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Resurgence of religion in public life: expressing Christianity through public service provision

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posted on 02.03.2015, 09:19 authored by Nicola Reynolds
Research on faith based organisations involvement in public service provision neglects to consider the personal faith convictions of those working in this field. Using a social constructionist epistemology I investigate if and how faith convictions of employees and volunteers working for Christian based service providers impact on the work they do. Data were collected in two stages using semi structured interviews. Stage one obtained a broad overview of the role of Christian service providers from the perspective of elite Christians representing Christian organisations that have a direct connection to welfare provision in the UK. Stage two took an in-depth look at the issues raised in stage one, seeking to understand them from the perspective of ordinary Christians who work for Christian based service providers. Findings from this thesis further sociological understanding of Christian involvement in religiously plural public spheres, and argues that faith is an intrinsic part of the delivery of public services by people working for faith-based organisations. Drawing on the theoretical concept of Individualised Religiosities as proposed by Luckmann, Bellah, Davie, Beck and others, and the concept of Lived Religion as developed by McGuire and Ammerman, this thesis examines participants constructed understanding of the Christian God and its connection with public service provision. It develops a complex, three fold sociological conceptualisation of Christian perceptions of the God figure as: 1) the Supreme Being, 2) as a parental figure, and 3) an embodied God. This broad conceptualisation illustrates how participants combine institutional activities, such as attending church sermons, with more autonomous religious activities, such as personal conversations with God, to construct a multidimensional understanding of the figure. The embodied God position takes on further significance when understanding that participants use public service work as a form of church . Public service can be viewed as a form of private worship, but by embodying God, they also take God to people that may not practice Christianity. These findings challenge assumptions that the practice of religion in public projects has declined in recent years and that faith organisations are reticent to push their faith when providing services. Religious pluralism results in political expectations that faith groups are religiously neutral when delivering public services. Using Framing Theory this thesis demonstrates that participants are framing faith discourses so that they resonate with discourses deemed acceptable in the public realm. It conceptualises these discourses in two action frames, the Love, and Inclusivity Frames. There are indications of a shift towards using profane terms instead of sacred terms to explain and indirectly promote aspects of the Christian faith. Moreover, Christian teachings of love, compassion and belonging are amplified to counter criticisms that Christianity is a threat to liberal rights and beliefs. These frames, which demonstrate the accommodation of Christian discourse to a religiously plural and/or neutral discourse, have implications for how we understand Christian involvement in the public sphere.


Loughborough University



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Nicola Reynolds

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.