Stephen Pihlaja

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Stephen is a linguist and discourse analyst who teaches and researches language use in interaction around religious issues, particularly online. Originally from Chicago, Stephen has lived and taught in Japan, Malaysia, and the UK. His first monograph, entitled Antagonism on YouTube was published by Bloomsbury in 2014 and his second book, Religious Talk Online was published in 2018 on Cambridge University Press. His newest books Cognitive Linguistics and Religious Language: An Introduction (Routledge, 2021),  Talk about Faith: how conversation and debate shape belief (CUP, 2021) and Analysing Religious Discourse (CUP, 2021) investigate how language about religion is shaped by cognition and interaction between people. Stephen has participated in a variety of inter-disciplinary research projects, including work on young Muslim identity, talk about sexual violence, and inter-religious dialogue and has edited special issues of Language and Literature and Metaphor and the Social World. He also co-edited the Routledge Handbook of English Language Studies (2018). Stephen’s AHRC Leadership Fellowship funded project ‘Language and Religion in the Superdiverse City’ looks at how language use affects how people understand their own and others’ religious identities within Birmingham.


Research Interests

Stephen is interested in the use of language in religious interaction, in both online and offline contexts, particularly descriptions of and arguments about religious experience and expression among Evangelical Christians, Muslims, and atheists. He also researches talk about sexual experience and sexual violence, particularly in higher education and online settings.


Stephen is the module co-ordinator and leader for all English language courses. He teaches courses in Sociolinguistics, Metaphor, and Literary Linguistics, among others.

Administrative Responsibilities

Chair of the Minor Amendments Panel

Membership of Professional Organisations

Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy

Poetics and Linguistics Association (treasurer)

Researching and Applying Metaphor Association (member)

British Association of Applied Linguistics (member)

Research supervision

PhD Supervision, Tayyiba Bruce, 2018. ‘A linguistic study of the portrayal of Islam and Catholicism on two conservative British news websites, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph’.

EdD Supervision, Kulwant Singh, 2021. ‘The role of faith and spirituality in early years: a Sikh perspective’


AHRC Leadership Fellowship (Primary Investigator)

Language and Religion in the Superdiverse City project (£155,024)2021-2022; Investigates the relationship between language and religious identity in Birmingham, with a focus on community organising in partnership with Citizens UK Birmingham.

Saltley Trust Small Grant (Co-Investigator)

Support for Birmingham Anglican Schools as Diverse Communities Project (£2238). 2018-2020; Investigated religious diversity in Church of England Schools, looking particularly at how shared values are recognised and articulated

Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Research Collaborator & Consultant)

Religion and Danger: An Investigation into how Religious Believers Perceive and Respond to Danger within a Global Context (¥11,000,000/£86,842); Investigated dialogue among Christians and Muslims International students and Hokkaido University in Japan.

HEFCE Social Innovation Pilot Project (Primary Investigator)
Let’s Talk about sex: Equipping student leaders to address sexual violence on campuses (£18,252); Project includes providing leadership and oversight on three research sites across the UK with 15 people working on the project. 2016

Small Grant, Middlesex University (Co-Investigator and consultant)
Being a young Muslim in England today: a qualitative narrative study (£7,200); Project includes providing leadership and oversight at Birmingham site, leading focus groups, data analysis, and mentorship of young staff on research methods and discourse analysis. 2016

Small Travel Grant, Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training (CREST)
For conference attendance; 2015 & 2016

Research Network Seed Money, CREST

For organising inter-disciplinary seminar focused on religious talk on social media; 2015

Students as Academic Partners Grant, Newman University
Support for student salaries to investigate Muslim student experience; 2014–2015

Other Activities

Publications, Conferences, and Other Research Activity


Richardson, Peter, Mueller, Charles, and Stephen Pihlaja (2021). Cognitive Linguistics and Religious Language: An Introduction. New York: Routledge.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2021) Talk about Faith: How conversation and debate shape belief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2018) Religious Talk Online: Muslim, Christian, and Atheist Discourse on Social Media. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2014) Antagonism on YouTube. London: Bloomsbury.

