Recruiting for Focus Groups

I’m currently recruiting participants (in and around Edinburgh) for focus groups  about surveillance and Christian faith. More details here.

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Surveillance & Religion Lecture 2015

This lecture will be streamed live via Periscope at 5.15pm UK time. The link for the Periscope feed will be tweeted just before the start of the stream.

‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall’ – Surveillance, Selfies and Objectification

This lecture will address questions such as: How do I know myself through social media? Who am I becoming under the different gazes of political and human relations? What self-images am I choosing and are others expecting of me?

Speaker: Susanne Wigorts Yngvesson, Associate Professor in Ethics, Human Rights, and Systematic Theology, Stockholm School of Theology.

Tuesday 14th April 2015.  5.15pm – 6.15pm  in St Mary’s Lecture Room 1

Staff, postgraduates, undergraduates and members of the public are welcome.

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responding

How might we respond?

This is the sixth and final of a series of postings that relate to a research project I’ve been conducting on using a model of practical theological reflection in relation to the independence question that is being put to voters in Scotland on 18th September this year. You can read about the project in more detail – including an explanation about the model of reflecting here.

I’m going to share, suitably anonymised, some of the observations made by the focus participants. You’re invited to take part too – online – as the series of posts unfolds.

In the first posting I presented some of the stories that participants told when I asked them to start off the group conversation by giving an example of their own independence. In the second posting I reproduced some examples of how the participants described what’s been going on in terms of the debate.  In the third posting we saw some participants’ analysis of why the debate is like it is. The fourth posting included some of the bible passages brought by the participants, and part of their explanation of why they made that choice. The fifth posting had few examples of what participants thought the bible might be saying to the debate and what the debate might be saying to the bible and our reading of it.

Here, in this final posting in the series, are some of the responses that the participants voiced at the end of their respective day-long focus group.

I want to delve a bit more you know to look at it, maybe to research a bit more…look more at the interviews that the politicians have had, or the documentary programmes about independence – for and against. Whether that would muddy waters even more or that would be make things any clear – I don’t know.  Abbi

What I think it’s about for me is debate with other people and just continuing that debate with other friends. Adele

Maybe I’m a bit more resolved to do more of what I’m already doing, which is doing more yoga which offers a place of consciousness, or non-reactive space for prayer and contemplation and allowing the body to move into that space of groundedness. Penny

[My] own personal thing to take away is to carry on challenging people who are going to vote ‘no’ not to be dismissive of the ‘yes’ camp. Edwin

Certain colleagues could be really interesting to see what their perspective is; that sort of personal journey to understanding. Edna

I think I need to spend time trying to find a way of articulating my own position a bit more clearly and in a lot more nuanced fashion than I’ve managed to up to now. And also to work out how I would relate as a citizen to the society around me, whatever the outcome. Matt

Questions to ponder, and perhaps post a comment:

  • What has struck you most from the comments, in previous posts as well as this one?
  • In the final days before the referendum, what steps do you want to take?
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Two way conversation

‘What’s the Bible saying to the debate and what’s this debate saying to the Bible?’

This is the fifth of a series of postings that relate to a research project I’ve been conducting on using a model of practical theological reflection in relation to the independence question that is being put to voters in Scotland on 18th September this year. You can read about the project in more detail – including an explanation about the model of reflecting here.

I’m going to share, suitably anonymised, some of the observations made by the focus participants. You’re invited to take part too – online – as the series of posts unfolds.

In the first posting I presented some of the stories that participants told when I asked them to start off the group conversation by giving an example of their own independence. In the second posting I reproduced some examples of how the participants described what’s been going on in terms of the debate.  In the third posting we saw some participants’ analysis of why the debate is like it is. The fourth posting included some of the bible passages brought by the participants, and part of their explanation of why they made that choice.

Here are a few examples of what participants thought the bible might be saying to the debate and what the debate might be saying to the bible and our reading of it.

