Major study examines how religious life has adapted since pandemic
27 October 2020
Dr Joshua Edelman leads research into how COVID-19 has affected services, weddings and funerals
With weddings, funerals and religious holidays all impacted by the effects of COVID-19, two academics have launched a major research project into how British religious communities of all faiths have had to adapt during the pandemic.
Acts of worship and religious rituals are all being forced to change, initially at short notice, and often to a more virtual way of doing things.
Dr Joshua Edelman, Senior Lecturer at the Manchester School of Theatre, Manchester Metropolitan University, together with Dr Alana Vincent, Associate Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Religion and Imagination at the University of Chester, felt that it was vital to capture the experiences of both those leading these rituals or acts of worship, as well as those participating in them.
This 12-month research project, entitled British Ritual Innovation under COVID-19 (BRIC-19), is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of UK Research and Innovation’s COVID-19 rolling call. It aims to document, analyse, and understand the new ways that religious communities are coming together, and to use those findings to help make religious communities stronger and more resilient for the future.
The project seeks to capture the experience of faith communities spanning the religious and geographic diversity of the UK. It will examine regular rituals (such as weekly worship); festival celebrations; and life-cycle events (such as weddings and funerals).
To help with the study, researchers are asking for religious leaders and people who attend religious services to complete a survey about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This survey is for those who participate in, lead or develop religious rituals of any sort – whether they are regular weekly or daily worship services, celebrations of holidays, or significant events such as weddings and funerals.
Dr Edelman said: “This project will fill that knowledge gap. We’re interested in the views of people from all across the UK and from all religious traditions, but this is particularly about rituals that people would normally do together – we’re not looking at how people’s private prayer lives or meditation practices have changed.
“The project 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. We will be using online-led methods drawn from digital religion, online religion and performance studies, including involving subjects in action research.
“That means that we will be collaborating with a working group of clergy/ritual leaders and as we gather data about what seems to be working and what doesn’t, we’ll be discussing that data with them.
The project 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.
“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.”
Dr Vincent said: “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 practising clergy, 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.”
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.
The project team will be sharing results with religious communities, and working with a variety of British religious leaders to put their findings into practice in their own community’s religious lives during these challenging times.
The results of the study will be published in a public report, which is scheduled to be released in July 2021. A public conference is also being planned.
Monthly updates and interim findings will be published on the project website, bric19.mmu.ac.uk.