Edited Books/Special Issues

Pihlaja, Stephen (ed.). (2021) Analysing Religious Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 9781108836135

Ringrow, Helen & Stephen Pihlaja (eds.). (2020) Contemporary Media Stylistics. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN: 9781350064096

Seargeant, Philip, Hewings, Ann, & Stephen Pihlaja (eds.). (2018) Routledge Handbook for English Language Studies. Abingdon: Routledge.

Pihlaja, Stephen (ed.). (2017) Special Issue: Metaphor in Religion and Spirituality. Metaphor and the Social World 7 (1).

Allington, Daniel & Pihlaja, Stephen (eds.). (2016) Special Issue: Interpretation in the Age of the Internet. Language & Literature 25 (3).

Selected Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

Richardson, Peter, Pihlaja, Stephen, Nagashima, Miori, Wada, Masako, Watanabe, Makoto and Kheovichai, Baramee. (2019). Blasphemy and persecution: Positioning in an inter-religious discussion. Text & Talk, 40/1: 75-98. DOI: 10.1515/text-2019-2049

Richardson, Peter & Stephen Pihlaja. (2018) Killing in the name: contemporary Evangelical Christian interpretations of the Jericho massacre. Postscripts, 9/1: 27-49. DOI: 10.1558/post.36984

Thompson, Naomi & Stephen Pihlaja (2018) Temporary liberties and uncertain futures: young female Muslim perceptions of life in England. Journal of Youth Studies 21/10: 1326-1343. DOI: 10.1080/13676261.2018.1468021

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2017) ‘When Noah built the ark…’: metaphor and Biblical stories in Facebook preaching. Metaphor and the Social World 7 (1), pp. 88-105. DOI: 10.1075/msw.7.1.06pih

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2017) More than 50 shades of grey: Creative content and copyright on social networking sites. Applied Linguistics Review 8 (2-3), pp. 213-228. DOI: 10.1515/applirev-2016-1036

Allington, Daniel & Stephen Pihlaja. (2016) Special Issue Introduction: Interpretation in the Age of the Internet. Language & Literature 25 (3), pp. 201-210.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2016) ‘What about the wolves?’: The use of scripture in YouTube arguments. Language & Literature 25 (3), pp.226-238.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2016) Expressing pleasure and avoiding engagement in online adult video comment sections. Language & Sexuality 5 (1): pp.96-114.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2014) ‘Christians’ and ‘bad Christians’: Categorization in atheist user talk on YouTube. Text & Talk 34 (5): pp.623-639.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2013) ‘”It’s all red ink”: the interpretation of Biblical metaphor among Evangelical Christian YouTube users’, Language and Literature, 22 (2), pp.103–117.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2011) ‘”Are you religious or are you saved?”: Investigating membership categorisation in religious discussions on YouTube’, Fieldwork in Religion 6 (1), pp.27-46.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2011) ‘Cops, popes, and garbage collectors: Metaphor and antagonism in an atheist/Christian YouTube video thread’, Language@Internet, 8 (1). Available at: <>

Chapters in Edited Books

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2020). The style of online preachers. In Ringrow, Helen & Stephen Pihlaja (eds.). Contemporary Media Stylistics. (pgs. 297–316) London: Bloomsbury.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2018) Hey YouTube! Positioning the Viewer in Vlogs. In Page, R., Nørgaard, N., & Busse, B. Rethinking Language, Text and Context (pgs. 254-265). London: Routledge.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2018) ‘Discourse analysis: studying and critiquing language in use’ in Seargeant, Philip, Hewings, Ann, & Stephen Pihlaja (eds.) Routledge Handbook for English Language Studies. Abingdon: Routledge. pp.379-391.

