Stephen Pihlaja
/'stiːvən 'pihlaija/

Hi there, my name is Stephen and I'm an applied linguist, discourse analyst, and stylistician researching and teaching at Newman University in Birmingham (UK). I teach a suite of classes in the English subject group, focusing on the use of linguistic tools to study literature, language, and culture. My first book, Antagonism on YouTube was published by Bloomsbury in 2014 and my second book, Religious Talk Online was published this year on Cambridge University Press. I've also recently edited special issues of Language and Literature and Metaphor and the Social World and co-edited the Routledge Handbook of English Language Studies. I also am Head of the Newman University Humanities Research Centre and Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of Language and Discrimination

My own research focuses on the dynamics of discourse, or language in use, particularly in online interaction around religious issues. 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 metaphor, narrative positioning, categories, and impoliteness in interaction.

I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and most recently worked as a Primary Investigator on a Social Innovation Project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council called 'Let's Talk about Sex: equipping student leaders to address sexual violence on campuses'. I am currently working on a Saltley Trust funded project with colleagues at Newman investigating diversity in Birmingham Diocese Anglican primary schools called 'Diversity and Success in Church Schools'. 

I review articles for a variety of different publications, and serve as membership secretary for the Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) and the secretary for the University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (UCGAL). I am a regular member of the Researching and Applying Metaphor Association (RaAM) and the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL).

Contemporary Media Stylistics

10 April 2019

Contemporary Media Stylistics, my new book with Helen Ringrow, is now up for pre-order on Amazon at this link:


The table of contents is below:

Talk at the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK

08 April 2019

Really happy to see these great video posted by the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK for the talk I did last month.

Book Review

26 Jan 2019

Happy to see the first review of my CUP book out in the world!

Munnik, M. (2019). Book review: Stephen Pihlaja, Religious Talk Online: The Evangelical Discourse of Muslims, Christians, and Atheists. Discourse & Communication, 13(1), 138–141. https://doi.org/10.1177/1750481318808686
Two contributions this volume makes to wider discussions concern the empirical and conceptual definition of modern atheism and the specifically evangelical nature of the online discourse. Pihlaja notes that atheism lacks an established institution or a canon of sacred texts. Arguably, it is the affordances of online communication that have given atheism its public dimension. Leadership and authority are more diffuse, and as his data show, online atheists feel no particular need to conform to a public message track, in the way that a Catholic might, not wanting to contradict Vatican doctrine, or a Muslim might, not wanting to expose divisions when the faith insists God is one. Atheists contradict each other within the comments sections rather than reinforcing group solidarity. By constructing atheism in a religion-like way, Pihlaja makes evangelism a relevant way of describing atheist talk online. Thus, ‘the presence of atheist voices online does serve to embolden people to “come out” as atheists and provides them with a place of connection and discussion’ (p. 163). Further, the atheist user occupies an influential role within his community that outstrips that of the other two, as seen in the comparative volume of views and comments.
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University of Birmingham Talk, 12 February

24 January 2019

I will be speaking at the University of Birmingham on 12 February — a talk entitled 'How religious belief and practice develop in discourse'. The talk is from 16:00-18:00 in MUIR 715, that is Muirhead Tower. Hope you can make it!