125th Anniversary Scholarship in the College of Arts and Law

A PhD scholarship for Black British Researchers in the Department of African Studies and Anthropology

PhD Project: Christian Connections and Faithful Citizenship: Black Majority Churches in Birmingham

This PhD project will be based in the Department of African Studies and Anthropology which is part of the School of History and Cultures in the College of Arts and Law.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

About the project

As Britain’s ‘second city’, Birmingham is known for its vibrant international and multicultural population with long histories of coexistence and exchange, as well as extensive transnational connections. According to Population UK, Black British people comprise 9% of the population, and the number of Black Majority Churches (BMCs) in the city is significant and growing (Rogers 2017). This ‘community’ is internally very diverse, comprising those with Caribbean and African heritage. At a time when the UK has witnessed a decline in Christian affiliation, BMCs are thriving. These churches are more than religious institutions – they also act as social and cultural hubs. Through a gathered church model, they draw together believers from near and far, while also engaging with the local communities in which they are based. In a context of ongoing austerity and a cost-of-living crisis, BMCs play an increasingly important role in providing various kinds of social support. Moreover, they continue to be vital resources for new arrivals to Birmingham from around the globe.

Against this backdrop, the student would design and carry out a qualitative research project focused on Black Majority Churches in Birmingham. The aim of the project would be to better understand BMCs and the diverse communities they foster, bringing new insights into the (racialised) lived experience of Birmingham's inhabitants and shedding light on how faith-based institutions shape a multicultural postcolonial Britain. The research could take one of the following thematic questions as its central focus:

  1. Civic and social engagement – as ostensibly civic institutions, how do BMCs conceive of and deliver social support to congregants and the wider public and, more broadly, how do they relate to other community resources, as well as city and national government?
  2. Migration and belonging – in what ways do BMCs and congregants who are long-term residents in Birmingham help the newly arrived develop a sense of belonging and contribute to re-shaping how home is understood and imagined?
  3. Health and wellbeing – with concerns rising about isolation and loneliness, and their links to mental ill health, what role do BMCs (seek to) play in mitigating the situation in practical and/or spiritual terms?
  4. Religious – as diverse worshippers come together in these multi-cultural churches, what new forms of religious worship are emerging in Birmingham and how are they transforming Christianity more generally?

These themes are heuristics, which in practice overlap significantly, and the student could engage with several of them as they develop their research project.

Selection Criteria:

The ideal candidate for this PhD would have a social science or religious studies background. They would hold a good Honours degree, as well as an MA degree and/or equivalent experience. They should have experience of conducting qualitative research. Experience of working with faith-based communities would be desirable, as would a willingness to engage in creative methods (e.g. photography, sound recordings).

For further information, please contact the project supervisors, Dr Juliet Gilbert (j.gilbert.2@bham.ac.uk) or Dr Leslie Fesenmyer (l.fesenmyer@bham.ac.uk).


Dr Gilbert is a social anthropologist whose research has focused on young women’s engagement with Pentecostalism in Calabar, Nigeria. Her forthcoming monograph draws on extensive ethnographic research of young women’s activities in and beyond churches across Calabar (e.g. fashion, beauty, home-life, mobile phone communication), to explore how religiously-mediated femininities are fashioned in a context of radical uncertainty.

Select Publications:

  • Gilbert, J. (forthcoming) Fashioning Futures: Uncertainty and young women’s livelihoods in Calabar, Nigeria. International African Library series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gilbert, J. (2016) 'The Heart as a Compass: Preaching Self-worth and Success to Single Young Women in a Nigerian Pentecostal Church', Journal of Religion in Africa, vol. 45, no. 3-4, pp. 307-333.
  • Gilbert, J. (2015) ‘‘Be graceful, patient, ever prayerful’: Negotiating femininity, respect and the religious self in a Nigerian beauty pageant’, Africa, vol. 85, no. 03, pp. 501-520.

Dr Fesenmyer is an anthropologist of migration, mobility, and religion with a focus on East Africa (Kenya) and African diasporas in the UK and Europe. Her recent monograph (CUP, 2023) is based on extensive fieldwork with African Christian migrants, their families in Kenya and the UK, and the Pentecostal churches they attend. She has published on such relevant topics as community-making, religious belonging, Pentecostal ideas of social engagement, and modes of coexistence in London, among others.

Select Publications:

  • Fesenmyer, L. (2023) Relative Distance: Kinship, Migration, and Change between Kenya and the United Kingdom. International African Library series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fesenmyer, L. (2022) ‘Ambivalent belonging: Born-again Christians between Africa and Europe’. Journal of Religion in Africa.
  • Fesenmyer, L. (2020) ‘Living as Londoners do’: The prosperity gospel as a mode of being in East London. Social Anthropology 28(2): 402-417.
  • Fesenmyer, L. (2019) ‘Bringing the Kingdom to the city: Mission as place-making practice among Kenyan Pentecostals in London’. Special issue of City and Society. 31(1): 35-54.
  • Fesenmyer, L. (2018) ‘Pentecostal pastorhood as calling and career: Migration, masculinity, and religion between Kenya and the United Kingdom’. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 24(4): 749-766.

