Social Distance, Digital Congregation: British Ritual Innovation under COVID-19

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: School of Art

Abstract

Religious rituals do work, essential social work, according to both ritual theorists and the UK government, which has recognized clergy as key workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funerals, weddings, birth rituals, and holiday observances are vital to people's psychological wellbeing and sense of community, especially given the sense of unease created by the pandemic. But the key means by which clergy do this vital work-live communal ritual-is not possible during lockdown conditions. And so ritual specialists have been forced to improvise means of moving rituals online, something which is virtually unknown to most mainstream clergy. Because these improvised innovations are being done quickly by busy practicing clergy with little co-ordination between them, they are not being collected or studied in a systematic or detailed way. The full implications of these innovations are thus not being adequately considered or developed in ways that could be beneficial for the wellbeing of Britons of all faiths long after the pandemic is over.

This project will fill that gap. It will work with religious professionals of a range of faiths from across Britain to capture, analyse, nurture and develop these fire-forged innovations and the possibilities they facilitate, using digitally-led methods drawn from digital religion, online religion and performance studies, including involving subjects in action research. These findings will be shared broadly and accessibly for the benefit of the field. They will also contribute academically to ongoing discussions of the changing practices of religion and ritual in the era of digital culture.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description While the project is still ongoing and our findings are still provisional, the research and its insights have been used by religious leaders across Britain to make the ritual lives of their congregations richer, deeper and more meaningful for their congregations. Simply sharing the stories and patterns we have collected of what it feels like to worship or mark life cycle events in the time of a pandemic has been important for many people in making sense of their *own* emotions and experiences of this very difficult time, which has led to a greater sense of mental health and wellbeing. We have noted a particular engagement on the part of interfaith groups and those who are looking for a sense of our common humanity during these times. They have found our comparative findings particularly useful and insightful. We are very much in early days, however, and expect that further practical insights for religious communities and political bodies (especially those that regulate the processes of death, grief and dying) will come in due course.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Council of Christians and Jews 
Organisation Council of Christians and Jews
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are working with the Council of Christians and Jews, one of the UK's leading interfaith bodies, to provide guidance and academic context to their ongoing interfaith partnership programmes, to share our findings with their members, and to provide educational sessions on ritual development to their members and associates. We are also exploring further partnership possibilities going forward. We are particularly working with them on the development of interfaith commemorations, such as for Holocaust Memorial Day.
Collaborator Contribution The CCJ has helped us develop the contacts and relationships we need to conduct a genuinely interfaith and pan-British research project, ensuring that we can include as wide as possible a range of voices in our research. They have helped circulate our survey, facilitated case studies, and provided a member to our action research group. They have similarly been very useful in ensuring that our process and results are shared with as wide as possible a segment of the British religiosu communtiy.
Impact None yet, but this will change shortly.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Interfaith Scotland 
Organisation Interfaith Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are working with Interfaith Scotland to provide guidance to their leadership and educational sessions to their members, and, in particular, to help them develop their practical work in interfaith pilgrimage. The project has been helpful enough that the leader of Interfaith Scotland has joined our action research group. We are also exploring further partnership possibilities going forward.
Collaborator Contribution Interfaith Scotland has helped us develop our relationships with faith communities across Scotland to ensure that our surveys, interviews and research group reflect a broad range of Scottish society. This engagement has meant that Scots are properly represented in our surveys, it has facilitated an important caase study on interfaith pilgrimage in Glasgow, and has led to representation from Scotland in the Action Research Group.
Impact None yet, but they will come.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Article 'Streaming Rosh Hashanah' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article in on website JewThink on 18 September 2020 presenting the project, specifically with reference to the Jewish High Holidays
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.jewthink.org/2020/09/18/streaming-rosh-hashanah/
 
Description Article in The Tablet 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Publication about our research in the Tablet, a leading international Catholic news site. Written by project PI Dr Joshua Edelman and project RA Dr Paulina Kolata.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.thetablet.co.uk/blogs/1/1726/together-yet-alone-researching-the-paradox-of-worship-onlin...
 
Description Contribution to "The Future of Ritual" discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project PI (Dr Joshua Edelman) was the keynote speaker at the e online "The Future of Religion" conference hosted by Interfaith Glasgow, the Interfaith Centre of New York, and Cape Town Interfaith. where he presented interim findings of the BRIC-19 project. There were approximately 80 people on the conference, approximately equally split between New York, Cape Town, and Scotland. The ideas presented in the opening keynote were taken up by speakers throughout the event, and led to a number of participants requesting more information about the project or following our mailing list or on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-future-of-religion-how-has-the-pandemic-changed-the-ways-we-pract...
 
