RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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251 Working with: participatory approaches in researching religions, spiritualties, and faith
Affiliation Participatory Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Richard Scriven (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Chair(s) Richard Scriven (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Timetable Thursday 30 August 2018, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Bute Building - Lecture Theatre 2.32
Session abstract In response to calls for more participative research and socially impactful projects, geographers and others are developing new methodologies and sensibilities to engage with religions, spiritualties, and faith. Working meaningfully with people, groups, and communities is appreciated as presenting a new and evocative landscapes to explore beliefs, practices, volunteerism, and social justice. The session intends to reflect on these areas and speculate on future developments, while also capturing how researchers are conceptualising and approaching the subjects. This will be an interactive session where researchers can contribute to larger discussions while showcasing aspects of their research. We particularly welcome contributions that address the following themes:

• Theoretical and methodological opportunities and challenges
• Participatory methods and action-oriented research
• Volunteering and social justice
• Challenges/opportunities in researching the intimacies of faith and religious practices
• Questions of positionality and the researcher’s faith or variation/absence thereof
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Encountering discrimination and the spirituality of spatial transformation: Reflecting on collaborative research with young British Somalis
Richard Gale (Cardiff University, UK)
Andrew Williams (Cardiff University, UK)
This paper presents a reflective account of ongoing participatory and co-productive research with Somali community organisations in Cardiff, South Wales. The Somali presence in Cardiff is longstanding, tracing back to the settlement of Somali merchant seaman in the mid- to late 19th century, as Cardiff rose to global pre-eminence as a coal port. More recently, large numbers of Somalis arrived in Cardiff throughout the 1990s, as refugees fleeing the Somali Civil War. In spite of this presence, however, the Somali community in Cardiff has received scant attention in research and policy discourses, with many of the compound hardships faced above all by young Somalis – residential encapsulation, high unemployment, educational disadvantage and Islamophobia – going unremarked. Building on co-productive work alongside a range of Somali charities and voluntary organisations in the city, this paper explores the creative coping strategies, community bonds and ‘spiritual capital’ (Baker 2009) mobilised by young Somalis to offset the effects of ethno-religious stigma and build alternative futures that transcend the ‘stickiness’ of the racialized urban. Attending to these biographical stories foregrounds the ways young Somali people negotiate, and subvert, the challenges of racialized disadvantage in everyday settings; and, in so doing, provides critical insights into what constitutes a ‘meaningful’ encounter (Ruez 2017; Wilson 2017). The paper will also reflect critically on the practical and normative challenges faced by collaborative research in facilitating this process of socio-spatial transformation.
The role that faith plays: volunteering to respond to children's holiday hunger
Stephanie Denning (University of Bristol, UK)
How does faith motivate social action? This paper is concerned with how people were motivated by their Christian faith to respond to holiday hunger. Holiday hunger is a dimension of food poverty: when free school meals are not available some children will not have enough to eat in the school holidays. The research took place at an inner-city church in an area where deprivation is in the top 5% of the UK. Using participatory and action research methodologies, as a Christian and researcher I established and ran a ‘MakeLunch’ Kitchen over 20 months before handing it over. ‘MakeLunch’ is a national Christian charity whose Kitchens respond to children’s holiday hunger with a free hot meal in the school holidays, relying upon volunteers to run. Recognising the convergences and divergences in our narratives, through my own and volunteers’ experiences at the Lunch Kitchen we can question how faith motivated participation. Two themes are key: how faith was articulated as a motivation to act including in relation to politics, and how faith could be understood as influencing every aspect of life. These themes problematise a categorisation of faith and volunteering motivated simply by evangelism, instead moving towards how volunteering was motivated in a variety of ways by a person’s faith in a context at the Lunch Kitchen where there was no religious content for the children. In conclusion, this paper makes use of a participatory methodology to portray the complexity of volunteers’ faith motivations, which translate into their varied performances of faith.
Participatory approaches to the historical geography of Edmonton Methodist Church
Ruth Slatter (University of Hull, UK)
Historical geographers have recently begun to show the benefits of conducting participatory research (DeSilvey, 2007; Patchett, 2015; Haines, 2017); demonstrating the academic potential of intelligent re-enactments, where researchers conduct actions and activities similar to those that were undertaken in the past and reflect on what sharing bodily movements and processes with historical individuals allows them to understand about the past. Such participatory approaches can effectively contribute to geographical research into historical religious communities. While churches, mosques and temples inevitably develop, many of their features and material qualities remain relatively unchanged over long periods of time. Therefore, it is possible for historical geographers to participate in historical religious practices from a distance. Sitting, standing and moving through institutional religious spaces, they can use other historical sources to image how services, social activities and evangelical events held in these locations might have been imagined by historical religious communities.

