My research finds its focus in the sociology of religion, with a particular emphasis on patterns of religion in Europe. I am also interested in the theoretical paradigms that have emerged in this field – not least 'European exceptionalism' and the notion of ‘multiple modernities’. How are we to make sense of the growing significance of religion in the modern world with tools and concepts that derive (largely) from the 'exceptional' European case?
At a more practical level, I have explored the interactions between religion and welfare, religion and healthcare and (to a lesser extent) religion and law, recognizing the implications of these diverse fields for sociological thinking about religion.
I continue to pursue these interests in retirement. My most recent publications are:
Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.
With Nancy Ammerman et al. (2018) Religions and social progress: Critical assessments and creative partnerships. In International Panel on Social Progress (Ed) Rethinking Society for the 21st Century. Cambridge: Cambirdge Univiersty Press, 641-676.
Ed. (with Lucian Leustean) The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.
Revisiting secularization in light of growing diversity: The European case. Religions 2023, 14(9), 1119; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14091119
Academic / Other Awards
2003 Lay Canon, Anglican Diocese of Europe
2018 BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group Outstanding Contribution Award
2018 Invited Member, Academia Europaea
2008 Honorary Doctorate, Uppsala University, Sweden
2023 Honorary Doctorate, University of Helsinki, Finland
2015 Festschrift presented:
Day, A. and Lövheim, M. (eds), Modernities, Memory and Mutations: Grace
Davie and the Study of Religion. Farnham, Ashgate, 2015.
My concerns with the connections between religion and modernity date from the mid 1980s. The canvas on which I have worked has, however, steadily widened: from an initial engagement with faith in the inner cities of modern Britain (Ahern and Davie 1987), through a more general consideration of the religious life of Britain (Davie 1994), to a concern with the patterns of religion in modern Europe (Davie 2000). The next step was to place Europe itself within a global context, but at this point the narrative took a rather different turn. It is simply not the case that the patterns of religious activity discovered in Western Europe are those of the modern world more generally. Europe: The Exceptional Case (2002) deals with these issues by looking at Europe from the outside rather than within.
The next stage of my writing developed this thinking in new ways. In the first instance, this found expression in a book commissioned by Sage for their Millennium Series, which reflects on why the subject matter of the sociology of religion has developed in the way that it has. Why, in other words, have certain aspects of the research agenda received disproportionate attention and what are the consequences for sociological understanding? The text becomes in fact a critical appraisal of both content and method within the sociology of religion, underlining the importance of contextual factors for its development in different parts of the world (the comparative element is central). It was first published in May 2007; a new edition appeared in 2013.
A co-authored book (with Peter Berger and Effie Fokas) followed in September 2008. It emerged from three meetings in Berlin concerned with European Secularity. Its eventual publication, coinciding with the American Presidential election in 2008 under the title Religious America, Secular Europe: A Theme and Variations (Ashgate 2008) was nothing if not timely.
A third strand of research was rather different. It developed out of my links with Swedish colleagues at the Uppsala University which have led in turn to a series of European wide collaborative projects on religion and welfare. The first of these, Welfare and Religion in a European Perspective, 2003-06, was funded by the Tercentenary Foundation of the Bank of Sweden; the second, Welfare and Values in Europe, 2006-09, was financed by the European Commission, under the Framework 6 programme. Both are central to the understanding of modern Europe and develop – both empirically and theoretically – ideas about inclusion and exclusion. WaVE is predicated on the assumption that values can best be understood through the ways that they are expressed in practice. Accordingly, WaVE aims to study values through the prism of welfare. Two co-edited books on welfare and religion in 21st century Europe are the fruit of these collaborations.
I was the co-director of both WREP and WaVE both of which fed into the establishment in Uppsala of a Linnaeus Centre of Excellence in Uppsala concerned with the Impact of Religion: Challenges for Society, Law and Democracy. My involvement in this Centre resulted further visits to Uppsala, which continued into retirement.
