July 11, 2020

Current Fellows

Alison Merritt-Smith, ‘Shieling: a theology of art, land and economy in contested urban space

Alison Merritt Smith’s research focuses on the potential for artistic activism and theological reflection in the context of the politics of land, development and contested urban space.

Alison is the Director of Methodist arts organisation Shieldfield Art Works (SAW), based on a Council Estate in Shieldfield, East Newcastle. Over the past decade, the estate has experienced a 467% increase in the development of luxury private and student accommodation and subsequent gentrification.  This has caused increasing pressures on land and sense of place for long term residents. Moreover, there is now a real risk of demolition, displacement and social cleansing of the estate.

As an organisation focused on Art, Theology and Community Activism, SAW is responding to this context through the design and research project A Shieling for Shieldfield. Shieling is a symbol for reclaiming land in Shieldfield and bringing it back into community use. Over a year long process Alison will use A Shieling for Shieldfield as a case study to examine the symbol of Shieling for theologically reflecting and actively responding to the urgent issues of land, housing, urban development and gentrification in our region. At such a critical time for the region there is a distinct need for churches and faith projects to offer alternative, hopeful and theologically rooted models for our communities directly affected by these issues and to reflect on the broadMy research explores the relationship between religiosity and psychological wellbeing amongst those who live within communities across the North East that are socio-economically deprived. In particular, I use qualitative research methods in order to understand the role that faith plays in the lives of regular churchgoers across a range of Christian traditions in and around Durham and Newcastle, and how this maps onto their sense of self and agency. In order to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between faith and wellbeing, I offer a comparison between those who are a part of church communities with those who are actively involved in non-religious community groups and who do not identify with an organised religious faith.

Alex Fry, ‘Wellbeing and churchgoing: an exploration of the relationships between wellbeing, worldview and community participation in the North East of England’

My research explores the relationship between religiosity and psychological wellbeing amongst those who live within communities across the North East that are socio-economically deprived. In particular, I use qualitative research methods in order to understand the role that faith plays in the lives of regular churchgoers across a range of Christian traditions in and around Durham and Newcastle, and how this maps onto their sense of self and agency. In order to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between faith and wellbeing, I offer a comparison between those who are a part of church communities with those who are actively involved in non-religious community groups and who do not identify with an organised religious faith.

The data is primarily drawn from semi-structured interviews with a range of ages across the sexes. However, this approach is supplemented by structured and ethnographic observation. Church and community leaders involved in the study are also included in a focus group, ensuring that the voices of those living and working in the region are sufficiently heard, highlighting the contribution to the production of knowledge that participants make in research of this nature.

The aim of this research is to provide a detailed analysis of how practicing congregational faith is related to one’s wellbeing, compared with how belonging to a non-religious community is so. The culmination of this research will lie in a half-day conference that outlines the findings. This will be accompanied by a free electronic report and a series of journal articles.

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