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Peter Bernard Clarke (born 25 October 1940) is a British scholar of religion and founding editor of the Journal of Contemporary Religion.[1]

Academic career

Clarke is Professor Emeritus of the History and Sociology of Religion at King's College, University of London, having taught there from 1994–2003, the Director of the Centre for New Religions at King's College, and a professorial member of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oxford (since 2003); earlier in his career (1974–1978) he was Professor of African History at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.[1][2]

Clarke is the founding editor of the Journal of Contemporary Religion, established by the Centre for New Religions in 1985 (the journal appeared under the title Religion Today until 1995).[3][4][5]

His publications include Religion Defined and Explained 1993, with Peter Byrne), Japanese New Religions: In Global Perspective (2006, editor), New Religions in Global Perspective: A Study of Religious Change in the Modern World, the Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements (2005, editor), and The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Religion (2008, editor); he is also the author and editor of another 20 books and 100 scholarly articles.[1][6][7]

Clarke's research fields have spanned Islamic movements as well as new religions derived from African, African Brazilian and Japanese roots.[1][8]

Definitions of religion

In Religion Defined and Explained, co-written with Peter Byrne, Clarke advocated an elastic definition of religion based on "family resemblance": while religions have "a characteristic set of features", "there will be no single feature or set of features found in each and every example of religion", and "there will be no limits to be set in advance to the kind of characteristic features newly discovered or developing religions might be found to exemplify, nor will there be absolute limits to the additional features such new examples could add to the set". Clarke and Byrne argued that "the various examples of religion will then be related by a network of relationships rather than shared possession of necessary and sufficient conditions for membership of the class." Even so, based on the family resemblance, "one will be able to say of newly found examples whether they are religions or not."[9]

In discussing Australian aboriginal and African "primal religions" in a chapter of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of World Religions, Clarke asserted that terms such as "primal" or "traditional" religions are "controversial", as they are often "wrongly taken to refer to static, unchanging and primitive, or unsophisticated religions found in underdeveloped societies"; Clarke made clear that he was not using the terms in this way, but used them in the sense of "religions that have always been an integral part of the culture of a society", unlike religions "with global ambitions such as Christianity and Islam".[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Biography in Debrett's
  2. Sundermeier, Theo. The individual and community in African traditional religions, LIT Verlag, ISBN 9783894739379
  3. Arweck, Elisabeth. Researching new religious movements: responses and redefinitions, p. ix, Routledge 2006, ISBN 9780415277556
  4. Stark, Rodney; Finke, Roger. Acts of faith: explaining the human side of religion. University of California Press 2000, p. 16, ISBN 9780520222021
  5. Clarke, Peter Bernard. New Religions in Global Perspective: A Study of Religious Change in the Modern World, Routledge 2006, p. 46, ISBN 9780415257480
  6. Clarke, Peter B. (2006). New Religions in Global Perspective: A Study of Religious Change in the Modern World. Routledge. p. i. ISBN 978-0415-25747-3.
  7. Clarke, Peter B. (2006). Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Routledge. p. i. ISBN 978-0-415-45383-7.
  8. Weibel, Nadine. Weiblicher Blick- Männerglaube/ Religions D'hommes- Regards de Femmes: Beiträge zur Gender-Perspektive in den Religionen, Waxmann Verlag 2008, p. 193, ISBN 9783830919230
  9. Schellenberg, J. L. Prolegomena to a philosophy of religion, Cornell University Press 2005, p. 7, ISBN 9780801443589
  10. Cox, James Leland. From primitive to indigenous: the academic study of indigenous religions, Ashgate Publishing 2007, pp. 56–57, ISBN 9780754655695

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