Arguably, religious communities also provide historical geographers with additional opportunities to undertake participatory research. Religious communities contain numerous generations of worshipers who have attended institutions for varying amounts of time. Therefore, there are often congregation members who remember previous practices, congregation members, religious leaders and events and these individuals fold elements of the past into their present religious practices and allow contemporary researcher to participate in elements of historical religious communities. Reflecting on my participation in the activities of the Edmonton Methodist Church (north London), this paper will reflect on how my contemporary engagements with religious community become forms of historical participatory research.
‘My life is but a weaving’: reflections on a textile-based arts project
Katy Beinart (University of Brighton / University College London, UK)
Nazneen Ahmed (University College London, UK)
Claire Dwyer (University College London, UK)
In this paper, we explore the role of religion and creativity through a textile-based arts project undertaken with women from diverse religious backgrounds in West London. The project emerged from our wider research on the role of vernacular religious textiles, and particularly the significance of embroidery in the creation of objects used in both community spaces and domestic religious practice. Inspired by the church kneelers in one West London parish our arts project brought together women to create a piece of work around the theme of prayer to contribute to a shared arts installation curated by Katy Beinart. This paper reflects on the role of religious creativity for diverse faith communities and the process of using creativity as a research method to explore geographies of faith, migration and home.
The importance of positionality in research on ‘faith and environmental action’
Derek Harmannij (University of Exeter, UK)
This paper will discuss the importance of positionality, how positionality can change to outcome of fieldwork and it will offer some thoughts on how to reduce the influence of positionality. Growing interest in the environment from religious institutions has made many scholars and environmental activists interested in the potential of ‘religion’ in addressing environmental problems (Dasgupta & Ramanathan 2014; McLeod & Palmer 2015) but it also remains a much understudied topic (Taylor 2011). As such I decided to do my PhD research on the topic. Soon after I started my research I came across the political polarisation that affects many ‘environmentally concerned Christians’ and saw how discussions about the environment within churches are often dominated by secular narratives about politics, science or economics. Due to this strong focus on the problematic sides and the fact that before starting my PhD, my person faith played no role in making myself concerned about the environment I overlooked the faith based aspects of environmental concern. It wasn’t until after substantial periods of fieldwork, some long conversations with my participants and letting participants share in my initial results that I realised that below all the science, frustrations and political disagreements there was genuine faith based concern for the environment. Therefore, this paper will emphasise the importance of ongoing reflection on positionality while doing fieldwork and the ability to honestly listen to your participants and being brave enough to let them steer your research.
Negotiating the everyday sacred: Community and public engagement through visual and material practices
Laura Cuch (University College London, UK)
In this presentation I examine the different visual approaches to community and public engagement of my practice-based PhD, where I use photography and film to explore the relationship between food, faith and everyday material practices of different faith communities in the suburbs West London (a Synagogue, a Sri Lankan Hindu Temple, a mosque, a Sikh Gurdwara, an Anglican church, a multicultural Roman Catholic church and an ethnically diverse Pentecostal church). The main practice element of my research, Spiritual Flavours, is a collaborative arts project resulting in a 'multi-faith' short film and a photo cookbook. Additionally, I have collaborated with the Hindu temple in the production of a site-specific photographic exhibition and with the mosque for the production of a community photo book, both showcasing my visual research within these communities. As such, in my presentation I reflect on such experiences and elaborate on how the various arts processes and their outcomes have produced different modes of engagement with the communities involved. These have included: filming/taking pictures of cooking sessions at people's homes; taking portraits; documenting public and private events at the worship spaces; organising local exhibitions/screenings at the congregational spaces; sharing with communities visual outcomes through printed materials and online photo galleries. Finally, I would like to discuss the processes of exchange and legitimisation of my visual practice within these communities; as well as the tensions between the artistic, academic and community interests/expectations at play in the production of visual arts artefacts for public engagement.
Sharing our journeys: participatory research and pilgrimages
Richard Scriven (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
This paper explores how participatory research is distinctly attuned to examining pilgrimage experiences as a shared process which intertwines self, others, and landscape. Geographers and others have responded to the recent revival in pilgrimages globally by developing innovative and interactive approaches. By appreciating the active and personal nature of pilgrimage, participative methodologies enable access to these deeply meaningful spiritual and emotional journeys. Drawing on accounts of pilgrimages in Ireland and Wales, this paper shows how new and evocative insights can be reached through research which shares both the road and the process with others.