Rachael Shillitoe



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Personal profile


I joined the University of Birmingham as a Research Fellow in April 2019. My research is primarily in childhood studies, education and the sociology of religion and sits in conversation with the anthropology of religion and ethics. After completing my undergraduate degree in Religious Studies at Lancaster University and my MA in South Asian Area Studies at SOAS, I worked for a range of educational and youth-led charities both overseas and in the UK. My PhD was part of a wider Leverhulme Trust-funded project and examined children’s experiences of collective worship and assemblies in school. Through a multi-sited ethnographic study, I explored the influence of adult-generated constructions of religion in schools, revealing the extent to which these are formative of and interrelate with particular understandings and experiences of religion and non-religion in childhood. Through this ethnographic study I was able to develop my theoretical interests in religion and childhood and also examine ideas of citizenship, morality, meaning-making and modernity within school and family life. I have also worked as a Research Fellow and Lecturer at York St John University.

Before joining the University of Birmingham, I undertook a project with Dr Anna Strhan at the University of York, investigating what it means to grow up nonreligious for children in the UK. This project investigated children’s beliefs and explored the ways in which children negotiate, construct, and reconstruct forms of religion and secularity, and how this is shaped by the actions of adults in relation to them across spaces of both school and home.

Following on from this, I then joined the University of Birmingham as a Research Fellow with ‘Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum Global Perspective’ project and was also the PI on an evaluation study examining the impact of ‘Understanding Christianity’, an RE curriculum resource for primary and secondary schools in the UK.

I am currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow undertaking a study investigating children’s moral worlds. My forthcoming book Negotiating Religion and Nonreligion in Childhood (under contract with Palgrave Macmillan, in their Childhood and Youth Series) is due out early 2023 and I am currently working on a co-authored monograph (under contract with Princeton University Press) with Dr Anna Strhan based on our work examining nonreligious childhoods.

Research interests

My research interests primarily concern the interrelation between religion and secularity in contemporary life. In particular, I focus on the experiences of children and how they encounter and negotiate religion and nonreligion in their everyday lives, across the spaces of both school and home. 

My research background includes the following projects:

  • Evaluation of Understanding Christianity in Primary and Secondary Schools, 2019. Principal Investigator: Dr Rachael Shillitoe. Funder: REToday, 2019
  • Nonreligious Childhood: Growing Up Unbelieving in Contemporary Britain. 2017-2019. Research Associate: Dr Rachael Shillitoe (Principal Investigator: Dr Anna Strhan). Funder: John Templeton Foundation
  • ‘Collective Worship: Foregrounding the Child’s Perspective’. 2014-2017 Fully funded Leverhulme Trust Funded Doctoral Studentship
  • ‘Evaluation of Prayer Spaces in Schools’. 2017 – 2018 – Research Fellow on School of Psychological and Social Sciences, York St. John University.


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