Researching ‘Faith’ Beyond the Congregation: Testing Terminology in a Pilot Project

In: Ecclesial Practices
Fran Porter Senior Research Fellow and Chair of Academic Oversight Committee, IBTS, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Ian Jones Director, St Peter’s Saltley Trust; Honorary Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Worcester, Worcester, UK

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Based upon the experience of an empirical pilot project, this article considers methodological challenges and opportunities involved in researching the faith of people not attached to church congregations, but participating in a church-based initiative. Is it possible to find out what ‘faith’ is for these people, without imposing overtly religious – or non-religious – understandings of ‘faith’? Having situated our work within the research landscape concerning faith, belief and non-belief, we introduce our definition of ‘faith’, drawing upon (but also in places critiquing) Abby Day’s work on investigating ‘belief’ and David Gortner’s research on worldview and ‘personal theology’. Supported by the project’s process and findings, we argue that our approach offers a framework which takes seriously Day’s concern to understand interviewees’ ‘belief’ on its own terms whilst also offering a way of inviting them to evaluate the Christianity they encountered through contact with a local church.

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