My commitment to the relationship between religion and society found a rather different application in an invitation to act (with Nancy Ammerman) as a Co-ordinating Lead Author for the chapter on religion in the report of the International Panel for Social Progress (IPSP) – an international consortium that came into existence to assess and synthesize the state-of-the-art knowledge that bears on social progress across a wide range of economic, political and cultural questions, For more information about the work and publications of IPSP and the place of religion within this, see
In terms of my own writing, I have to an extent closed the loop with a comprehensively revised edition of Religion in Britain since 1945. This was published in 2015 under the title Religion in Britain: A Persistent Paradox. My European interests found expression in the co-editing (with Lucian Leustean of The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Europe (OUP 2021).
I am now retired and can no longer accept post-graduate students at Exeter.
SISR (International Society for the Sociology of Religion)
1990-98 Council member
1994-98 Convenor and in this capacity, program chair of two major international conferences (Québec 1995, Toulouse 1997) each of which gathered 300 plus scholars from over 30 countries.
ISA (International Sociological Association)
1990-98 Member of Research Committee 22 (Sociology of Religion) of the ISA
2002-06 President, Research Committee 22
2006-10 Invited member of Programme Committee for 2010 ISA Conference
ASR (Association for the Sociology of Religion)
1997 Member International Committee
1998 Chair International Committee
1999 Elected member of the Council
2002 President Elect and Program Chair for Chicago meeting
1991-2014 Trustee of The Scott Holland Trust
1991- Trustee, then Chair (until 2018) of The Reid Trust for the Higher Education of Women
1996-2022 Trustee, then Vice-chair and Chair of The St Luke's College Foundation
For more information, see https://stlukescf.org.uk/
I began my sociological career with an undergraduate degree in Sociology at Exeter (1967); this was followed by a doctorate at the London School of Economics (1975). It was at this stage that I developed the two aspects of my work which were to endure throughout: an interest in the sociology of religion and an acquaintance with both France and French sociology. My doctoral thesis on the political aspects of the French Protestant community in the interwar period brought these together.
After a break from academic life when my children were small, and when I lived in Liverpool, I returned to the Department of Sociology in Exeter where I taught a wide variety of both undergraduate and postgraduate modules. I was also involved with the Erasmus Exchange Programme at both Department and School level. From 2002-06 I was the Director of Exeter's Centre for European Studies. Post-graduate supervision formed an important part of my work both in Exeter and elsewhere.
During my time at Exeter, I enjoyed close collaboration with and visits to a number of European Universities, notably the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. In 2000-01, I held the Kerstin Hesselgren Professorship at Uppsala University, where I returned in 2006-07 and again in 2010, 2012 and into retirement. The 2006-07 visit included a month at the Collegium for Advanced Studies at the University of Helsinki. In 2005, I spent the fall semester at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. The details are listed below.
Appointments in other universities
1992 Visiting scholar, Faculty of Theology, University of Uppsala; return visits in September 1994, December 1995
1994 Visiting lecturer, Centre for Religious Studies, Vilnius University
1996 Directeur d'études invité, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris
1998 Visiting lecturer, Institute of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Krakow
1998 Directeur d'études invité, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris
2000-01 Kerstin Hesselgren Professor in the University of Uppsala
2002 Visiting scholar, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia
2003 Directeur d'études invité, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris
2005 Adjunct professor, Hartford Seminary, Connecticut (fall semester)
2006-07 Visiting professor, University of Uppsala (including a month at the Collegium for Advanced Studies of the University of Helsinki)
2007 Guest lecturer, Fourth Symposium and Summer Institute for the Scientific Study of Religion, Shanghai University
2010 onwards - further visits to the University of Uppsala to support the work of a new research programme on The Impact of Religion - Challenges for Society, Law and Religion
2012 Intensive course, Department of Theology, University of Otago, Dunedin