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Fashion and the Embodied Expression of Belief, Worldview, and Religion

Funded by The Leverhulme Trust:
Major Research Fellowship

Project Summary

For her Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship, Professor Reina Lewis explores fashion’s role in materially expressing how people see themselves and their beliefs, broadening the concept of religion to include philosophical beliefs and worldviews (spiritual, indigenous, and secular). She investigates how these inform people’s fashion choices as consumers and their roles within fashion industries around the world.

Project Aims

  • To provide new understandings of the societal impact of belief-related dress.
  • To reveal and explore the formative and reciprocal relationship between the gendered expression of belief, worldview, and religion and the fashion market and media.
  • To evaluate the potential of fashion industry and infrastructure as a generative ground for religious, intra-religious, and faith-secular meaning-making and dialogue.
  • To provide new models for comprehending the scale and diversity of religion and belief-related dress and self-presentation as critical factors for society and the economy.
  • To develop and demonstrate the applicability of new forms of inter- and multi- disciplinary research for the related fields of fashion studies and religious studies.


For centuries, fashion has served beliefs around the world. Today, however, ‘Western’ globalised fashion industry regards itself as default secular, relegating religion to the exoticised domain of artistic ‘inspiration’. This disjuncture is mirrored in the academy, with religion scholars mainly neglecting dress and fashion scholars mostly ignoring religion.

My current project, Fashion and the Embodied Expression of Belief, Worldview, and Religion, aims to readdress this by looking at how the fashion industry and infrastructure, from international fashion weeks to the talent pipeline of fashion education, play a role in creating the products and styles through which people materially articulate and communicate their beliefs and worldviews. This approach frames multiple fashion industries (‘Western’, mainstream, religious, minority, indigenous, diaspora) within a historical and transnational perspective. At the same time, I widen and deepen concepts of religion and belief to explore more fully the range of moral perspectives that inform fashion choices, from design to consumption. This means including established religions (‘progressive’ and conservative interpretations), philosophical beliefs, and worldviews (spiritual, indigenous, and secular) not usually counted in discussions about religion (for example, ethical veganism, now protected under the UK Equality Act).

My longitudinal perspective on the cross-faith modest fashion industry as it has developed in Europe, North America, Australia, the Middle East and North Africa builds on my individual and collaborative research over the last twenty years. Now, I expand the geography of religion and fashion beyond the usual scholarly and industry focus on these locations, undertaking new fieldwork in the growing fashion powerhouse of Nigeria. I update my work on religious dress as an occupational requirement rather than a personal choice, with fieldwork in Saudi Arabia to explore the impact of recent relaxations in the state-mandated modest dress code. To further understandings of how organisations manage religion and belief in the field of fashion, I analyse the profusion of museum exhibits around the world on fashion and religion seen over recent years, reviewing the impact of religious content on staff – in curation, marketing, communications, and education – and evaluating the politics of community consultation.

At a pivotal moment when the business case for marketing to diverse belief communities appears indisputable and with fashion social enterprise providing income for religious communities, brands risk accusations of religious appropriation. By drawing attention to the presence of religion, belief, and worldview across the world’s multiple fashion systems, this research develops new understandings of religious and cultural ownership, custodianship, and exchange to reframe the perceived disconnect between fashion and religion.

By evaluating religion and fashion phenomena in the round, this project shifts religion- and belief-related dress from being regarded as outside fashion or the preserve of religious leaders to reposition it as an intersectional aspect of identity discernible in markets and workplaces. This project does not advocate for religiously-related fashion, nor does it judge which – if any – versions of religious- and belief-related dress are preferable. Rather, I view the presence of diverse belief-related fashion – in all forms – as a factor in how people from a range of religious and secular backgrounds present themselves and encounter others in the modern world. This project therefor proposes that fashion – as commodity, career, and communication – serves as a valuable conduit to raise literacy about belief in ways that can help organisations, communities, and employers navigate the complexity of belief-based demands present and future.

Related Projects and Events

Modest Fashion In UK Women's Working Life
Modest Workwear: The Organisational Impact of Dress and Appearance 
Faith & Fashion

Project duration: October 2024 - September 2027