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Researcher of the Month, March 2024: Rachel Grandey

Postgraduate student research
Researcher of the Month

Our Researcher of the Month is CRPL Postgraduate Researcher Rachel Grandey, who joined the University of Leeds earlier this year. 

Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now?

After finishing my BA (in English Language and Literature) back in 2010, I spent nine months volunteering as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher in South East Asia. On my return to the UK, I got a scholarship for an MA in South East Asian Studies at SOAS (London), and subsequently returned to South East Asia in 2013, where I lived for ten years until July 2023. Whenever people asked me about doing a PhD, I always replied that I would only consider further study if I found a topic I was passionate enough about to spend three years researching! In November 2022 the seeds of a project began to germinate and I decided to apply for a PhD.


Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area?

I was inspired by the people I lived and worked among in South East Asia. In 2021 I took up birdwatching, moved out of a big city into a rural town, and joined an ethnic minority church there; these factors made an interesting lens through which to discover more about local cultures. Whilst out birdwatching in the mountains I had several insightful interactions with hunters, as well as observing environmental degradation first-hand. Meanwhile, the sermons I listened to on Sundays challenged me to consider theological perspectives which affect views of the outside world.

What are you currently, or about to start, working on?

In October 2023 I started in the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Training Programme in Extinction Studies, with PRHS (The School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science) as my primary school (and Sociology and Social Policy as my second). My research is provisionally entitled ‘Ecologies of Exile: Endangered Identities and Environmental Estrangement in Hmong Christianity’. It explores the interaction between religious beliefs, (fear of) identity loss, and views of the (natural and cultural) environment among one ethnic group in South East Asia.

In what way(s) do you feel your research examines the role of religion in public life and the relationship between the two?

In South East Asia (as in most places), religion and culture are deeply intertwined. Changes in religion (such as from indigenous religions to Christianity) often involve a transfer of identity, which affects the ways people live in the natural world and interact with their neighbours. The ‘environment’ for Hmong Christians encompasses their material surroundings and also their own pre-Christian culture; alienation from this environment through promoting the spiritual over the physical directly affects the value placed on preservation of the natural world and of indigenous customs. Indirectly, it can also affect relationships between different religious groups.