider society. Using this approach Woodhead explains why churches have declined in modern Europe but not elsewhere.

The Spiritual Revolution (ISBN 9781405119597) (co-written with Paul Heelas; Blackwell Publishing 2005)[8][9] is based on the ‘Kendal Project’[10] and documented the growth of alternative spirituality and the relative decline of churches and chapels. In Religion and Change in Modern Britain[11] (ISBN 9780415575812) (co-edited with Rebecca Catto, Routledge 2012) and Everyday Lived Islam in Europe (co-edited with Nadia Jeldtoft et al., Ashgate 2013) Woodhead expanded this approach by showing how new ‘post-confessional’ ways of being religious have eclipsed a traditional ‘Reformation style’ of religion in Britain and more widely since the late 1980s.

Woodhead’s work on religion, identity, and power is developed in articles on religion and gender, Muslim veiling controversies, governance of religious diversity, religion and politics, religion and law. Her conceptual approach to religion is systematised in A Sociology of Religious Emotion [12] (co-authored with Ole Riis, Oxford University Press 2011) in a schema which integrates religion’s bodily, ritual, emotional and cognitive dimensions.

Policy and media[edit]

Woodhead is a regular feature and comment writer on religion for The Tablet magazine [13] and The Guardian [14] and The Observer newspapers. She has appeared on BBC One’s The Big Questions[15] and BBC Radio 4 programmes including PM, Thought for the Day, Analysis[16] and Thinking Allowed.[17] She has written a major report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.[18] She was invited to the World Economic Forum summit in Davos in 2013.


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  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60367. p. 24. 29 December 2012.
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  6. ^ Portal to all media coverage of the Westminster Faith Debates
  7. ^ O'brien, Murrough (2 January 2005). "Paperbacks". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  8. ^ McCartney, Jenny (6 Nov 2004). "They're really, really spiritual – that is, totally selfish". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  9. ^ Midgley, Carol (4 November 2004). "Spirited away: why the end is nigh for religion". The Times (London). Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
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  11. ^ Review by Professor Martyn Percy in Journal of Anglican Studies
  12. ^ Review by Professor James Beckford in Acta Sociologica
  13. ^ Linda Woodhead contributor page
  14. ^ Linda Woodhead contributor page
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