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Professor Mathew Guest

Professor in the Sociology of Religion and Head of Department

Professor in the Sociology of Religion and Head of Department in the Department of Theology and Religion+44 (0) 191 33 43944


I have been based in Durham since 2001, researching and teaching in the sociology of religion. I studied theology at the University of Nottingham and then Religious Studies followed by a PhD in Sociology at the University of Lancaster.

Following doctoral work on the British evangelical movement, my research has explored religion and generational change, and the institutional forces that frame how religious identities are perpetuated, sustained and subverted within 'western' capitalist societies.

Since 2009, this research has focused on the contemporary university as a site for the complex negotiation of religious identities. A 3-year project on ‘Christianity and the University Experience in Contemporary England’ was the first empirically driven, nation-wide study of student Christianity in the UK. It has led to the publication of Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith (Bloomsbury, 2013), co-authored with Kristin Aune, Sonya Sharma and Rob Warner. Three further projects focusing on the status of religious identities within the contexts of British Higher Education arose from this endeavour. The ‘Chaplains on Campus’ project, undertaken alongside Kristin Aune and Jeremy Law, took stock of the work of university chaplains across the UK HE sector, taking account of the experiences of chaplains themselves, students, and the decision makers who determine how university chaplaincy is resourced and managed. ‘Re/presenting Islam on Campus’ was a 3-year project undertaken alongside Alison Scott-Bauman, Shuruq Naguib, Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor and Aisha Phoenix. Its aims were to trace the ways in which Islam and Muslims are represented within UK universities, drawing on fresh empirical data to analyse patterns of reinforcement, negotiation and subversion of ideas at the level of university policy, teaching and learning, and the popular attitudes of staff and students. The findings were published in 2020 in a book, Islam on Campus: Contested Identities and the Cultures of Higher Education in Britain and in a freely available online report, Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: Perceptions and Challenges.

A third project, on worldview diversity among university students across the UK, builds on innovative research in the USA in gauging how students within different universities relate to those with cultural and religious worldview different from their own. It aims to trace patterns of religious diversity and develop an understanding of how positive relationships across this diversity are built within higher education contexts.

In recent years my research interests have extended into questions of how recent cultural developments characterised as 'neoliberal' have changed the expression of religious identities and the task of the sociology of religion as it seeks to make sense of them. My first book on this topic, Neoliberal Religion: Faith and Power in the 21st Century, will be published later in 2022 by Bloomsbury.

My general interest in the sociology of religion is reflected in the postgraduate students whose research I supervise, both on the PhD and the Doctor of Theology and Ministry programmes. All of my postgraduate research students are engaged in the empirical study of contemporary religion, and I would be more than happy to engage in email correspondence with further candidates who wish to pursue a project that reflects my research interests.

At the undergraduate and MA level I work alongside Professor Douglas Davies, Dr Jonathan Miles-Watson and Dr Sitna Quiroz within the broad field of the study of religion. Each of us works from a social scientific perspective and emphasise the importance of studying religion as a lived phenomenon.

My broader research activities bring me into contact with a lively international network of academics working in related areas. I currently serve as chair of the British Sociological Association’s Religion Study Group (SocRel), and work with an excellent executive committee on developing that subfield within the UK context.


Research Supervision

Helen Bailey

John Coggin

Tim Dixon

Brendan McMullan

Flo O'Taylor

Research interests

  • Religion in neoliberal contexts
  • Religion, worldviews and values in higher education


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article


Supervision students