Entry Requirements

Candidates should hold a good Honours degree (usually First or Upper Second Class or equivalent). They should ideally hold a Masters degree in a social science discipline or in religious studies. Relevant work experience (e.g. in faith based communities) would also be looked on favourably in lieu of an MA degree.

Who can apply?

These scholarships are designed to create opportunities and address the underrepresentation of talented Black or Black mixed heritage students in academia. Applicants who meet all of the following criteria are eligible to apply:

  1. UK nationals and eligible for registration as Home students
  2. Members of one of the following ethnic groups:
    • Black African
    • Black Caribbean
    • Black Other
    • Mixed – White and Black Caribbean
    • Mixed – White and Black African
    • Other mixed background (to include Black African, Black Caribbean or Black Other)
  3. Not already enrolled on a PhD programme at the University of Birmingham

What does the scholarship provide?

  1. Financial Support: Recipients of these scholarships will receive substantial financial support, including a stipend at UKRI rates, which is set at £18,622 per year. This support covers tuition fees, living expenses, and research-related costs, including bench fees. This support is designed to alleviate the financial burden often associated with pursuing a doctoral degree.
  2. Mentorship and Guidance: Scholarship recipients will benefit from mentorship opportunities and guidance from accomplished faculty members who are dedicated to helping them succeed in their academic and research endeavours.
  3. Research Opportunities: We are committed to providing an exceptional research environment. Students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge resources, and a vibrant scholarly community.
  4. Community Building: A key component of the scholarship programme is the creation of a supportive community of Black British researchers pursuing PhDs. This network will foster collaboration and peer support among scholars.
  5. Research Training Support Grant: In addition to financial support, scholarship recipients will receive a research training support grant. This grant is intended to support conference attendance, fieldwork, and other essential activities that enhance their research and academic growth.
  6. Commitment to Inclusivity: We are dedicated to building an inclusive academic environment that values diversity and ensures equitable access to education.

Contact the lead supervisor

Once applicants have familiarised themselves with the above project details, they are encouraged to contact the lead PhD supervisor to discuss the project and the applicant's suitability for the project. This is recommended before you submit an application to the PhD project.

How to apply

After applicants have made contact with the lead PhD supervisor, you will then need to apply to the PhD project using our online application portal: you should select '125th Anniversary Scholarships (CAL)'. You will need to create an account for the online application portal and you will be prompted to sign-in upon your return to the portal.

You do not need to complete your application in one session; you can save your application at each stage and return to the portal at any stage before submission, particularly if you do not have all of the necessary documents when you begin your application.

Based upon the above project overview, candidates should use their personal statement to explain:

  1. How they envisage that they would develop the project and shape it along their lines of interest;
  2. How their skills and expertise would allow them to carry out the doctoral research project. If candidates do not hold an MA degree, they should use their personal statement to outline how their work experience has provided them with the skills and expertise to carry out this doctoral research project.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

For your application you will need to submit the following documents:

Application portal tips

  • You don’t need to complete your application in one session. Simply save it and come back to it when you’re ready.
  • Avoid delays by checking all your information is accurate and complete.
  • Your application won’t be processed until you’ve completed all the relevant sections and submitted it.
  • If you run into any technical issues with your application, email us at directapplicationsystem@contacts.bham.ac.uk

What happens next?

Once you’ve submitted your application, we’ll send you details on how to access your applicant portal. You’ll be able to track the progress of your application, update your personal information, view decisions and accept offers.

Your application will be ‘pending’ on your portal while we check your application.

You can add or edit some details or documents within your application after it’s been submitted through your applicant portal. Or email pgadmissions@contacts.bham.ac.uk (include your applicant ID number) and we can add or edit for you.

Campus - Aston Webb

125 years of the University of Birmingham

In 2025, we’ll celebrate 125 years since the Royal Charter was granted. Founded in 1900, Birmingham represented a new model for higher education, as England's first civic university, a place where students of all backgrounds were accepted on an equal basis. One of the ways we’re celebrating this 125th anniversary is by making a significant investment in our research students. Birmingham is an outstanding place to live and carry out your research. Join us as we celebrate our 125th anniversary, and be part of our ambitious, exciting future. You will play an important part in driving the excellence of our research to make an even greater difference to the world around us.

Find out more

For more information about the scholarship programme, including announcements of available projects and the application process, please register your interest using the form below.