Bristol hosts UK's biggest postgraduate conference in the humanities

The Department of Religion and Theology organized, in March 2012, the Seventeenth Postgraduate Conference on Theology and Religious Studies. This two-day postgrad conference, with close to a hundred participants, was the largest known to be held in a humanities discipline in the UK. The theme of the conference was 'Spreading the Word', serving as the impetus for a variety of scholarly approaches, in a variety of subject areas.

The Department of Religion & Theology organizes an annual conference, seeking to bring together postgraduates and early-career academics working on the study of religions from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. This creates a space for them to share their work and to further encourage research and collaboration.

"The Bristol postgraduate conference provided a wonderful opportunity for me to meet fellow scholars from other universities. I also enjoyed seeing friends and gaining deeper insight into the work they were currently undertaking. The relaxed and supportive atmosphere is second to none in my experience." (Justin Whitaker, Research Student,  Goldsmiths, University of London)

The 2012 conference was sponsored by a record number of partner institutions: the University of Cardiff, the University of Exeter, the University of Gloucestershire, Redcliffe College (Gloucester), the University of Roehampton and Trinity College Bristol. Further financial and organizational support was generously provided from within the University, by the Bristol Institute for Research in the Humanities and Arts (BIRTHA), the Department of Religion & Theology (with the School of Humanities), and the Alumni Foundation.

"It was a privilege to help organize the conference. Not only did I get an insight into how conferences are planned, I was part of a team that made sure that the conference catered to the specific needs of current postgraduates." (Laura Frude, Research Student,  University of Bristol)

"What makes this conference so special is that it is completely run by students. Staff do come in, but only as participants or to facilitate and chair sessions. The atmosphere is great and there is a real buzz. The conference is definitely one of the highlights of the academic year for me." (Rita Langer, Lecturer, University of Bristol)

Forty-nine papers, divided into seventeen sessions, were presented by postgraduate students and early career academics from eighteen universities. Moreover, five papers were presented in a dedicated undergraduate session by third-year students from the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England. This seems to be the first time an undergraduate session of papers has been held in the context of a UK postgraduate conference. Each of the speakers expressed their satisfaction with the experience, and added that they aim to continue their studies after graduation.

A number of Year 10 students of the Bristol Grammar School attended the undergraduate session and summed up their experience as follows:

  • The conference gave me an insight into deeper philosophical ideas, which have really assisted my GCSE studies. (Ellie Holbrook, BGS)
  • A very engaging conference which encouraged me to continue religious studies to AS level. (Elena Blackwell, BGS)
  • Very interesting, thought-provoking, and relevant to the Buddhism course I am studying. (Michaela Hine, BGS)
  • It was a great chance to gain access to staff and students of the University of Bristol and their wealth of knowledge. (Leonard Gethin, BGS)

The papers included disciplines such as sociology, textual studies, Christian theology, Buddhist studies, historical studies, philosophy and politics, and they covered a wide geographical and historical range of themes and topics. All presentations were followed by lively discussions, and the tea and lunch breaks allowed for further exchange of views and networking opportunities. The common room also hosted a display of six poster presentations, each addressing the main theme of the conference and functioning as a further catalyst for discussion.

"The conference was of exceptional quality. The papers were solid with a variety of religious topics from a variety of religious backgrounds. What was unique about the conference was its emphasis upon the interdisciplinary nature of religious studies. There were a variety of academic disciplines represented from philosophy, science, music, history, sociology and politics. Easily, the best post-graduate conference I have attended!" (Joshua Farris, Research Student,  University of Bristol)

Feedback from presenters and attendees was very positive, outlining in particular the professionalism with which the conference was organized and the high quality and great variety of the papers presented.

"The postgraduate conference was a great experience. I was thankful for the opportunity to present my research as well as learning about other people‚Äôs work in the field." (Karen Wendland, Research Student,  University of Bristol)

The next conference -- the eighteenth -- is scheduled for Friday 8 March and Saturday 9 March 2013 and the theme will be "Afterlife". To find out more about how the 2013 conference is shaping up, follow us on twitter @pgRTconference or visit our Facebook page: You can also contact Emma Callister, George Ferzoco and Karen Wendland at their joint email address

Conference film

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