Interdisciplinary Research

Interdisciplinary Research

One of the main strands of the universities Aberdeen 2040 plan is to address urgent and wide-ranging challenges in the interdisciplinary areas of Energy Transition, Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity, Environment and Biodiversity, Data and Artificial Intelligence, and Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing.

Below are examples of the Interdisciplinary research activities that our academics have been involved in within each of the departments in DHPA.

Jackson Armstrong

Aberdeen Burgh Records Project (led by Jackson Armstrong)”

Since 2012, the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project, led by Dr Jackson Armstrong, has involved interdisciplinary collaborative work connecting History, Law, Archives, Computing, & Linguistics. Principal publications include the Aberdeen Registers Online: 1398-1511 ( and Armstrong & Frankot, eds, Cultures of Law in Urban Northern Europe: Scotland and its Neighbours c. 1350–c. 1650 ( The various creative responses to this research include Songs from Medieval Aberdeen ( and the BAFTA Scotland nominated game Strange Sickness ( ). Additional links:

Michael Brown

Professor Michael Brown holds a chair in Irish, Scottish and Enlightenment History. His work is inherently interdisciplinary, working on the border between intellectual history, literary criticism and philosophical analysis. He has written two intellectual biographies, and a study of The Irish Enlightenment (2016). This work surveys the intellectual achievements of that movement in literature, politics, theology and philosophy. He is the current President of the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society, and international correspondent of the Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society and is a one-time member of the advisory board of the American interdisciplinary journal, Eighteenth-Century Studies. He is the long-time editor of the interdisciplinary Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies and has been the editor of Eighteenth-Century Ireland and is on the editorial board of Studies of Burke and His Time

He has also acted as a commissioning editor for the Routledge book series, 'Poetry and Song in the Age of Revolution' which brought literary critics and historians into conversation concerning the nature of politicisation. He has also been co-investigator on an AHRC network grant, 'Twenty Years Hence' which examined the nature and future of Irish and Scottish Studies. He is currently writing a textbook entitled A Cultural History of Europe, 1688-1914 which has engaged him in studies of art history, and he is also writing a collection of essays entitled Making-Up Britain in the Eighteenth Century, which has involved him in thinking about the geographical turn. He is the co-Director of the interdisciplinary Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies, is deputy Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and the Rule of Law and served the University as a Research Dean from 2014-21. He is the academic lead for the online open access publisher, Aberdeen University Press.  

David Clough

For the past 15 years, I have been researching the place of non-human animals in Christian theology and ethics. This has included engagement with various dimensions of scientific understandings of animals, philosophical accounts of animal ethics and work in animal studies. My current AHRC-funded project, Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare, brought together an interdisciplinary team, including a veterinary farmed animal welfare specialist and a geographer. In my next project I plan to bring a wider interdisciplinary group of investigators together to consider the ethics of food systems.

Karin Friedrich

Professor Karin Friedrich holds the chair in Early Modern European History. As co-director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS) and as a member of the Centre of Polish-Lithuanian Studies, she has a wide range of interests in early modern Central and East Central Europe. After a prize-winning monograph on the borderlands and relations between Poland and Prussia (The Other Prussia, Cambridge, 2000), focusing on national, religious, historical and political identity in early modern Prussia and Poland-Lithuania, she branched out into interdisciplinary approaches with publications on court culture (The Cultivation of Monarchy and the Rise of Berlin. Brandenburg-Prussia 1700, Ashgate 2010), the early Central European Enlightenment, religious thought and political philosophy. With another monograph she returned to Prussia (The Rise of a Composite State: Brandenburg-Prussia 1466-1806, Palgrave 2012). As co-director of CEMS, she led a Wellcome Trust-funded project on the history of science and the transfer of medical, astronomical and mathematical knowledge as well as religious ideas between Aberdeen and North German reform universities, specifically through the life and work of Duncan Liddel (1561-1613). Another externally-funded outreach project saw her coordinating social science scholars, anthropologists, NGO leaders and local community groups to discuss East European migration to Scotland. She has recently contributed to two collected volumes on natural law and religious toleration in East Central Europe. For many years a member of the Committee for Baroque Research at the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, she has co-organised conferences and edited volumes on interdisciplinary research on the Baroque period. She is currently finishing a cultural-political biography of an influential 17th-century Lithuanian aristocrat in the zones of fracture and contact between Prussia, Poland and Lithuania.

