Professor Callum Brown
- Professor of Late Modern European History (History)
I am a social and cultural historian with special research interests in the social and cultural history of humanism, atheism and secularisation, and the history of community ritual, all in the post 1750 period and more especially in the 20th and 21st centuries. I publish on Scotland, Britain, Canada and the USA. I have published four books and many articles on the 1960s, as well as ten books on other subjects (see my Publications tab). I am an advocate of combining document-based research, oral history, quantitative methods and discourse analysis to write the strongest multi-dimensional cultural history.
My research in the late 2010s and early 2020s has taken several tacks:
- The Humanist Network 1930 to 1980: This is a book I am researching and writing, based on a two-year Leverhulme Research Fellowship Project during September 2021-2023, entitled "Humanists and Reform of British Medical and Social Ethics 1945-1980" In this, I explore a network of around 40 humanist scientists and intellectuals who formed what H.G. Wells envisaged in 1929 as “an Open Conspiracy” of experts to erect a world-wide utopia founded on ethical social and medical policy and internationalism. It follows on from work for a general history of the British humanist movement due to appear in 2022.
- The Humanist Movement 1896-2021: Ethicists, Humanists and Rationalists in Modern Britain, with David Nash and Charlie Lynch (book submitted and scheduled to appear in 2022). Commissioned by Humanists UK, this book provides a detailed account of how humanism overtook secularism and rationalism as the focus of British organised nonreligionism, emerging in the 2000s and 2020s as close to a mass movement.
- MI5 and British Intellectuals c.1930-c.1960: colliding patriotisms:- This research is in its infancy. It envisages the Cold War starting in the thirties as a domestic mass surveillance, by the security service and Special Branch, of UK research scientists, social scientists and atheists in an ethical collision of opposing deep-rooted loyalties.
- “The Curse: Film and the Churches in the Western Isles 1945 to 1980” (Northern Scotland 2020). Co-written with Ealasaid Munro, this is an article on the interaction between religious culture and film in the Hebrides. It was part of a wider 3-year AHRC-funded project with colleagues Ian Goode, Sarah Neely and Ealasaid Munro with a focus upon the impact of the Highlands & Islands Film Guild and its travelling vans and projectors.
- The Battle for Christian Britain 1945-1980 (Cambridge University Press, 2019): - This, my fourth book on the 1960s, examines the dominance of conservative Christianity in the cultural and civic life of Britain in the “long 1950s” (with case studies of London, Sheffield, Blackpool, Glasgow and the Western Isles), then its collapse in the mid-1960s with a “liberal hour” of social reform movements led by humanists and atheists. The book challenges an existing historiography that emphasises the role of liberal Christians in transforming Britain from a “Christian country into a civilised country”.
- Becoming Atheist: Humanism in the Secular West (Bloomsbury 2017) This was an eight-year project interviewing men and women of the “sixties generation” from Estonia to San Francisco who lost religious faith. Now published in a book from Bloomsbury and two book chapters, I discuss how men and women recalled losing religion in different ways, how many respondents claimed to have lost religion in middle childhood, and how the manner of losing religion differed greatly between ethnic groups. An article, 'The Necessity of Atheism: Making Sense of Secularisation' (Journal of Religious History 2017), follows up on the need to listen to atheist voices and their distinctive narratives in the social history of religion.
- Religion in Scots Law (Humanist Society Scotland 2016). Jane Mair (School of Law), Thomas Green (School of Law) and I were commissioned by HSS to produce this comprehensive guide to the place of religion Scots law, now published free to download. Jane and I continue to provide advice to our research partners on the shaping of Scots law in regard to belief and unbelief.
I supervise in the area of secularisation, social history of religion, atheism and humanism, popular culture, and women’s and gender history, in Scotland, Britain and North America post 1800. If it hasn’t been done, I like to encourage students at Master’s and PhD level to be courageous and innovative, using where relevant oral history, discourse analysis and quantitative methods. Five past students of mine have gone on to History lectureships and teaching fellowships at British universities. Get in touch with me at the earliest opportunity.
