Matt Coward
PhD Student



  • PhD - Sociology (part-time, in progress), University of York
  • Master of Arts by Research - Religious Studies, University of Leeds
  • BA(Hons) - Religious Studies (First Class), York St John University
  • Uni. Cert. - Catholic Studies, York St John University

Matt commenced his PhD at the University of York 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 way in which communal theatre initiatives are being used as methods of conflict resolution and mediation in contemporary Sri Lanka, its parallels to indigenous Sinhala exorcism rites (Mahasona Samayama and Sanni Yakka Tovil) and early Sri Lankan folk drama (Kolam and Sokari).

Since commencing his undergraduate degree, Matt has worked closely with several charities including Upstage Centre Youth Theatre and the Tibet Support Group York. In 2013 Matt was co-opted to the board of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies, a role which he held until 2015. Matt is a member of the British Sociological Association and an associate member of the Games Research Network based at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Matt’s PhD thesis explores community formation and interactions within UK tabletop gaming. He is particularly interested in the way growing community engages in bespoke production of cultural resources, the material and spatial impacts on social interaction, and the ritual nature of play and imagination.



Matt’s research focuses on:

  • Tabletop gaming, particularly in the UK;
  • Communitas and play as methods of fostering community;
  • Ritual studies, secular ritual praxis and ritual’s interaction with popular culture;
  • Contemporary religions and spiritualties and the theoretical frameworks through which they are studied.

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). This edition will include an engaging set of papers from the three-day international conference Translating Buddhism held at York St John University in 2016. Matt is also part of the development team of the York Crime Walk working with Professor Maggie O’Neill, Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Dr Mark Hardy and David Honeywell. Matt’s foci within this project is the digital implementation of audio and visual tours and augmented-reality geo-mapping.


Selected publications

Matt’s publications include:

  • 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 teaches on the first-year undergraduate modules Introducing Social Psychology in the Department of Sociology, and Introducing Criminal Justice in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work.  His previous teaching experience includes guest-seminar work 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