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Matthew Wood

Dr. Matthew Wood - Queen's University Belfast Research Portal - Research Directory & Institutional Repository for QUB
Matthew Wood

Dr Matthew Wood


Phone: +44 (0)28 9097 5370

For media contact email
or call +44(0)2890 973091.

Research Interests

My research focuses on religion, racial and ethnic identities, reading practices, and social theory. I am particularly interested in the use of ethnographic methods; in conceptualisations of power, practice and the self (especially in the work of Pierre Bourdieu); and in the relationship between sociological and anthropological approaches. I joined Queen’s University Belfast in 2006, after working as Lecturer in Sociology at Cambridge University. Before that, I taught Sociology at Richmond the American International University in London, and Sociology and Anthropology at Roehampton University (London). In the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, I am a member of the Identities, Lifestyle and Culture research cluster and of the Education Committee.

My doctoral research at Nottingham University used participant observation to examine power-relations and authority in a religious network in the English East Midlands, of the sort usually described as ‘New Age’. This network was comprised of groups and practices involving spirit possession, holistic healing, meditation and divination, and intersected with local pagan, spiritualist and Theosophical / Anthroposophical groups. My research questions the dominant academic view that we are witnessing the rise of spirituality based upon self-authority. Instead, I describe how such networks are characterised by ‘nonformativeness’: the existence of multiple but relativising authorities resulting from individuals’ experiences of secularisation in the religious field. This argument is developed in my book Possession, Power and the New Age: Ambiguities of Authority in Neoliberal Societies (2007, Aldershot: Ashgate).

My second main area of research involves an investigation of the effects of social and cultural globalisation on contemporary London Methodism. This has been conducted through participant observation and interviews at majority black congregations in London, and a survey of all Methodist congregations in that city. In a number of published articles and book chapters, I have explored how processes of globalisation interweave with racialisation and attempts at religious revitalisation in the experiences of migrants from the Caribbean and West Africa. I am currently writing a book developing these debates by focusing upon the figure of the ‘stalwart Methodist’ and the historical shift in power-relations between professional ministers and lay leaders. My interest in ethnicity and migration in relation to congregations has more recently led to research into Anglican churches in Paris.

My final substantive area of research involves ongoing participant observation at reading groups (book clubs) run by public libraries in Northern Ireland. This examines the formation and nature of reading practices, how these are related to library use and participation in reading groups, and how talking about books involves the articulation and negotiation of identities (including those relating to gender, class, nationality and religion). I am particularly exploring these issues through theoretical debates about social practices.

I welcome enquiries from those interested in conducting postgraduate research that relates to any of my empirical or theoretical interests.

External Professional Appointments

Member of the Editorial Board of Social Compass: International Review of Sociology of Religion / Revue Internationale de Sociologie de la Religion.

Member of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Peer Review College.

Visiting Researcher (Chercheur Invité) during 2012-2013 at the Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités (GSRL), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris.

External Examiner in the Field of Sociology and Criminology, University of the West of England (2008-2012).

Other Professional Activities

Member of the Association of Social Anthropologists.

Member of the British Sociological Association.

Member of the European Sociological Association, RN31: Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism

Member of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion.

I have reviewed articles for the following journals: American Sociological Review, Journal of Classical Sociology, Journal of the Royal Anthropological InstituteQualitative Sociology, Social Compass, Sociology, Sociology of Health and Illness,Sociology of Religion, and The British Journal of Sociology.

I have reviewed research applications for the following bodies: the Austrian Science Fund, the German Research Foundation, and the National Science Foundation (USA).



(2007) Possession, Power and the New Age: Ambiguities of Authority in Neoliberal Societies (Aldershot, Hants and Burlington, VA: Ashgate).

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

(Forthcoming) 'Lessons from The Wire: epistemological reflections on the practice of sociological research', The Sociological Review.

(2012) Christopher Bunn and Matthew Wood, 'Cultured responses: the production of social capital in faith based organisations', Current Sociology 60 (5), pp. 636-652

(2010) W(h)ither New Age studies? The uses of ethnography in a contested field of scholarship', Religion and Society: Advances in Research 1 (1), pp. 76-88.

(2010) 'Carrying religion into a secularising Europe: Montserratian migrants' experiences of global processes in British Methodism', Anthropological Journal of European Cultures 19 (1), pp. 9-23.

(2010) Matthew Wood and Véronique Altglas, 'Reflexivity, scientificity and the sociology of religion: Pierre Bourdieu in debate', Nordic Journal of Religion and Society 23 (1), pp. 9-26.

(2009) ‘The nonformative elements of religious life: questioning the ‘sociology of spirituality’ paradigm’, Social Compass56 (2), pp. 237-248.

(2009) Matthew Wood and Christopher Bunn, ‘Strategy in a religious network: a Bourdieuian critique of the sociology of spirituality’, Sociology 43 (2), pp. 286-303.

(2005) 'Public religions and civil society: the case of London Methodism', Fieldwork in Religion 1 (3), pp. 235-251.