Ben Marsden

Ben Marsden's is director of the Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine. This Centre provides a platform for research, teaching and PhD supervision in the 'humanities' of science. It brings together staff from a wide range of disciplines including History, Philosophy, English, Medicine, Accountancy, Computing, Medicine, and Museums Studies. My own research, in the cultural history of science and technology has led to publications in: the history of physics, engineering, and technology; science education; the historical relations of literature and science; music and science; and medical humanities.

Catriona McAra

Geo-Heritage and Surrealist Strata

Dr Catriona McAra recently joined Aberdeen as Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Art History. Her research investigates dialogues between geo-heritage and feminist art practices, and she is interested in the potential of the curatorial to collapse gaps between geo-science and the arts.  

Catriona works closely with the American, Glasgow-based conceptual artist Ilana Halperin (b.1973) who shares her birthday with an Icelandic volcano and brings an intimate human poetics to the measurement and comprehension of deep time. Having curated Ilana Halperin: Chaos Terrain (2022) in collaboration with Earth Scientists at the University of St Andrews, Catriona has edited the first academic essay volume on the, Ilana Halperin: Felt Events (2022). Catriona provided the interpretation text ‘Star Pennies’ for Halperin’s solo exhibition at Cairn Centre d’Art, Dignes-les-Bains (2022) where the ‘International Declaration of the Rights of the Memory of the Earth’ was first inaugurated (1991). 

Catriona was awarded a Terra Foundation for American Art research and development grant (2021) with Professor Amy Lyford (Occidental College, Los Angeles) to pursue field work on the artist Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) in the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. Catriona and Amy were interviewed by Red Rock News while there. This curatorial project concerns Tanning’s screenplay ‘Unheard-Of News’ (c.1980s) for an unrealised surrealist documentary which was intended to feature found footage of natural disasters, an illuminating prophecy for today’s climate crisis. It draws on Catriona’s first monograph, A Surrealist Stratigraphy of Dorothea Tanning’s Chasm (Routledge, 2017) and an article ‘Glowing Like Phosphorus’ (2019), using a geologic poetics to interpret a multifaceted artistic and literary practice.

Catriona’s research also explores the industrial archaeology (specifically Yorkshire’s working and abandoned quarries) in the paintings of Edna Lumb (1931-1992) through the conceptual performance of Fritha Jenkins, including an exhibition Aggregate, Leeds Arts (2018). This project concerns the decline of industry and the rise of science writing in the work of Lumb’s partner Angela Croome (1925-2016). 

Image by Mark Rownd.

Jennifer Riley

I gained my PhD at Durham University, working in the department of Theology and Religion, for a thesis which explored the effects healthcare work can have upon the worldviews and spiritual lives of evangelical Christians working in the NHS. My project was fundamentally interdisciplinary: It used an innovative social science methodology to build upon theorizing drawn from religious studies and medical humanities, and was supported by supervisors with expertise in theology, religious studies, anthropology and medicine.  

Having so enjoyed working at the intersection of two disciplines for my PhD, it was then a delight to be appointed to join the ESRC-funded Care in Funerals project at Aberdeen. The project was a collaboration between academic colleagues representing health services research, anthropology, archaeology, philosophy and religious studies, as well as two funeral celebrants and a funeral director. It has been a welcome opportunity to bring my experience researching and teaching religious studies and death studies into conversation with practice and interdisciplinary scholarship. Working on this project has been a privilege, and I have consistently enjoyed being challenged to see things from new perspectives, and to balance different disciplinary conventions to create focussed outputs. 

I am currently working on the Educating for Inclusive, Caring Communities project with John Swinton, in collaboration with Australian care organisation HammondCare. We are exploring what education clergy require to effectively include and care for people living with dementia. This project combines my research interests and expertise in theology, contemporary Christianity, healthcare and the study of death and dying. 

I am also the postdoctoral representative for the Association for the Study of Death and Society (ASDS) an organisation which brings together scholars across the world from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds whose research interests incorporate all manner of topics related to death, dying, grief and memorialisation.  

Léon van Ommen

Sensescaping the Liturgy: The Role of the Senses for Autistic and Non-Autistic Worshipers – An Interdisciplinary Interpretation

Dr Léon van Ommen (Centre for Autism and Theology, University of Aberdeen) and Dr Katy Unwin (Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University, Australia)

Funded by the New Visions in Theological Anthropology (NViTA) project at the University of St. Andrew’s, in turn funded by the John Templeton Foundation.