[The scriptures] affirm the aspect of what society do we want to live under and which system of government would give that greater chance of achieving the society we think we want to live under based [on our] interpretation of the scripture.  Clive

One of the things I was looking at first of all, was to see what it said about weapons, because Trident was something I feel so strongly about. And then were are so many verses in the bible that says, take up a sword  and if you’d – what is it, if you don’t have money then, if you don’t have a sword then get money to get a sword –and things like this. And I though, oh, can’t go down that road. Ursula

And what we see in all of the churches at the minute is they’re struggling with so many things that the rest of society has kind of moved on from that you tend to think, for heaven’s sake.  Sadie

What in the Christian tradition challenges independence and what affirms it? If you see independence as simply Scotland becoming self-governing then maybe not very much – either way. But if you see independence as, what I describe as the wrong kind of independence, where it sets up exclusive boundaries and a kind of nationalism that is more about pride and a kind of me-first attitude in terms of fiscal policy that keeps money for ourselves, then there’s a lot in the Christian tradition that would challenge all of those.  Moira

The Bible was written at a time when, by people, who didn’t live in a democracy…the prophets were speaking to monarchs whereas we’re thinking about how to exercise democratic control. And the message social justice message remains the same but…how we think about legitimacy, government’s legitimacy has changed for better. It makes it difficult to read things directly into it. Edwin

[Facilitator: What would be a reasonable criticism coming from the wider Scottish community to that sort of vision from Christian scriptures?]  They could point to sectarian divisions and denominations. And they would. They could point to abuse of power by people in charge of vulnerable people. Adrian

Questions for you to consider and perhaps post a comment in response:

  • What do you think the Christian scriptures affirm and challenge about the current independence debate and the way it’s being conducted?
  • What do you think wider Scottish society affirms regarding Christians’ ideas about the independence debate?
  • What challenges from wider society do you think Christians need to take on board?
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The bible and the referendum?

Where can we go in the Bible?

This is the fourth of a series of postings that relate to a research project I’ve been conducting on using a model of practical theological reflection in relation to the independence question that is being put to voters in Scotland on 18th September this year. You can read about the project in more detail – including an explanation about the model of reflecting here.

I’m going to share, suitably anonymised, some of the observations made by the focus participants. You’re invited to take part too – online – as the series of posts unfolds.

In the first posting I presented some of the stories that participants told when I asked them to start off the group conversation by giving an example of their own independence. In the second posting I reproduced some examples of how the participants described what’s been going on in terms of the debate.  In the third posting we saw some participants’ analysis of why the debate is like it is.

Participants were asked to bring a bible passage to the focus group that had relevance for them in reaching a decision on the independence question. Here are just a few examples.

I’m reading from Matthew 24: 42 – and this sort of goes back to my background, a father who has an atheist – but who believed that usefulness was the right we paid for our life on earth. And you’ve a duty to be useful – and a mother who was Irish, working class and believed strongly in community. You had to look round; you had to watch out for your neighbour; you had to contribute to the community. So this, ‘therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this, if the owner of the house had known at what time of night that thief was coming he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready because the son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’  To me, this about preparedness. There’s an opportunity and you don’t know when it’s going to be there. But there is an opportunity.   Sadie

‘Love is patient, love is kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. Is not rude, is not self-seeking is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  I find life very confusing…And being a Christian I find a real strength in the solidness of lots of parts of my faith. And I find I need to have a reference, a strong reference point, and these verses I’ve just read are really personal to me and are fundamental to everything that I try and do…And that’s how I would measure any human being, if I have any right to judge. That’s the ideal. And most of all I measure myself against that. And I see our leaders and that’s how I measure them. How do they compare?  Adrian

‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’  Matthew 25:40.  I suppose to me that was a fairly strong message about social justice, about how whatever kind of Scotland we continue to live in… we have had not only a long tradition but I think we also want to continue to preserve whatever form of government best enables and equips us structurally as well individually to always look to those in need before ourselves….[And] a second point…is there anything intrinsic in an independent Scotland that would enable us, empower us, encourage us to continue to do that, to do it better?  Debbie

‘The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wastelands. The desert will sing and shout for joy; it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains and as fertile as the fields of Carmel and Sharon.’ [Isaiah 35: 1-2] That’s about vision and about hope and while I’m not naïve enough to think that we’re moving to some sort of promised land flowing with milk and honey, I think that is about the impossible becoming possible. Edelmira.

Questions for you to consider and perhaps post a comment in response:

  • What strikes you most from hearing the choice of passage and explanation from these focus group participants?
  • Which bible passage, and why, would you offer as one that shapes your understanding of what’s at stake in the referendum?

 

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Why is the debate like it is?

What is shaping the debate?

This is the third of a series of postings that relate to a research project I’ve been conducting on using a model of practical theological reflection in relation to the independence question that is being put to voters in Scotland on 18th September this year. You can read about the project in more detail – including an explanation about the model of reflecting here.

I’m going to share, suitably anonymised, some of the observations made by the focus participants. You’re invited to take part too – online – as the series of posts unfolds.

