Negotiating Identity: young people's perspectives on faith values, community norms and social cohesion

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Sch of Health Sciences and Social Care


Young people in religiously diverse communities can feel exposed to a range of competing influences and pressures. On one hand they may feel expected to follow in the faith traditions of their parents. On the other they may be drawn by other religious and secular influences through friendship groups and networks, encounters at school and at leisure, and via the media. Kinship and religious groups more globally can also impinge upon them.

The research would look at how young people cope with such varied pressures, and the importance of religion to them. It would ask about their religious identities and behaviours to determine how these are negotiated and developed. A key question would be what distinguishes those who do and do not follow in the religious footsteps of their parents. Is it personal characteristics, such as their gender, class and sexuality, that are important, or is it more to do with friends, the places they live in, and the broader cultural influences they are exposed to? The research would look at whether patterns are similar for different religions, and ask if the length of time families have lived in Britain can make a difference. It would also examine links between religious identity and behaviour, and young people's attitudes and aspirations more generally.

An important aim of the research is to look at the ways in which religion is a positive strength as well as the ways in which it can be problematic. What advantages does religion bring to young people's lives, and what are the conditions that help young people from different religious backgrounds to get along? Can religion act as a force to encourage and/or discourage extremism and radicalisation?

Information on these questions would be collected directly from young people. First, a large-scale questionnaire survey would be carried out at schools and sixth form colleges with 13 to 18 year-olds. Second, more intensive and prolonged face-to-face contact would be made with a smaller group of young people identified through faith or non-faith groups. Third, a mobile youth bus, or other methods, would be used to encourage relatively 'hard-to-reach' young people to share their experiences and views. All ethical requirements would be fully observed at all stages.

A particular feature of the project would be a multi-faith Young Researcher Group to advise on all aspects of the research process, including ways of collecting information that are attractive to young people. Partners in the local communities would also facilitate, and assist in, the data collection.

The research would be carried out over two years in four diverse locations showing distinct patterns of religious representation: Harrow, Hillingdon and Newham in London, and the Keighley/inner Bradford area in Yorkshire. The London boroughs all show high levels of diversity but yet quite distinct religious compositions, while the Bradford area shows less diversity but more polarisation between the two main religious groups. Austria and Denmark also plan to participate in the study as self-funded partners.

Findings from the research would be widely publicised through academic publication and reports and presentations for community, professional or policy-making audiences. A special website would be set up to report on its findings. A 'Youth Issues Convention' would also be planned, in conjunction with the Young Researcher Group, for young people from diverse backgrounds across the study locations.

Greater understanding of young lives in religiously diverse communities, and an up-to-date profile of young people's religious identity, experiences and attitudes, will emerge from the research. There will also be lessons for promoting social and community cohesion. Schools are now obliged to develop and demonstrate ways of promoting cohesion between young people from different faith gruops, and an important goal of the research is to help them in this task.