Dr Steven Sutcliffe (BA Russian London, MPhil Religious Studies Stirling, PhD Religious Studies The Open University)

Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion


My undergraduate degree was in Russian Language and Literature at the University of London. Later, as a mature student, I took a Masters degree in Religious Studies at Stirling University followed by a PhD in Religious Studies at The Open University. I taught Religious Studies at the universities of Stirling and Sunderland before joining the School of Divinity in January 2005. Since then I have served as Director of Undergraduate Studies, Convenor of Ethics and Director of Research and helped launch our new Taught MSc in Religious Studies in 2010. I have also served as President of the British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR) and in 2021 I led the organisation of the annual BASR conference at Edinburgh.

My main interests are the study of new and alternative forms of religion and spirituality in the UK and Europe from a social history and ethnographic perspective.

In particular I teach 'new age' and 'holistic' spiritualities and I'm currently researching two historical streams that feed the contemporary situation: 'life reform'/natural health, and the Gurdjieff movement, in the early -mid twentieth century based on archival sources and memoirs.

I am also interested in the history of Religious Studies since the 1960s including conflicting interpretations of the category 'religion'.


BA MPhil PhD

Responsibilities & affiliations

I am a member of the editorial boards of the following journals:


Culture and Religion

Journal for the Academic Study of Religion

e-Rhizome: Journal for the Study of Religion, Society, Culture and Cognition

Between 2013 and 2020 I served on the editorial board for the IAHR Book Series 'The Study of Religion in a Global Context', and since 2012 I have been a member of the editorial board for the Bloomsbury 'Advances in Religious Studies' series.

Undergraduate teaching

New Spiritualities: from New Age to Holistic (3rd/4th year)

Theories of Religion (3rd/4th year)

Studying Religions (1st/2nd year)

Religion in Modern Britain (1st/2nd year)


Postgraduate teaching

New Spiritualities (Level 11)

Contemporary Theories of Religion (Level 11)

Classes on Emics and Etics and Bourdieu's sociology of religion in the MSc Religious Studies core course Theory and Method in the Study of Religion.

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I'm always interested in creative interdisciplinary projects in the areas below. Drop me a line!

alternative forms of religion in the twentieth century

holistic and vitalistic models of health, healing and diet

discourses on spirituality in modernity

atheism, humanism and the rejection of religion

history of the modern study of religion

I have first supervised nine successful PhD theses and second supervised seven more. I've also first supervised six MSc by Research dissertations. Several of my students have published journal articles and monographs based on their work.

Current PhD students supervised

I am currently first supervising five PhD students whose topics include divinatory/astrological practices in late modernity, kinship in a new religion in South Korea, aspects of modern postural yoga in 'the West' and Goddess religion in Glastonbury and beyond.

I'm currently second supervisor for three PhDs: new spirituality in Saudi Arabia, rationalism and politics in Kerala, and functions of the Mosque in Scottish society.

Past PhD students supervised

Topics of previous PhDs include:  

Spiritualist medumship; conspiracy culture and 'new age' millenialism; narratives of atheist identity; magical practices and the body; spirituality in artificial intelligence; madness and religion; pilgrimage and tourism on the island of Iona; the work of the psychiatrist and spiritual teacher, Maurice Nicoll; and Dark Goddess narrative spirituality.

Research summary

More information about research projects by Dr Sutcliffe are available on hisEdinburgh Research Explorer profile.

Current research interests

'Life Reform' networks - vegetarianism, nature cure, conscientious objection, the Scottish journalist Dugald Semple Gurdjieff/Ouspensky movement - 'work' on the self Life and work of the Anglo-Scottish writer of supernatural/fantastic fiction, David Lindsay Social history and ethnography of New Age beliefs and practices Counterculture and spirituality in the 'long 1960s' Seekership and the Cultic Milieu Biography of religion and oral history as methods - traces of religion in narrated lives Religious Studies as a disciplinary formation

Knowledge exchange

I have given illustrated talks on different aspects of new spiritualities to the Centre for Contemporary Arts (Glasgow), the annual conference of Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland (Stirling), and to the Arthur Conan Doyle Centre (Edinburgh).

I have given presentations on Dugald Semple and Life Reform networks in Scotland to Local History societies in Johnstone, Beith, Kilwinning and Campbeltown.

Project activity

More information about research projects by Dr Sutcliffe are available on hisEdinburgh Research Explorer profile.