Bristol’s Department of Religion and Theology (RETH) promotes a distinctive research environment and culture, built on its strength and reputation in history and thought of global religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. We have particular strengths in the histories, and the theological and philosophical traditions of these world religions.

RETH is the only Department in the UK recognised as having a characteristic and outstanding focus on Abrahamic religions and Buddhist Studies. The Department has produced exceptional research in both these areas, realising the potential for interdisciplinarity between the two clusters and across the Faculty of Arts.
With 8 full-time staff members, the Department has strategically developed a research agenda based on a rationale of depth. Our Department is highly recognised for its distinctive research environment and culture and was ranked first in the country in 2021 REF for the outstanding world-class quality of our research outputs.
We offer an impressive range of methodologies and approaches including: anthropology, history, philosophy, theology, manuscript studies, textual studies, linguistics, visual culture and phenomenology. Fortnightly Religion and Theology research seminars bring together staff, PGRs as well as members of the Arts Faculty and the wider University throughout the academic year. The department encourages staff and postdocs to develop and achieve their research goals through one-to-one meetings and mentoring.

Research areas

The Department’s specialisms are enhanced and supported by faculty centres and research clusters  (e.g., Centre for Medieval StudiesCentre for Material TextsCentre for Health, Humanities and Science)  which enable staff to pursue and develop their projects. Equally individual academics have established distinctive research areas that attract a number of research students as well as postdocs. The Department has expertise in the following areas.

Global Islam: Islamic intellectual history and the development of diverse Islamic theological and legal traditions from the beginning of Islam to the modern day, and the transmission of ideas from the ancient and Islamicate world to medieval Europe.

Buddhist Material Culture: spanning from religious literary and visual narratives in ancient India, to material and visual culture of medieval Japan and material culture and ritual economy in contemporary Sri Lanka.

Medicine and Religion: the analysis of the intersection between medical and religious knowledge and practices in premodern East Asia as well as illness and healing in ancient Jewish medicine.

Medieval and Reformation Thought:  the examination of medieval and reformation religious and intellectual culture, with a special emphasis on monasticism, medieval Aristotelianism, and the works of John Calvin and the Protestant Reformation.

Philosophy of Religion:  philosophical approaches to religious experience, philosophical implications of psychological approaches to the study of religion, religious love/the heart, Platonism (especially, Christian Platonism), atheism/agnosticism.

Ritual Studies: the consideration of ritual in eastern and western traditions, with emphasis on Japanese and Sri Lankan religious practices as well as medieval and early modern Europe.

Religion and Textuality:  the examination of scribal practices and religious agency in the transmission of scripture in the Hebrew Bible, the Hadith corpus, and Buddhist monastic codes.


  • The Cambridge Platonists at the origins of Enlightenment: texts, debates, and reception (1650-1730). CI David Leech (2016-19, Cambridge University Lead, total £666,777 and Bristol, £267,392.00). This study looks at the neglected Cambridge Platonists, the most important school of Platonic philosophers between the Italian Renaissance and the Romantic Age, whose leading members were Benjamin Whichcote (1609-83), Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688), Henry More (1614-1687) and John Smith (1618-1652). One of the aims of the project is to produce a digital 'Cambridge Platonism Sourcebook', subdivided into three broad sections - Nature and God; Knowledge and Belief; Human Beings and Morality.

Susannah Deane: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow

Susannah Deane was awarded a British Academy three-year postdoctoral research fellowship in 2017 for her project, ‘Madness, mental health and Buddhism: an examination of smyo nad (‘madness’) in the Tibetan context’, within the Centre for Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol, and she is currently working on a monograph based on this research. The research encompasses ethnographic fieldwork conducted during 2018 and 2019 in the Tibetan region of Amdo within Qinghai province, China, alongside an examination of Tibetan religious and medical texts. It explores how Tibetan Tantric and medical notions of mind and body interrelate in diverse and complex ways to explain causative explanations of ‘madness’ focused on spirit affliction, ‘incorrect’ Tantric practice, and ‘heart-wind’ illnesses, with treatment often focused on ritual intervention and the activities of religious – rather than medical – specialists. 

Susannah completed her BA(Hons) in Psychology at the University of Wales, Bangor in 1999, before studying and working in the field of alternative health for several years. Returning to academic study, Susannah received her MA in Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol in 2008, before studying Modern Tibetan language at Tibet University in Lhasa in 2009-10, and commencing her PhD in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University. A monograph based on this work, entitled ‘Tibetan Medicine, Buddhism and psychiatry: mental health and healing in a Tibetan exile community’, was published in 2018 with Carolina Academic Press.tibetimage

  • Catholic doctrines about Judaism after the second Vatican council, 1965–2015. PI Gavin D’Costa. Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2017-18, £20,416.00). Analysis of doctrines of the Catholic magisterium regarding the Jewish people after the Second Vatican Council during the period 1965-2015.
  • Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowship. PI Rupert Gethin (2016-17, £42,169.00). Abhidharma is one of the most sustained attempts in the history of human thought to analyse the workings of the mind. This study considers Buddhist systematic thought as formulated in the Abhidharma using sources in Sanskrit, Pali and Chinese (many of which have never been translated into a European language) from a comparative perspective.
  • Feeding Humans and Non-Humans in Theravada Buddhism. PI Rita Langer, BA Small Grant (2014, £5884). This project studies the relationship in a series of mini documentaries in mixed medium (film, stills, sounds) of the relationship between humans and non-humans in Southeast Asia by way of food offerings or feasts, which are prepared in the still largely female domain of the kitchens.

Associated centres

Faculty of Arts Research Centres

Faculty of Arts Research Clusters and Research Collaborations

Our numerous research clusters and collaborations provide opportunity for intellectual exchange across the Arts Faculty and Beyond.

University Research Institute

Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research

The Institute provides opportunities for funding and networking for our researchers who are working in the field of medical humanities.

Collaborations and activities

Centre for Medieval Studies and GW4 Alliance: As former co-Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies, Muessig submitted with Dr Ian Wei (History) two GW4 applications, an initiator grant (£2,542) and then an accelerator grant (£45,715) in 2014. These grants have enabled the research clusters of medievalists at the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to develop grant proposals in the fields of medieval literature, history and language.

Professor Gavin D’Costa and Dr Faydra L. Shapiro, Executive Director, Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations have received $50,000 grant form Philos, New York to organise an interfaith dialogue conference in Jerusalem in 2019.

Professors Gavin D'Costa and Professor John Pickard (Music) have collobrated on two poetry/music projects leading to two recordings of the outputs and performances, including the BBC Choral.

Detail of painting showing the Virgin Mary with child

Our research feeds into School of Humanities research clusters, and forms part of the overall research strategies of the Faculty of Arts.

Top 5 for research intensity

We are top 5 in the UK for research into theology and religion based on our size.

Source: REF 2014

Conference lecture Annual postgraduate conference

The twenty fifth Joint Regional South West Theology & Religion Postgraduate Conference took place on 29th May this year. Watch this space for news about the twenty sixth postgraduate conference which will take place in spring of next year.

Interested in being a visiting researcher?

If you would like to be a visiting researcher at the University of Bristol, please see the School of Humanities' guidelines for visiting researchers, where you will also find an application form.

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