In the first posting I presented some of the stories that participants told when I asked them to start off the group conversation by giving an example of their own independence. In the second posting I reproduced some examples of how the participants described what’s been going on in terms of the debate.  Here, now, are some participants’ analysis of why the debate is like it is.

I think there is a danger if we do look too much to the past, we should be; the Scots we’re particularly good at doing that – at building up all our grievances, but I don’t think that’s a place that this debate is going forward from. It’s certainly isn’t at the level of ordinary people. Sadie

I think there’s an underlying sense of disgruntlement and injustice in Scotland and that goes very deep and that goes back a long way. Moira

It’s not about nationalism at all, at all, it’s not. It’s not about identity. Rob

And I suppose where I’m coming from is a certain cautiousness about various forms of nationalism because I’ve seen it at close quarters in another environment and it’s not always a pretty sight. Matt

I think that the use of thinking that we will be £1400 better off or £500 poorer – or whatever is nothing short of insulting. Ursula

The [UK] Parliamentry model is adversarial – what’s actually happening [in the referendum] is inquisitorial. Edelmira

That’s the, a huge thing for me, the uncertainty. The risks that I’m seeing, reading about, naturally quite a cautious – not a little alarmed by the unanswered questions.  Adrian

Questions for you to consider and perhaps post a comment in response:

  • Why do you think the debate has unfolded as it has? You’re welcome to contribute by posting to this blog.
  • What strikes you from what my focus group participants have said?
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State of the debate

How is the debate going?

This is the second of a series of postings that relate to a research project I’ve been conducting on using a model of practical theological reflection in relation to the independence question that is being put to voters in Scotland on 18th September this year. You can read about the project in more detail – including an explanation about the model of reflecting here.

I’m going to share, suitably anonymised, some of the observations made by the focus participants. You’re invited to take part too – online – as the series of posts unfolds.

In the first posting I presented some of the stories that participants told when I asked them to start off the group conversation by giving an example of their own independence. Now we turn to describing what’s going on in terms of the debate.

What I hear at the national level is fairly typical of politics generally, wherever. That is, ‘it’s a waste of time’ actually listening to the people because they are on the whole more concerned with slanging down the other side than really promoting what they are wanting to do. And they will come up with statistics to prove anything they want – on both sides. So what I’m faced with when listening in the national debate now is both sides arguing about the same issues and coming up, using supposedly similar data from verifiable sources, coming up with totally different conclusions. Clive

I think at the moment this debate has inspired and motivated lots of ordinary people – and I think that’s wonderful. And love the fact that if you’re sitting in a café you can hear other people talking about it. Because it just hasn’t happened, we don’t talk about elections like that. Ursula

I think it’s been a very rich debate […] I think it’s making people really think about what it means to live in a democracy. And I think people are seeing what, this discussion is really encouraging people to think ‘you haven’t really lived in a democracy’ . Eddie

[People are] realizing actually if you have choices about [the NHS in Scotland] then there may be choices also about absolutely everything if you have the power to make that choice and the autonomy to make that choice. …A kind of waking up. Edelmira

I think it’s a debate that’s engaging people maybe more than any other political debate I’ve seen. Moira

There’s the parallel universe of […] people who are actually saying in the street and talking like this – totally sane and common sense and level-headed and just down to earth, sensible. You don’t see that in the media – you see this great struggle going on with all sorts of nonsense being flung around. Rob

Questions for you to consider and perhaps post a comment in response:

  • What do you think of the quality of the debate so far? You’re welcome to contribute by posting to this blog.
  • What strikes you from what my focus group participants have said?
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Our independence stories

Focusing In

This is one of a series of postings that relate to a research project I’ve been conducting on using a model of practical theological reflection in relation to the independence question that is being put to voters in Scotland on 18th September this year. You can read about the project in more detail – including an explanation about the model of reflecting here.

I’m going to share, suitably anonymised, some of the observations made by the focus participants. You’re invited to take part too – online – as the series of posts unfolds.

Here are some of the stories that participants told when I asked them to start off the group conversation by giving an example of their own independence.

