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 in 2018 with Cambridge University Press. I've also 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 new edited collection Contemporary Media Stylistics with Helen Ringrow is forthcoming on Bloomsbury. 

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 served from 2013-2019 as membership secretary for the Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) and from 2015-2019 as secretary for the University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (UCGAL). I am a regular member of the Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) and the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL).

Text and talk article

8 November 2019

My new article with colleagues on our Japanese MEXT-funded project is up today, ahead of print. Check it out here:

And cite as:

Richardson, P., Pihlaja, S., Nagashima, M., et al. (2019). Blasphemy and persecution: Positioning in an inter-religious discussion. Text & Talk. Retrieved 8 Nov. 2019, from doi:10.1515/text-2019-2049

In May 2017, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, the former Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison. Although he was released in January 2019, his trial and the various reactions it elicited continue to highlight the very sensitive and complex issues surrounding the notion and enforcement of blasphemy and how different communities talk about it. This article focuses on a discussion about the trial between an Indonesian Muslim in favor of the blasphemy charge and an Indonesian Christian opposed to it. Using positioning analysis, it investigates how their conversation in English at a University in Japan exhibited an occasioned, fluid, developing range of evaluative language, both in terms of how they talked about themselves and others. The analysis demonstrates the complex interplay and consistent tension that is often present in inter-religious dialogue, and tracks how a wide array of discourse and contextual factors relate to developing positions, storylines, expressions of social power, and strategies for conflict management. We conclude by highlighting the inherent complexity of the dynamics of such interaction and how it can lead to greater convergence and/or tension, while emphasizing the potential benefits of face-to-face conversations around issues of possible conflict.

UKRI Grant and Contemporary Media Stylistics

25 Oct 2019

Two quick updates: First, my UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship grant application came back with very good reviews overall. I have completed the PI Response and will now be waiting to hear if I have been selected for interview, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Second, Helen Ringrow and I have now completed the author queries on Contemporary Media Stylistics, our book that is forthcoming next year. Here is the most up-to-date Table of Contents:

Table of contents

1. Introduction, Helen Ringrow (University of Portsmouth, UK) and Stephen Pihlaja (Newman University, UK)
2. "Beautiful masterpieces": metaphors of the female body in modest fashion blogs, Helen Ringrow (University of Portsmouth, UK)
3. Wolfing down the Twilight series: metaphors for reading in online reviews, Louise Nuttall (University of Huddersfield, UK and Chloe Harrison (Aston University, UK)
4. The language of citizen science: short strings and 'we' as a group marker, Glenn Hadikin (University of Portsmouth, UK)
5. The pragma-stylistics of 'image macro' internet memes, Jane Lugea (Queen's University Belfast, UK)
6. The stylistics of emoji: an interactional approach, Dwi Noverini Djenar (The University of Sydney, Australia) and Michael 
Ewing (The University of Melbourne)
7. Rape victims and the law: Victim-blaming and victimisation in reports of rape in the British press, Alessia Tranchese  (University of Portsmouth, UK)

8. Changing media representation of Gina-Lisa Lohfink as the icon of the “Nein heißt nein” (no means no)-movement in Germany, Ulrike Tabbert (University of Huddersfield, UK)
9. Child victims of human trafficking and modern slavery in British newspapers, Ilse Ras (University of Leeds, UK)
10. Reader Comments and Right-Wing Discourse in Traditional News Media Websites, Tayyiba Bruce (Newman University, UK)
11. Straight talking honest politics: rhetorical style and ethos in the mediated politics of metamodernity, Sam Browse (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
12. The aura of facticity: the stylistic illusion of objectivity in news reports, Matt Davies (University of Chester, UK)
13. The style of online preachers, Stephen Pihlaja (Newman University, UK)
14. Conclusion, Caroline Tagg (The Open University, UK)

Text & Talk

10 October 2019

My article with colleagues based on the work we have been doing in Japan has finally been accepted at Text & Talk after 2 long years! It should be coming out next year as follows:

Richardson, Peter, Pihlaja, Stephen, Nagashima, Miori, Wada, Masako, Watanabe, Makoto  and Kheovichai, Baramee. (forthcoming). Blasphemy and persecution: Positioning in an inter-religious discussion. Text & Talk.

Seminar in Bochum

30 September 2019

I will be giving an invited talk at the Digitalization and Religious Contact Workshop at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany in November. Looking forward to some good interdisciplinary discussions about discourse and religion online!