Shaping debate on religion in public life.

William Temple Scholars

The William Temple Scholars are completing their studies at Goldsmiths, University of London

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.

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 Chaplain at the University of Chester. Her PhD research explores socio-ecological transformation, combining her experience in faith-based community engagement projects with a keen interest in sustainability. The project focusses on the values that underpin socio-ecological place-shaping practices. Theoretically, such values can be understood as key leverages for sustainable change, at both the social and environmental level, and therefore the research aims to generate new insights that can inform future practice. There is an increased urgency for such research given the global impacts of COVID-19 and the accelerating environmental crisis. Gill’s work builds on her early academic studies, including an MA in Mission & Leadership (2007) and more recently an MProf in Practical Theology (2017), with both studies exploring faith-based community engagement projects and the role of faith-based intermediaries.

Gill has had a varied career that has always included an interdisciplinary way of working. Initially, this was in the NHS as a Speech and Language Therapist and working in clinical audit and quality standards. In 2007 Gill moved on to work as a Director of several faith-based charities, working in community engagement projects and founding the charity Night Church Chester, a safe space and inclusive sacred space working in the night-time economy. During her years leading the Night Church, Gill became involved in local governance networks, working closely with the local council, police and other community partners. In 2018 Gill was ordained as a Pioneer Minister in the Church of England and spent her curacy in Liverpool, and it was here that her understanding of a socio-ecological projects grew through her work alongside an environmental charity.

As well as working in Chaplaincy at the University of Chester, Gill is also a team member of a small Urban Expression community in Ellesmere Port. Urban Expression is a mission agency focussed on following God on the margins and in the gaps, shaped by the values of courage, creativity and diversity.

Matt Stemp

Matt is a climate activist and religious studies researcher. His research explores the mobilisation of religion in the mass civil disobedience movement Extinction Rebellion (XR), seeking to understand how and why people from different faith-based, spiritual and secular perspectives are engaging with and shaping contemporary climate activism. He takes a multi-disciplinary approach to religious studies, drawing on sociological, psychological and philosophical research to interpret how new climate activist movements are overcoming social inertia and the tragic and traumatising character of the climate crisis.

Matt previously lived and worked in Colchester, where he was a campaigner and coordinator for the local Green Party and co-founder of the XR local group. He is now based in Forest Hill in South London, where he is one of the coordinators of XR Lewisham. Alongside his PhD research at nearby Goldsmiths College, he is developing a network of researchers, writers and artists interested in urban climate activist culture, inspired by the Dark Mountain project and the Transition Town movement.

Matt has a longstanding personal and academic interest in religion and spirituality, particularly Christianity, mystical traditions, continental philosophy of religion and spiritual ecology. Following his first degree in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, he worked for the Church of England as a youth worker and pioneer developing new forms of Christian community. His master’s research at King’s College London focussed on the theology of the emerging church movement in the UK. Though no longer a religious practitioner (at least in any recognisable form), he remains deeply interested in how religious and spiritual modes of thought and practice influence contemporary culture. His work on XR seeks to encourage people of all faiths and none to reflect on how the insights and tools of religion and spirituality can support the difficult work of climate activism.

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