Research Interests

Research Themes

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 book (Russian Society and the Orthodox Church) 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 published essays on religion in Russia in the journals Europe-Asia Studies, Russian Review, Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, Religion, State & Society and Nationalities Papers, among others. A chapter on religion under communism will appear in the Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought (Oxford University Press, forthcoming), co-edited by Caryl Emerson, George Pattison and Randall Poole.

While I continue to research Russian religious history, I have also transcended the Russian context to address salient questions about religious tolerance and persecutions in modern societies. My second book, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Secular World: From the 1870s to the Present, examined the historic tensions between Jehovah’s Witnesses and government authorities, civic organisations, established churches and the broader public. Witnesses originated in the 1870s as small, loose-knit groups calling themselves Bible Students. Today, there are some eight million Witnesses worldwide, all actively engaged in evangelism under the direction of the Watch Tower organisation. I analyse issues that have brought them global visibility and even notoriety, including political neutrality, public ministry, blood transfusion, and anti-ecumenism. Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Secular World also explored anti-Witness discourse, from media portrayals of the community as marginal and exotic to the anti-cult movement. Focusing on varied historical, ideological and national contexts, it argued that Witnesses have had a defining influence on conceptions of religious tolerance in the modern world.

I have published articles on the history of the Watch Tower organisation in the Journal of Religious History, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Journal of American Studies and Peace and Change, and in the ground-breaking edited collection by Catherine Wanner entitled State Secularism and Lived Religion in Soviet Russia and Ukraine (2012).

Current Research Projects

My fourth book will be a biography of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), founder-leader of the Bible Students, later known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is provisionally entitled Pastor Russell: Publisher, Preacher, Prophet.

I am also currently working on three stand-alone research articles, on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Soviet anti-sectarian campaign; the production of Russell’s ground-breaking motion picture The Photo Drama of Creation (1914); and apocalyptic thought and environmental catastrophe in Watch Tower literature. These will be published in 2020 and 2021.

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