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).

Anglican Schools Project

16 October 2018

I have begun a project with two Newman University colleagues, Dan Whisker and Lisa Vickerage-Goddard, called Diversity and Success in Church Schools. The project runs from 2018 to 2019 and some key information is below:

Britain’s increasing diversity (religious, ethnic and social) changes how Anglican schools and churches and the communities where they exist relate to one another. We are interested in how these schools develop successful and inclusive learning communities. This project focuses on how and why certain diverse schools are successful, and will produce a book for schools in the Birmingham area providing practical advice for developing inclusive communities and highlighting these positive elements when presenting their school to potential teachers, students, and their families. The feedback will be particularly useful for schools in recruitment of teachers, by helping schools understand and communicate how Christian values facilitate inclusive and supportive environments for stakeholders of all backgrounds.

Project outline
To better understand these issues we would like to interview parents, teachers, school leaders and clerics about the benefits they get from the kinds of diversity which they encounter in their schools and communities. By talking to people from schools across the city, we hope to get a picture of how schools in different circumstances achieve success.

The aim of our research is to collect stories which show how diverse schools can succeed, and to try to make sense of the different ways that schools achieve success. By sharing these stories, and identifying patterns in what schools and parents do, we hope to help parents and teachers in other schools to think about their own situations and to more easily find ways to move forward in educating and caring for children and for one another.

We will collect some of our interviews and ideas in a short book for schools to use as a tool in their planning. We will also host a series of ‘town hall’ meetings in participating schools and churches to give parents, teachers and the church community the chance to discuss what we find, and to think about how to build on their successes in the future.

New article published

17 September 2018

Killing in the Name: Contemporary Evangelical Christian Interpretations of the Jericho Massacre in the Context of Anti-Immigration and Anti-Muslim Trends
Peter Richardson, Stephen Pihlaja

While there has been an increase in the popularity of featuring negative portrayals of Islam and justifications of violence using the Qur'an, similar prominent contemporary interpretations of Biblical passages advocating and justifying violence have been largely ignored in Western discourse about religion and violence. This article focuses on justifications of the use of violence in the account of the fall of Jericho in Joshua chapter six, in which non-combatant adults and children are killed. Using Bamberg's (1997) framework for analysing how narratives position their characters, readers, and authors, it examines two contemporary interpretations from prominent Christians, William Lane Craig (2013, 2007) and John Lennox (2011). Findings show that both writers view the violence as just and necessary in the context provided by the Bible. However, the article also shows how such action could once again be perceived as right if believers combined these justifications with particular interpretations of New Testament texts while viewing themselves as entering a specific set of special circumstances.


24 August 2018

I have just completed my visiting fellowship at Linnaeus University in Växjö in Sweden. Many thanks to the Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies for being such great hosts. Next, I travelled to the University of Helsinki where I was also really happy to visit the Department of Modern Lanuages and give a talk on the 23rd of August. Again, fabulous hosts and such a wonderful summer of writing, thinking, and visiting with good, intelligent people!