Professor Linda Woodhead
MA (Cambridge), BA (Cambridge)
I grew up near Glastonbury in Somerset, which is a centre for alternative spirituality in the UK. But at different times I attended a very old-fashioned Anglican school, a strict Catholic convent school, and a secular state school. It was this mix which got me interested in religion. And ever since then, I have been fascinated in how people’s beliefs shape their lives, how different those beliefs can be, and how and why they change over time.
I studied Theology and Religious Studies at Cambridge, then spent some time in India doing research on the roots of alternative spirituality. At Lancaster I have specialised in the sociology of religion, because of my interest in understanding how religious change relates to other changes in society (in forms of association like the family, in politics, economics, the media and so on).
Someone once said that every scholar is ‘chasing a lion’s tail’, and the tail I have always been trying to grab hold of is religious change. I’m convinced that religion has changed profoundly in Britain (and many other countries) since the 1980s, and I’m interested in understanding this change, and why it has come about. That means looking closely at what has happened to the churches, to religions like Islam brought by migration, to new forms of spirituality, and to secularism. It also means trying to relate these changes to what has been happening in society more widely – like the growth of the internet, disillusionment with party politics, new pressures of work. It’s a great subject to study, because it involves making sense of the world we live in right now, and what is happening under our very noses.