This project investigates both the empirical and subjective experience of the sensory aspects of worship for autistic and non-autistic people. It offers a theological reflection on facilitators and barriers to worship, resulting in a ‘sensescaping’ tool and training resource for churches.

The Project

This project builds on initial project funded by NViTA in which we analysed the sensory experiences of autistic worshippers, using twelve interviews previously conducted by van Ommen. The analysis confirmed the observation by psychologists that sensory processing plays a key role in understanding autism (Baum et al., 2015) and the autistic experience of life (Robertson & Simmons, 2015) – and therefore, experience of worship. The analysis also demonstrated a sensory complexity of worship that calls for further research (e.g., the volume of music may be bearable but an instrument out of tune might be intolerable). Indeed, historically the senses have been considered as constitutive of Christian rituals and “understood to be intrinsically revelatory” (Williams, 2017). Today, sensory input is deliberately used in some churches to create an intimate experience and ‘encounter with God’ (Rakow, 2020).

The primacy of senses for humans, with studies showing they are active prenatally (Anderson & Thomason, 2013), the complexity of sensory experience, its constitutive role in worship, and its key role in understanding autism and autistic experiences, raises important questions which make up the theological puzzle we want to address in this follow-on project. How do the sensory aspects of worship impact encounter with God? In what ways do the ‘sensescapes’ (the sensory make-up of churches and their liturgies) of various churches differ from each other and what impact does the sensescape have on the worshippers? How can churches use the ‘sensorium’ (“the sensory apparatus or faculties considered as a whole,” Lawrence, 2014, p. 6) to create more faithful, worshipping communities especially when it comes to people for whom particular sensory input is experienced differently; positively, or negatively (e.g. autistic people, see Robertson & Simmons, 2015)?

For this follow-on project, we hope to expand the scope of the initial research, in three ways: 1) focussing on non-autistic, as well as autistic, worshippers; 2) investigating the subjective experience of worshipers alongside the quantitative sensory make-up of the worship space and liturgical ritual (e.g. the lighting of the building, the visual elements of the liturgical act); and 3) increasing the sample size of our original project allowing richer qualitative description and substantial quantitative analyses. This will result in, among other things, a ‘sensescape’ of six liturgically different worship services – both as the make-up of their liturgy independent of how it is experienced, and as experienced and understood by worshippers. Moreover, the project will enable a psychological and theological interpretation of the relationship between the sensorium and encounter with God through corporate worship, comparing autistic and non-autistic experiences.

Owen Walsh

My research focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of African Americans in the twentieth century. Such work requires sustained engagements with numerous disciplines outside history. Indeed, my field has been redefined since the 1960s by the emergence of Black Studies. With origins in protests of the era, Black Studies makes its starting point, not with a particular intellectual discipline, but with a political commitment to Black liberation, and employs a wide range of methods to contribute to this end. It is a field of study designed to decolonise.

My work operates in this tradition and mobilises traditional historical sources alongside extensive engagements with literary texts and visual materials to understand African American efforts to develop international solidarity in the Depression years. Deploying methods from literature and art is therefore essential for my research. Moreover, the ways that I understand this history has been shaped by readings in other fields, notably geography. Work on uneven global development has helped me to think through African American positionality in relation to subjects as various as Uzbek farmers, Chinese intellectuals, and Filipino migrant workers. 

Such interdisciplinarity feeds directly into my teaching practice. Across courses, I train students to think of a range of materials as historical sources and to work in creative ways with their materials. Students on my courses are regularly confronted with poems, for instance - which contain clear and articulate expressions of Communist race/class politics in the 1930s. Equally, I ask that students draw on their knowledge of African American musical, visual, and literary cultures to understand fundamental ideas about survival, resistance, and revolution in twentieth-century America. This kind of interdisciplinary training helps to demolish hierarchies of knowledge: it democratises the classroom, contributes to decolonising curricula, and makes for more intellectually agile students.

My ongoing projects deepen these interdisciplinary commitments. I am increasingly interested in fields such as translation studies, especially as it relates to African American engagements with the Mexican Revolution. Toward this end, I am involved in language-learning classes and am developing networks in related fields. Further, I am interested in contributing to debates in international relations, sociology, and political theory about racial capitalism as an increasingly dominant framework for understanding connections between race-making practices and capitalist political economy. I have an article in progress on these matters. 

Interdisciplinarity for me is not only a method, then, but an aspiration to work in new and exciting ways.