“About two years ago a lot of things in my life came to an end and I went to New Zealand to stay with some friends. For three months wandering around New Zealand on my own, mostly on my own anyway. So I’d that experience of being completely free from any kind of almost responsibility or obligation so that’s really my experience of independence.” Adam

“I was thinking about leaving home and coming down to [a large city]; at the time my parents were in [a very small town] in the north of Scotland. And coming to [the city], and staying in [university] halls and staying in…a room with two other people that I’d never met in my life, and leaving home and having to start to think about having to do my own ironing and everything like that.” Adele

“It was the experience of becoming an independent practitioner as opposed to being a member of [an organisation]… I resigned from my job significantly earlier than I would have retired from it. And I became a private practice person and I felt an incredible sense of freedom…I had a strange transition into that because in the early days on the Monday morning I thought, I wonder if anyone will see me? ‘Who’s she; shopping instead of being at work!'” Edna

“My father died when I was quite young; my mother was that very typical Glasgow woman, very, very good organiser – could run absolutely everything. Ran all of our lives perfectly for us – and made many decisions for us – but firmly believed that she’d educated us and [we] had to go out and leave. So I left Glasgow aged 21 and moved down to England. And just the whole thing about being in a strange place, people didn’t talk properly, didn’t laugh at the same things I did, and ate funny food. And ate vegetables [laughs] – I’d never really seen all that many vegetables before – apart from peas and sprouts at Christmas and turnip. That was quite something.” Sadie

“I set off with two friends and we were interested in classical Greece so we…sat on a train for 3 days, and one of the things I remember very vividly was feeling completely as though I was free – effectively – and not being directed by parents to do things. So we wandered around and we slept on trains and on beaches and managed to sleep in a temple – and I don’t suppose they would, [let anyone sleep in] a Greek temple, don’t suppose they would allow that now. And I think the added bit of freedom was the fact that the only way you could communicate in those days was actually by leaving letters post restante. So, rather reluctantly, I’d trot along to the main post office in Athens and pick up the mail requested us to reassure people back home that we were safe and well kind of thin. And I remember looking at these and thinking I will let them know but I don’t necessarily feel I want to or have to all the time. And it was an exhilarating feeling certainly.” Debbie

Questions for you to consider.

  • What is the story you would share about your own experience of independence? You’re welcome to contribute by posting to this blog.
  • Having read a variety of experiences, what strikes you most from others’ stories of independence? You might like to post a comment in that vein.

 

The next step in the cycle of reflection turns to how you perceive the independence debate to be going – but please keep your comments on that until that blog post which will appear on Saturday 9th August.

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Focus Groups on Independence

I am currently researching the contribution of Practical Theology to Scottish public life. This is in response to a request from one of the editors of the International Journal of Practical Theology which typically carries an 8,000 word report on a region or country in each volume. The editor has asked me to give special attention to the role that Practical Theology has played in discussions that anticipate the referendum being held later this year.

As part of this project I have been convening a few small focus groups in different parts of the country with one scheduled to take place in Eaglesham (near East Kilbride) on Saturday 28th June 2014, and a different group in Oban on Saturday 5th July 2014. Both events commence at 10.30am, concluding at 4.30pm. A few spaces remain for more participants. [Update 2nd July 2014 – no more spaces available.]

I want to emphasise that the research is not directed towards a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response in the ballot booth but to exploring how personal decisions about which way to vote might be reached. It is not a campaign or hustings event but a facilitated group conversation.

The focus groups will be ecumenical but, in order to ensure good conversation, need to be rather small. Also, the groups only work if participants are able to be present for the whole time.

If you are interested and available to participate I have more detailed information about the process and will gladly forward that to you. Simply email me at es61@st-andrews.ac.uk

[Update 2nd July 2014 – there will be an opportunity to discuss, via this blog, some of the observations made by the focus groups. Please check back from Monday 4th August when a series of short posts will be appear.] 

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Review of Doug Gay’s ‘Honey from the Lion: Christianity and the Ethics of Nationalism’

[One of the projects for my current semester of research leave is to write a report for the International Journal of Practical Theology on the state of practical theology in Scotland, my discipline’s contribution to public life and to the debate over independence in particular. In preparation for this article I’ve been reading Doug Gay’s new book. Given that reviews can take many months (even years) before they appear in print in academic journals I’m posting here some initial observations on Doug’s important text. Comments – hopefully from Doug too – are welcome but will be moderated before being made public.]

Below is just the opening of my review, the full 1600 words are available as a pdf: ES review of Gay Honey From the Lion.

The majority of voters in Orkney and Shetland opt to retain the Union in the September 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. The political implications – they will be bound by the national outcome – will be much more straightforward than the ethical implications. Why should one perceived ‘democratic deficit’ (Scotland in the rest of the UK) be addressed at the expense of introducing another democratic deficit (Orkney and Shetland in the rest of Scotland)?….

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