Shaping debate on religion in public life.

William Temple Scholars

Read about the William Temple Scholars, beginning their studies at Goldsmiths in September 2017

Valerie Barron

From a background in nursing, Val studied Health and Social Policy at Warwick University which led her to work in Health Promotion. While studying for an MSc in Community Wellbeing, she began to appreciate how local churches were key in supporting people that were struggling in their community.  She felt the church was in a unique position to respond and now, as community development worker for the CUF Together Network, she works alongside church congregations and communities in Durham Diocese.

While working with a group in an ex-mining community in East Durham, they described themselves as a very ‘done to’ place by organisations and charities, ‘they come here, do stuff to us and leave’ was how one participant described their village.  Val has been passionate about exploring how a more asset based approach to community development can be embedded so the church isn’t seen as another service deliverer that ‘does stuff to people’.  Recognising and building upon the assets and talents within a community often leads to volunteering opportunities.  In an area of the country described as with low-wage, high-welfare she is interested in how social enterprises can build economy as well as community and skills, and the part local churches can play in enabling this to happen.  In practice, when talking to local the conversation moves to their passions and skills we discover a wealth of assets.

Social Enterprises have been used successfully to build sustainable community engagement projects yet few churches are engaging with this model. By understanding how and where social enterprise could help individuals, communities and churches to flourish, Val hopes this research will provide an opportunity to shape thinking and practice.

Living in her husband’s parish in Gateshead with their three children Val is personally engaged in the issues and challenges that face communities and churches.

Steve Cheal

Steve has worked in the charitable sector for over 20 years, and a career which has seen him as CEO of a youth and children’s charity, a senior role with the Methodist Church Connexional team and latterly as the Director of Care at the Rank Foundation.

Steve has a Masters Degree in Community Development and Youth Work (with distinction). Following a project (during his Masters) on assisted dying, which was published in ‘Contexts’, through the YMCA George Williams College, Steve was invited to have conversations on assisted dying with Hospice UK, and worked with them to distribute national funding. This followed eight years in the finance industry and a period of time living and working in Mexico. He has also spent 20 years within the funeral industry, largely leading music for funeral services at churches or the local crematorium. Earlier this year, he undertook training to become a full time Funeral Celebrant, and it is through this role that his PhD interest arises. Steve is a member of the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants, the UK Society of Celebrants and a number of independent forums based around Celebrancy and good funeral practice.

His research will address the following main research question: How does the growing use of Independent Funeral Celebrants represent change to the way that funeral ceremonies are created and enacted in the current UK context, particularly in relation to the fusion of religious and non-religious content? The key impact of exploring this area will be to develop comprehensive resources for (the fast growing number of) Independent Celebrants, rather than families having to choose between entirely religious or non-religious resources, i.e., a vicar\minister will have resources pertaining to the Christian Faith, and a Humanist will bring entirely non-religious material. The increase in the use of Celebrants shows that there is a clear area, which is under-resourced.

The research will increase understanding of what people want when they opt for a non-religious funeral, but still wish to draw on aspects of ritual and religion within that. It will also enable Funeral Directors to better understand the needs of clients and to be able to more clearly explain to them what an independent Celebrant is able to do. This research will add specificity around funerals in relation to recent research on ‘everyday’ and ‘lived religion’, such as Grace Davie’s notion of vicarious religion.

Yasmin Khatun Dewan

Yasmin is a multimedia London based journalist. Her work spans global conflict zones, fashion and identity politics. In 2014 she researched, wrote, reported and produced the investigative documentary ‘Slave Industry: A year on from Rana Plaza‘ – shortlisted for international television investigation 2015 (Association of International broadcasting awards) and travelled to the Chadian borders of the Central African Republic to document the crisis in the recent civil war and meet refugees escaping the violence. She has also produced numerous reports on issues related to British Muslim communities on integration, political participation and identity, providing commentary on such issues. In the last seven years she has conducted extensive field research on the area. In 2009 she graduated with a BA in Sociology and Politics from Goldsmiths University of London. Whilst at Goldsmiths she studied topics including colonialism, political discourse, globalisation, development and rhetoric. Her dissertation focused on socio-scientific explanations of political phenomena within British Muslim communities’ post 7/7. Following her graduation she has maintained an avid interest in Muslim identities in the West and through her experiences and research holds an intimate understanding of the area.

