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Negotiating Faith-Agency: The Strategies, Meaning-Making and Experiences of Faith-Based Organisations in Modern British Society

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Emily Lynn
Publication date08/2021
Number of pages240
Awarding Institution
Award date6/07/2022
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis, through in-depth empirical research and analysis of three different case-studies of faith-based organisations in the city of Leeds, aims to explore the ways in which FBOs explicitly engage with and enact their Christian identities in a broadly secular welfare domain. The overarching research aim is to thus identify and explore, by drawing upon my analytical framework of faith-agency, the various ways in which FBOs overtly exhibit their faith identities, practices, and values institutionally and in relation to their secular environment to better understand what faith means in FBO contexts. Particular attention will be placed upon how FBOs strategically straddle both faith-secular boundaries to enhance their organisational faith-based aims, and the incorporation of overt religious practices and dimensions by the agency of individual staff members and the chaplains. By emphasising the ways in which more identifiable ‘faith’ practices and characteristics, for instance prayer, manifest institutionally and vis-à-vis the actions and practices of staff members as a means through which they develop their own personal faith in these welfare provision spaces and care for clients, this thesis paves the way for a more nuanced understanding of the role(s) faith plays within the praxis of the organisations.

In particular, this thesis seeks to challenge conventional accounts of FBOs. I contend that the UK FBO scholarship can broadly be categorised into three analytical narratives / perspectives: i) the co-option and instrumentalisation narrative, ii) the co-constitution narrative, and iii) the ‘faith-as-values’ perspective. Whilst these perspectives offer important insight into the increasing prominence of FBOs in providing welfare in the UK, I argue that the assessment of faith and its roles in FBOs have become limited in these dominant narratives. Furthermore, due to the lack of in-depth empirical exploration and analyses surrounding how FBOs themselves understand and enact their own identities, values and, more pertinently, religious practices, such as prayer, there is a dearth of understanding in the FBO literature about the impact explicit religious practices and faith dimensions have upon the functioning of such organisations. This then restricts our capability of fully appreciating why faith is enacted and institutionalised in certain ways by FBOs and risks erroneous generalisations being made about such organisations and their faith activities.

The framework of faith-agency was, therefore, created in response to what I believe to be a lack of in-depth, rich empirical insight of the nuanced ways in which the more identifiable characteristics of faith, such as chaplaincy and religious practices like prayer, manifest in FBOs. I wanted to formulate an analytical framework that directly considers and engages with these explicit manifestations of faith because they are hugely overlooked in the FBO literature, despite the fact that these faith elements can tell us a lot about the agency and roles of faith in FBO settings as this thesis hopes to demonstrate. The conceptual framework, as the name suggests, thereby explores the extent to which three Christian FBOs in Leeds and the staff members who form the organisations have agency in regard to practising and enacting faith in more overt ways. Importantly, this research fills a gap in the UK FBO literature by offering a much-needed detailed empirical examination of how, and in what ways, faith is enacted, incorporated, lived, practiced, and negotiated in FBO settings, both through the subjective and micro dimensions of faith as lived out vis-à-vis the individual staff members on the ground, and through the organisational boundaries FBOs institutionalise to successfully collaborate with the secular environment through which they operate to flourish as faith-based organisations.