Current and selected past doctoral (Ph.D.) and Master’s students:-
- Emma Partridge, 'Self-esteem in twentieth century Britain'. (PhD current)
- Mathilde Michaud, 'Popular Culture, Gender and Catholic Church: How Catholic Popular Education remodelled Québec's Gender Scripts, 1810-1880' (PhD current)
- Murray McLean, 'A Social and Cultural History of Weddings in Scotland c.1930-2016' (PhD awarded 2020)
- Sandy Campbell, ‘The operation of the Temperance (Scotland) Act 1913, 1920-1976’ (PhD current)
- Valerie Mackenzie, ‘Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: an oral history of the readership’ (PhD current)
- Paula Blair, ‘Malcolm Ferguson-Smith and the development of prenatal genetic testing’ (PhD awarded 2020)
- Charlie Lynch, ‘The sixties sexual revolution in Scotland’ (PhD graduated 2019)
- Thea Campbell, ‘The Classics in Scottish Education since c.1945’ (PhD current)
- Rachel Cheng, 'John Hargrave, the Kibbo Kift and the Woodcraft folk' (PhD awarded 2016)
- Laura Paterson, 'Women and Work in Postwar Industrial Britain, 1945 – 1970' (PhD awarded 2015)
- Alison McCall, 'The lass o’pairts: women and teaching in Scotland' (PhD awarded 2014)
- Cait Ross, 'The Public Morality Council' (M.Litt. awarded 2013)
- Charlie Lynch, 'Did Scotland have a sixties? (M.Litt. awarded 2013)
- Shivani Agarwal, 'The Walsingham pilgrimage' (M.Litt awarded 2010)
- Sarah Browne, 'The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland' (PhD awarded 2009, now a book from Manchester University Press)
- Nathalie Rosset, 'Representation of the Body in 19th century Scotland (PhD awarded 2007, now a book from VDM Verlag Dr. Müller); Embodying blackness, signifying race: blackface minstrelsy on the Glasgow stage 1825-1880 (MLitt awarded 2002, now an article in Rethinking History).
- Angela Bartie, 'Festival City: Arts, Culture and Moral Conflict at the Edinburgh Festivals 1947-67' (Ph.D. awarded 2007, now a book from Edinburgh University Press); 'Frankie Vaughan and the Glasgow gangs' (B.A. dissertation, now an article in Contemporary British History)
- Ann Petrie, 'Scottish culture and the First World War' (PhD awarded 2006)
- Paul Burton, An active and united body: change in the Society of Friends in Scotland 1800-2000 (PhD awarded 2005, now a book from Edwin Mellen Press)
- Iain Hutchison, 'The Experience and Representation of Disability in 19th century Scotland' (PhD awarded 2004, now a book from Edwin Mellen Press).
- Sarah Smith, 'Angels With Dirty Faces: Children, Cinema and Censorship in 1930s Britain' (PhD awarded 2002, now a book from IB Taurus); ‘Women and higher education in Glasgow’ (B.A. dissertation 1998, now an article in Gender and History).
- Paul Maloney, 'Music Hall in Glasgow 1850-1914' (M.Phil. awarded 1999, now a book from Manchester University Press, 2003)
My core research and teaching agenda for 30 years has been the nature of secularisation (or the decline of religion) in British society since the late eighteenth century. Operating chiefly through social-science methodology, I used to argue within traditional class-based, quantitative and qualitative parameters in an attempt to refute the theory of secularisation. [The Social History of Religion in Scotland, (1987), and 'Did urbanisation secularise Britain? Urban History Yearbook 1988.] In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I re-contextualised the decline of religion within the 'field' of popular culture, locating religious issues as central to the ethical construction of both popular culture and the individual. [Religion and Society in Scotland (1997), Up-helly-aa: Custom, Culture and Community in Shetland (1998), and 'Sport and the Scottish Office in the 20th century,' European Sports History Review (1999).] In my work on the Shetland winter fire festival of Up-helly-aa, I started to take the linguistic turn.
From 2000 I 'turned' upon the theory of secularisation in The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000 (2000, second edition 2009), which explores the gendered and discursive nature of religious identity between 1800 and 1960. I got drawn more and more to gender and cultural history, looking at how the femininity of modernity broke down in the 1960s (see Religion and Society in Twentieth Century Britain (2006)). I went further in Religion and the Demographic Revolution (2013) in demonstrating the gendered demographic implications of post-1960 severe secularisation.
Since 2009, I have turned again – to the social history of atheists. The rise of people without religion is the most important religious development in recent western society, yet the social history of religion neglects this topic almost entirely. My first foray into this – an oral history of how the 60s generation lost faith - has emerged as Becoming Atheist (Bloomsbury 2007). After I complete my current book, The Battle for Christian Britain (CUP), I will be publishing on The Humanist Revolution: Britain and its Liberal Hour 1957-1968 (provisional title).