Her research interests include: Conflict/ Post-conflict environments, Human Rights, sexual violence in war, Central African Republic, identity, religion; Islam and fashion.

Yasmin’s research will explore modest fashion as a space curated by Muslim women and its impact on internal religious structures through its use of religious symbols such as the hijab. Looking at how religion and religious symbols have been used as tools to facilitate the phenomena and its resulting impact. This is within a framework of domestic counter-terrorism, cohesion, orientalist ideas around Muslim female dress and identity. The research will take into account the phenomena as a means of dialogue with global reach and provide an insight into the tensions and challenges posed by modest fashion including issues of contention and debate.

Gill Reeve

Gill is a researching practitioner who has worked in faith based organisations in urban contexts since 2007, and she is currently training as a pioneer minister in the Church of England. Previously to this she worked as a Speech and Language Therapist in general hospitals, taking a clinical lead in quality and audit. Her years in the NHS have shaped her as a faith practitioner both in her evaluative and analytical approach to practice and in her commitment to inter-disciplinary working.

After graduating with an MA in Leadership and Mission in 2010, Gill became a Director of a faith based organisation in Chester. Her responsibilities included lecturing in ‘community engagement and reflective practice’ for a foundation degree in theology and overseeing student placements. With an interest in new expressions of church that are more accessible to people in their everyday lives, Gill pioneered ‘Night Church – Chester’: an inclusive, sacred space in the night time economy open between 10pm-2am. Night Church is now well established, with 100-150 visitors each evening from people out and about in the city at night and with collaborative partnerships with the local council, the police, the homelessness services provider and others.

In July 2017 Gill completed an MProf in Practical Theology at the University of Chester, researching faith engagement in the night time economy. Building on this knowledge, Gill’s PhD research will explore how faith practitioners, working in collaborative partnerships in urban deprived areas, are navigating and sustaining their faith practice. In the UK context of ongoing austerity, progressive urban coalitions are increasingly critical in supporting local communities. These coalitions are currently under-researched, with a lack of understanding into how they are established and sustained. Gill’s research seeks to address this gap through research-led insights that are capable of informing decision making both for the faith sector and also local government.

Matt Stemp

Matt is a practical theologian researching Christian environmentalism and theological responses to climate change. He was initially trained as a mathematician, before changing tracks to research the ecclesiology of the emerging church. He have a longstanding interest in emerging theological movements, particularly Radical Theology and its engagement with continental philosophy. For the last three years Matt has worked for the Church of England developing Fresh Expressions in Colchester, Essex. He is also involved in local Green politics and a Christian environmental organisation called Green Christian.

Matt’s research at Goldsmiths will be focusing on resistance to climate change mitigation and what we can learn from Christians engaged in environmental concerns. The reasons for inertia around climate change are multiple and complex: economic, cultural, political and technological factors all play important roles. Psychologists have also made an important contribution to understanding inaction in terms of risk perception, message framing and social norms. Matt is particularly interested in psychoanalytic approaches that interpret apparent apathy in terms of defence mechanisms against the anxiety and grief associated with climate change (as popularly portrayed in eco-disaster films).

The role of religion is also psychologically important, with some studies suggesting that certain theological beliefs, such as divine intervention and the existence of an afterlife, can have a negative influence. Yet, Christian environmentalists are not only actively engaged with issues like climate change, but see their activity as an outworking of their faith. How do Christian environmentalists negotiate resistance and sustain long term engagement? What role does their Christian faith play in shaping their environmentalism, and equally how has their environmentalism shaped their faith? Finally, what resources (theological and practical) do Christian environmentalists have to offer in terms of public policy, given the need for institutions and citizens to respond to climate change with creativity and resilience? Matt will be exploring these questions through both empirical work and the interdisciplinary perspectives of psychology, psychoanalysis and Radical Theology.