Description JCM Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The PI (Dr Joshua Edelman) gave the keynote 'Jewish Community in Times of Isolation' at the February 2021 (online) meeting of the International Conference for Dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims, the topic of which was 'How does the time of isolation change our ideas about religious community?' The keynote both presented initial results and the questions of the investigation and the PI's own personal observations, and shaped the rest of the week-long conference that followed.
The conference involved religious believers and leaders from Germany, Indonesia, the UK, and Tanzania representing Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities. Approximately 70 people attended the conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.jcmconference.org/
 
Description Jewish News blog piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A blog piece in the Jewish News about the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/learning-how-jews-are-zooming-into-the-future-or-not/
 
Description Local BBC Radio discussions 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact On 15th November, the project PI (Dr Joshua Edelman) was interviewed on a number of local BBC radio stations about the BRIC-19 research project, discussing the reasoning behind the project, generating public interest, and encouraging participation in the project. We noticed a substantial uptick in survey participation after these interviews. The schedule of those interviews is below.

TIMES

0700 CAMBRIDGE REC pres:Louise prod:glenn.jones
0708 CORNWALL LIVE pres:julie prod:martin.bailie
0715 WILTSHIRE LIVE pres:Sue Kinnear prod:nick.jewers
0722 NOTTINGHAM LIVE pres:Frances prod:frances.finn
0730 ESSEX Presenter June Woolerton , Producer Andrew Merchant.
0738 DERBY LIVE pres:Donna prod:amy.frances
0745 YORK LIVE pres:Anna prod:richard.staples
0752 CUMBRIA LIVE pres:Richard prod:Richard.corrie
=============== SERVICE ===============
0830 JERSEY LIVE pres:matthew prod:matthew.price
0838 SOMERSET LIVE pres:Matt prod:Kelly.withers (Trudi Harris )
0845 BRISTOL LIVE pres:lucy tegg prod:sacha.bigwood
0852 KENT LIVE pres:Phil prod:jamie.glover01
0900
0908 LANCASHIRE LIVE pres:Joe prod:joe.wilson.01
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description MBRN conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project RA Dr Paulina Kolata, presented a talk at the (online) symposium 'British Muslims and COVID-19,' sponsored by the Muslims in Britain Research Network, in December 2020. We presented the early stages of our project and built relationships, especially with the UK Muslim community, which is very important for the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description MMU Press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The university sent out a press release in October 2020 to generate excitement and interest in the project and to raise its profile. The press release was picked up by Radio Manchester, the (Manchester-based) Jewish News, and other independent journalists. There may be others, but these are the ones I know of.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.mmu.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/story/13073/
 
Description Premier Christian Radio interivew 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The PI of the project, Dr Joshua Edelman, was interviewed on 30 October 2020 on Premier Christian Radio to introduce the project and raise public interest. Premier Christian Radio has a large and diverse Christian audience, and this interview helped us raise the profile of the project and recruit more particpants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Religion Media Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Project PI Dr Joshua Edelman presented the an overview of the project to a regular briefing of the Religion Media Centre, which presents news and updates concerning religion from academics and faith leaders to press representatives on 26 January 2021. This led to increasing media inquiries, which have in turn led to further engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Research website and blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We established a public-facing website to present the project to the general public, to recruit participants, to host the survey, and to raise impact. The site is at bric19.mmu.ac.uk, and will remain active after the project completes. The website also includes regular research updates in a blog-like format, and a mailing list, which currently has 45 subscribers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL https://bric19.mmu.ac.uk/research-updates/
 
Description Segment on Radio 4 PM programme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An interview with Project PI, Dr Joshua Edelman, was broadcast on the Radio 4 PM programme on 6 November 2020. He discussed the challenges facing religious communities around the UK and presented the project. The interview was negotiated through religion journalist John McManus.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000p0tj.
 
Description Social media engagement 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We set up social media channels to promote the project and share its findings:
https://www.facebook.com/bric19researchteam on Facebook
and @BRIC_19 on Twitter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021
URL https://www.facebook.com/bric19researchteam
 
Description United Reform Church talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We presented the project's early stages to a national meeting of the United Reform Church in October 2020. We presented the topic to about 30 URC leaders, and solicited their participation. This was most importantly successful in building relationships with Black majority churches within the URC. The relationships we developed here led to two BMC case studies, greater BMC representation in our survey, and a BMC pastor on the action research group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020