(2003) 'Capital possession: a comparative approach to “New Age” and control of the means of possession', Culture and Religion 4 (1), pp. 159-182.

(2001) 'Playing with spirits: channeling and nonformative spirituality in contemporary Britain', Focaal: European Journal of Anthropology 37, pp. 49-60. 

Book Chapters

(Forthcoming) Matthew Wood and John Eade, ‘La construction des religions publiques: ethnicité, Etat-nation et Méthodisme britannique’, in Protestantisme évangélique et diversité culturelle (ed.) Yannick Fer and Gwendoline Malogne-Fer (Paris: L'Harmattan) (English titles: ‘Constructing public religions: ethnicity, the nation-state and British Methodism’, in Evangelical Protestantism and Cultural Diversity).

(2010) ‘The sociology of spirituality: reflections on a problematic endeavor’, in The New Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion (ed.) Bryan S. Turner (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 267-285.

(2006) 'Breaching bleaching: integrating studies of 'race' and ethnicity with the sociology of religion', in Theorising Religion: Classical and Contemporary Debates (eds) James A. Beckford and John Walliss (Aldershot, Hants and Burlington, VA: Ashgate), pp. 237-250.

(2004) 'Kinship identity and nonformative spiritual seekership', in Religion, Identity and Change: British Perspectives on Global Transformations (eds) Simon Coleman and Peter Collins (Aldershot, Hants and Burlington, VA: Ashgate), pp. 191-206.

(2003) 'New religious movements and the New Age', in A Companion to Religious Studies and Theology (eds) Helen Bond, Seth Kunin and Francesca Murphy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), pp. 265-281.

(2000) 'Holistic health therapies in comparative analysis', in Healing and Religion (ed.) Marion Bowman (Middlesex: Hisarlik Press), pp. 81-94.

Other Publications

(2010) Pierre Bourdieu, ‘Sociologists of belief and beliefs of sociologists’, translated by Véronique Altglas and Matthew Wood, Nordic Journal of Religion and Society 23 (1), pp. 1-7.

(2010) 'The friendly advisor: extending the scope of the external examiner', Why Social Science Matters 3, pp. 17-18.

Research Reports

(2002) The Methodist Church in the Global City (School of Sociology and Social Policy, Roehampton University).

(1992) Douglas Davies, Christopher Short and Matthew Wood, Amlosgfa Aberystwyth Crematorium: the Views of Local Residents, Clergy and Undertakers (University of Nottingham and Royal Agricultural College).

Review Article

(2005) 'Religions (spirituality) is dead, long live spirituality (religion)!', European Societies 7 (4), pp. 606-613.


(2012) Review of Bernard Lahire, The Plural Actor (2011, Cambridge: Polity Press), The British Journal of Sociology 63 (4), pp. 774-776.

(2010) Review of Shu-Chuan Chen, Contemporary New Age Transformation in Taiwan: A Sociological Study of a New Religious Movement (2008, Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press), Journal of Contemporary Religion 25 (3), pp. 493-494

(2010) Review of Michael Grenfell (ed.), Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts (2008, Stocksfield: Acumen), Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 16 (3), pp. 680-681.

(2009) Joint review of Gary Bouma, Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-first Century (2006, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press) and Grace Davie, The Sociology of Religion (2007, London: Sage), Sociology 43 (2), pp. 394-397.

(2008) Review of Hermione Harris, Yoruba in Diaspora: An African Church in London (2006, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34 (8) pp. 1351-1352.

(2008) Review of Scott Haldeman, Towards Liturgies that Reconcile: Race and Ritual among African-American and European-American Protestants (2007, Aldershot: Ashgate), Journal of Contemporary Religion 23 (1), pp. 114-116.

(2005) Review of Olivier Roy, Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (2004, London: Hurst), Cambridge Review of International Affairs 18 (3), pp. 471-472.

(2004) Review of Michael Tyldesley, No Heavenly Delusion? A Comparative Study of Three Communal Movements (2003, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press), Culture and Religion 5 (3), pp. 411-413.


Programme Director for BA Sociology

Module Convenor 
Key Debates in Social Theory and Practice (110SOC9024)
The Development of Social Theory (110SOC2001)

Other Teaching 
Conflict and Change in Northern Ireland: Sociological Perspectives (110SOC9022)
Research Project and Dissertation (110SOC3007)
Understanding Society (110SOC1001)
The Sociological Imagination (210SOC1002)

Postgraduate Research Supervision (as Primary Supervisor)

Sylvia McCracken, 'The formation of religious identity of young adults in East Belfast'

Kristen Nielsen, ‘Constructing gender through language in Protestant Northern Ireland’

Nicole Quinn, ‘Identity and work in the context of intra-European migration: the case of international call centre workers in Belfast’

Frequent Journals

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  • Peer reviewer

    Activity: External academic engagementContribution to the work of national or international committees and working groups

  • Visiting Researcher

    Activity: External academic engagementResearch and Teaching at External Organisation

  • Advisor

    Activity: Public engagement and outreachMedia article or participation

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Contribution to conference papers, events and activities

ID: 43798