My work addresses the twin themes of religious tolerance and intolerance in the modern world. Previously my research focused on the history of religion in twentieth century Russia and the Soviet Union, particularly on the Orthodox Church and the state but ranging more widely to include church-state relations, religious dissent, freedom of conscience, and religious persecution in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. My first monograph (Russian Society and the Orthodox Church, 2005; paperback 2009) examined religious dissidents in the USSR and non-conformist clergy in post-Soviet Russia and argued that the Church is not a monolithic entity, as western analysts frequently portray it, but that Orthodoxy has had myriad influences in modern Russia. I have also published essays on religion in Russia in Europe-Asia Studies, Russian Review, Religion, State & Society and Nationalities Papers, among others.
My research has recently developed to take a broader, and bolder, comparative direction. Research for the essay ‘Religious Freedom in Russia’ (published in Mark D. Steinberg and Catherine Wanner (eds), Religion, Morality, and Community in Post- Soviet Societies, 2008) identified a paucity of information about how the Jehovah’s Witnesses - who were banned in Moscow in 2004 for their anti-social and extremist activities – had come into conflict with governments around the world, both authoritarian and democratic, since the emergence of the movement in the 1870s. Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, I conducted archival research on the clash between the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the ideology of Soviet communism, the fruits of which have appeared in a collection of essays edited by Catherine Wanner entitled State Secularism and Lived Religion in Russia and Ukraine (2012). I have also published articles on the history and historiography of the Watch Tower Society in the Journal of Religious History and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.
Current Research Projects
I am completing a monograph entitled Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Secular World: Clashes between the Watch Tower Society and Modern Governments, 1870-2010. It examines how the Witnesses have challenged the jurisdictions of modern states and influenced understandings of religious tolerance and freedom of worship worldwide. Four thematic chapters on the issues of ministry, war, blood and religion will be interwoven with country case studies to illustrate how the Society’s doctrines have challenged state authority from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries, ranging from the Soviet Union to the United States, from Malawi to Australia, and from Singapore to Canada. Taken together, this thematic and transnational approach will demonstrate that the Witnesses were regarded as subversive (and sometimes seditious) in a variety of political and geographical contexts and, furthermore, that in their intransigence in the face of repression, discrimination and persecution, Witnesses posed profound challenges to the jurisdiction of nation states in a uniquely wide range of arenas, from inculcating patriotism and regulating public conduct to conscripting armies and healthcare practices.
In 2011 I won funding from the Wellcome Trust to support archival research in the United States, Britain and Russia on the historical use of blood in medicine, prompted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses unique theological perspective on blood and salvation, and am currently completing a series of articles on this topic.