Matt Coward
PhD Student



  • PhD – Sociology (part-time, in progress), University of York
  • Masters of Arts by Research – Religious Studies, University of Leeds
  • BA(Hons) – Religious Studies (First Class), York St John University
  • University Certificate – Catholic Studies, York St John University

Matt commenced his PhD at the University of York under the supervision of Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce and Dr David Beer in late 2016 following the completion of his MA by Research. His MA thesis, Sri Lankan Theatre from Folk Drama to Ritual Resolutions, explored the use of communal theatre initiatives as methods of conflict resolution and mediation in contemporary Sri Lanka, its parallels to indigenous Sinhala exorcism rites (Mahasona Samayama and Sani Yakka Tovil) and early Sri Lankan folk drama (Kolam and Sokari). 

Matt’s current PhD research explores community formation and interaction within UK tabletop gaming via a qualitative ethnographic approach grounded in ritual theory. He is particularly interested in the way in which this growing community engages in bespoke production of cultural resources, the material and spatial impact of games and their play spaces, and the way in which play and imagination is embodied through communal interaction.

Alongside his PhD, Matt is the network administrator for both CrimNet: York’s Research Network on Crime and Criminal Justiceand DaCNet: Interdisciplinary Death & Culture Research. As well as being a member of the British Sociological Association, Matt is also a member of the Games Research Network based out of Manchester Metropolitan University.




Matt’s research focuses on:

  • Gaming and Gamers, particular in the UK;
  • Communitas and play as methods of fostering community;
  • Ritual studies, secular ritual praxis and ritual’s interactions with popular culture;
  • Death and the undead, particularly the Zombie and Vampire in popular media;
  • Contemporary religions and the theoretical frameworks through which they are studied, particularly the Musin, Theravada Buddhism and British Neo-Paganism.

Outside of his PhD research, Matt is currently working with Dr Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds) collating a special focus edition of the Journal of Global Buddhism entitled Translating Buddhism and the Politics of Ownership: Between Asia(s) to West(s)He is also part of the development team of both the York Crime Walk and the York Death Walk, working with Professor Maggie O’Neill and Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce. In these programmes, Matt’s work focuses on the digital implementation of audio and visual tours.

In 2018 Matt is convening two one-day symposia: Playing Dead, organised on behalf of DaCNet (May 2018); and Supporting LGBTI* Individuals in the Criminal Justice System (November 2018), for which Matt was awarded funding from the British Sociological Association.

 Matt is currently working on the following papers:

  • Review: Jessica M Fishman, Death Makes the News: How the Media Censor and Display the Dead (New York University Press, 2017) for the Canadian Journal of Sociology.
  • Review: David Myers, Games Are Not: The Difficult and Definitive Guide to what Video Games Are (Manchester University Press, 2017) for the journal Cultural Sociology.
  • Conference paper: ‘Survival Horror and Surviving Horror: Wolfenstein, Trauma and the Social-Gothic’ for Gaming the Gothic, University of Sheffield.


Selected publications

Matt’s publications include:

  • Review: Sarah Juliet Lauro (ed.), Zombie Theory: A Reader (University of Minnesotta Press, 2017). Mortality (forthcoming, 2018)
  • Review: James V Spickard, Alternative Sociologies of Religion: Through Non-Western Eyes. Network: British Sociological Association (forthcoming, 2017)
  • Review: Emily Painter with Esther Zarifi, Collins Key Concepts – Sociology. Network: British Sociological Association, 126 (2017)
  • Review: Karen Fjelstad and Nguyen Thi Hien, Spirits Without Borders: Vietnamese Spirit Mediums in a Transnational Age. Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies (forthcoming, 2017).
  • Review: Douglas J Davies, Mors Britannica: Lifestyle & Death-Style in Britain Today. Mortality (forthcoming, 2017).
  • ‘Religious Flows and Ritual Performance: East Asian Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy’ (2016) Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, 7.1.
  • Review: Gregory Price Grieve and Daniel Veidlinger (eds.), Buddhism, the Internet, and Digital Media: the pixel in the lotus. Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture, 5.2 (2016). 
  • Review: Eric W Davis, Deathpower: Buddhism’s Ritual Imagination in Cambodia. Mortality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying, 21.4 (2016).
  • ‘Capturing Spirituality: a photo-elicitation study with two British neo-Pagans’ Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, 6.1 (2015).
  • Review: Mark Michael Rowe, Bonds of the Dead: Temples, Burials and the Transformation of Contemporary Japanese Buddhism. Buddhist Studies Review, 31.2 (2015).
  • ‘The Witch from ‘His-Story’ to ‘Her-Stories’: Changing Contexts’ Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, 5.3 (2014).

Matt’s conference presentations include:

  • Thresholds: SATSU, University of York (2017) ‘“In war not everyone is a soldier”: Ritual Thresholds & Tabletop Gaming’.
  • Translating Buddhism, York St John University (2016) ‘Of Demons and Drama: Religious Syncretism of Sinhala Exorcism and Forum Theatre’.
  • Exploring the Extraordinary VII (2015) “‘Did you check that corpse’s credit?!” Supernatural Powers and Suicide as Displayed in the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service: a critical manga reading’.
  • Fandom and Religion, University of Leicester (2015) ‘“The Hammer wants the Nail’s Magic” American Horror Story, Voodoo, and Witchcraft’.
  • Cutting Edge 2015, Edge Hill University (2015) “Trans* in Thailand: Wiparit Orientations and the Role of Buddhist Ethics in Thai Culture and Society’.
  • Postgraduate Methodologies Conference, York St John University (2014) ‘Crossing and Dwelling... and Performing? Some thoughts on the amalgamation of theory for interdisciplinary research’.
  • Undergraduate Research Conference, York St John University (2014) ‘The Witch from ‘His-Story’ to ‘Her-Stories’: Changing Contexts’.



Matt currently teaches on the first year undergraduate module Introducing Social Psychology in the Department of Sociology. He also teaches Introducing Criminal Justice and Exploring Social Policy and Society in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work. Matt is also the Peer Assisted Learning Coordinator for the second-year module Social Research Methods, working in conjunction with the Department of Sociology and the Academic Support Office. His previous teaching experience includes guest-seminar teaching on topics including:

  • Transsexuality as represented in canonical (Vinaya Piṭaka) and non-canonical (Dhammapada-aṭṭhakathā) Pāli texts and their applications to 21st Century Thai law and culture.
  • Aesthetics and performance of early Sanskrit theatre as displayed in Kālidāsa’s Abhijñānaśākuntalam (Śakuntalā and the Ring of Recollection), and the early performances of Sanskrit theatre in the West. 

Contact details

Matt Coward
PhD Student
Department of Sociology
University of York
North Yorkshire
YO10 5DD