Accepting PhD Students

    PhD projects

    I am interested in supervising projects that engage in study of language as it relates to: religion, online communication, community organisation and community development, and identity. I am also interested in supervising projects related to English language education, specifically in TESOL or ESOL contexts.

    Personal profile


    Stephen Pihlaja (email) is a linguist and discourse analyst who teaches and researches language use in interaction around religious issues. Originally from Chicago, Stephen has lived and taught in Japan, Malaysia, and the UK. His first monograph, entitled Antagonism on YouTube was published by Bloomsbury in 2014 and his second book, Religious Talk Online was published in 2018 on Cambridge University Press. His newest books Cognitive Linguistics and Religious Language: An Introduction (Routledge, 2021),  Talk about Faith: how conversation and debate shape belief (CUP, 2021) and Analysing Religious Discourse (CUP, 2021) investigate how language about religion is shaped by cognition and interaction between people. Stephen has participated in a variety of inter-disciplinary research projects, including work on young Muslim identity, talk about sexual violence, and inter-religious dialogue and has edited special issues of Language and Literature and Metaphor and the Social World. He also co-edited the Routledge Handbook of English Language Studies (2018)Stephen’s AHRC Leadership Fellowship funded project ‘Language and Religion in the Superdiverse City’ (2021-2022) looked at how language use affects how people understand their own and others’ religious identities within Birmingham.

    Research Interests

    My work focuses on the dynamics of discourse, or language in use, particularly as it relates to religious identity. I analyse discourse to understand how people present themselves and their beliefs to diverse audiences, and how technology changes not just the presentation of belief, but how and what people believe. To do this, I employ different methods of discourse analysis to investigate categorisation, narrative, and positioning in interaction.

    Professional/editorial offices

    Section Editor: Open Linguistics (from 2024)

    Chair: Poetics and Linguistics Association (from 2022)

    Chair of the Board of Governors: St Michael's Primary School, Bartley Green (from 2020)

    Book Reviews Editor: Journal of Language and Discrimination (2018 to 2023)

    Treasurer: Poetics and Linguistics Association (2020 to 2021)

    Secretary: University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (2015 to 2019)

    Membership Secretary: Poetics and Linguistics Association (2013 to 2019)

    PhD Supervision

    Tayyiba Bruce. Thesis Title: A corpus-assisted discourse study of representations of Islam and Catholicism in two right-leaning British news websites (2018) (Lead, Birmingham Newman University)

    Kulwant Singh (EdD), Ongoing. Thesis Title: The role of faith and spirituality in early years: a Sikh perspective (External, Birmingham Newman University)

    Celine Quinn, Ongoing. Thesis Title: The ethical and sociological implications of true crime content and the sensationalisation of brutal crimes and stories (External, Birmingham Newman University)

    Membership of Professional Bodies

    British Association of Applied Linguistics

    Poetics and Linguistics Association

    Education/Academic qualification


    Award Date: 1 Sept 2015

    PhD, Open University

    Award Date: 17 Dec 2012

    MRes, Open University

    Award Date: 1 Dec 2009

    MA, University of Birmingham

    Award Date: 1 Dec 2007


    Award Date: 14 Sept 2003


    • PE English
    • P Philology. Linguistics
    • BL Religion
    • L Education (General)


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