Pihlaja, Stephen and Andreas Musloff (2017) Language and Ideology. In Wolfram Bublitz & Christian Hoffman. Handbook of Pragmatics 11: Pragmatics of Social Media. pps.381-408.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2015) Analysing YouTube interaction: a discourse-centred approach. In Shakkour, S. and E. Arweck (eds.) Digital Methodologies in the Sociology of Religion. London: Bloomsbury. pp.49–58.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2014) The Development of ‘Drama’ in YouTube Discourse. In Page, R., Barton, D., Unger, J.W., and M. Zappavigna (eds.) Researching Language and Social Media: A Student Guide. London: Routledge. pp.35-36

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2013) ‘Truck stops and fashion shows: A case study of the discursive construction of Evangelical Christian group identity on YouTube.’ In Herbert, D and M.Gillespie. (eds.) Social Media and Religious Change. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp.165–184

Recent Conference Addresses and Papers

Emergent Metaphor Use in YouTube Drama (Invited Talk); Centrum für Religionswissenschaftliche Studien (CERES), Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany (8 February 2021)

Analysing Religious Discourse Online: Theories, Methods, and Challenges (Invited Talk); Digitalization and Religious Contact Workshop, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany (14-15 November 2019)

Metaphor and religion in the ESOL classroom; West Tokyo Japanese Association of Language Teachers (JALT); Tokyo, Japan (14 September 2019)

Metaphor and Religion (Invited talk); International Christian University; Tokyo, Japan (13 September 2019)

‘Okay okay Mashallah’: The Use of Arabic ‘Allah Phrases’ inthe Muslim YouTube discourse; Poetics and Linguistics Association Annual Conference, University of Liverpool (10-14 July 2019)

Religion in social media discourse: understanding how users position themselves and their beliefs; International Research Network for the Study of Science and Belief in Society Annual Conference (4-6 July 2019)

Analysing Religious Discourse: Inspiration, authority, and interpretation (invited talk); University of Sheffield (15 May 2019)

How technology influences what we believe (invited talk); University of Cardiff: Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK (20 March 2019)

How religious belief and practice develop in discourse (invited talk); University of Birmingham (12 February 2019)

Metaphor, Discourse Dynamics, and Religious Talk (invited talk); University of Portsmouth (7 November 2018)

Analysing Religious Discourse: Approaches, Contexts, and Topics (invited talk); University of Helsinki (23 August 2018)

‘Hey YouTube’: Positioning the Viewer in Vlogs; Poetics and Linguistics Association Annual Conference; University of Birmingham (25-28 July 2018)

Ask the Sheikh: authority and the text in YouTube dawah videos; SOCREL 2018: Religion and Education (10-12 July 2018)

The role of Inter-Religious Dialogue in Contemporary Cultural Discourses of Toleration and Acceptance Global Challenges: Borders, Populism and the Postcolonial Condition, Linnaeus University (15 June 2018)

‘Once I stopped believing in Santa Claus …’: Doing Corpus-Assisted Discourse Analysis on YouTube and Facebook Religious Talk Corpus Linguistics Conference, University of Birmingham (27 July 2017)

English Language Studies and Academic Writing: Theories, Methods, and Futures (Keynote Address) ESBB 2018 Conference and Symposium on English Academic Writing in a Global World (25 March 2018)

Language and Religion in a Connected World, (Keynote Address) English, religion and rural contexts: perspectives from the periphery, Kings College London (1 June 2017)

‘When Noah built the ark…’: metaphor and Biblical stories in Facebook preaching Researching and Applying Metaphor Conference; Free University of Berlin (2 July 2016)

Investigating inter-religious dialogue on Social Media: keyword-led discourse analysis in action ADDA Conference, Valencia, Spain (20 November 2015)

‘What About the Wolves?’: The Reading and Interpretation of Scripture as Social Action in YouTube Arguments The Use of the Bible in Contemporary Culture, University of Chichester; 27 June 2015