Stephen Pihlaja

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Stephen is an applied linguist, discourse analyst, and stylistician who teaches and researches language use. 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 this year on Cambridge University Press. 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).


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 Humanities Research Centre, Vice-Chair of the Minor Amendments Panel, and member of the Work-Based Learning Management Group.

Membership of Professional Organisations

  • Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy
  • University Council of General and Applied Linguistics (secretary)
  • Poetics and Linguistics Association (membership secretary)
  • Researching and Applying Metaphor Association (member)
  • British Association of Applied Linguistics (member)

Other Activities

Publications, Conferences, and Other Research Activity

Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

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

Pihlaja, Stephen & Naomi Thompson. (2017) “I love the Queen”: Positioning in young British Muslim discourse. Discourse, Context, & Media 20, pp. 52-58. DOI: 10.1016/j.dcm.2017.08.002

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: <>

Pihlaja, Stephen (2010) ‘The Pope of YouTube: Metaphor and Misunderstanding in Atheist-Christian YouTube Dialogue’, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, 3, pp.25–35.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2008) ‘Caught in the middle: Grammar, textbooks, and the Japanese high school’, The School House, 16 (3), pp.46–55.

Pihlaja, Stephen. (2008) ‘”Would you like to dance with me, Miwa?”: Gender roles and the EFL text’, The School House, 16 (1), pp.2–11.


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

Ringrow, Helen & Stephen Pihlaja (eds.). (under contract) Contemporary Media Stylistics. London: Bloomsbury.

Seargeant, Philip, Hewings, Ann, & Stephen Pihlaja (eds.). (2018) Routledge Handbook for English Language Studies. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN: 9781138913455

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).

Chapters in Books

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

Non-refereed Journal Articles, Reports and Other Forms of Research/Scholarship

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); Project investigates 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.

Small Grant, Middlesex University (Co-Investigator and consultant) Being a young Muslim in England today: a qualitative narrative study (£5,000); 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.

Research supervision

PhD Supervision, Tayyiba Bruce, ‘A linguistic study of the portrayal of Islam and Catholicism on two conservative British news websites, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph’. 2nd Supervisor

Conference Addresses and Papers

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

Dynamic metaphor use in YouTube ‘drama’ Researching and Applying Metaphor 2014 Conference; University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Sardinia; 23 June 2014

Frenemies and Fans: The emergence of different YouTube communities Talk about Language Forum; Middlesex University; London, UK; 7 April 2014

‘It’s all red ink’: the interpretation of Biblical metaphor among Evangelical Christian YouTube users Poetics and Linguistics Association Annual Conference; Heidelberg, Germany; 31 July 2013

Revoicing the voice of God: The discourse dynamics of parable exegesis in Evangelical Christian talk on YouTube Researching and Applying Metaphor 2012 Conference; Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK; 5 July 2012

Freedom to offend: The use of antagonism in the performance of free speech on YouTube Religion in the Digital Age: Media, Performance and “Spectacular Activism”; New York University, New York City; 26 June 2012

‘Ezekiel 33:6-9 is clear’: Evangelical Christian use of Biblical metaphor to take dominant positions in YouTube interaction Language and Social Media Seminar; University of Leicester, Leicester, UK; 27 April 2012

Antagonism in Christian-Atheist YouTube Interaction: describing and negotiating religious positions online Wesleyan University (Invited Lecture); Middletown, CT, USA; 27 Oct 2011

‘I love your metaphors so much’: Anaphoric metaphor use and reference in YouTube comment threads iMean2 conference; University of the West England, Bristol, UK; 14 Mar 2011

Who Would Jesus Hang Out With? Categories, Metaphors, and Ambiguity in YouTube Religious Discourse Religion in Society Conference; University Centre; Chicago; 17 Feb 2011

Are you religious or are you saved?: A case study of metaphor-led discourse analysis as a core to discourse-centred ethnography British Association of Applied Linguistics Annual Meeting; University of Aberdeen, Scotland; 10 Sept 2010

Finding meaning in dynamic contexts: A case study of metaphor-led discourse analysis as a core to discourse-centred ethnography International Conference on Researching and Analysing Metaphor; Vrije Universiteit (VU); Amsterdam; 1 Jul 2010

Teaching Internet Discourse: Computer Mediated Communication and the future of the written word Teachers Helping Teachers Conference; Lao American College; Vientiane; 24 Apr 2008

The Corpus and the Japanese High School Teacher: Motivation  Japanese Association of Language Teachers Conference; Tokyo; 23 Nov 2007

Watch Out! The Corpus, Verb Usage and Non-native Teachers of English Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association Conference; Presidency University; Dhaka, Bangladesh; 25 Aug 2007

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