Faith-based social activism in Edinburgh: meaning, motive and definition
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Medland, Christopher James
This thesis is a research investigation of the ways in which faith-based organisations (FBOs) engage in social activism with the goal of discovering how UK welfare reforms, including cuts in welfare provision and welfare payments, have impacted the complex relationship between religious organisations and welfare provision in Scotland. The research fills a gap in scholarship as the grassroots character of faith-based social activism in Scotland has not been fully explored since the onset of welfare reforms in the twenty-first century. The research for the thesis is focused on data gathered and analysed from three case studies of FBOs in the City of Edinburgh. Data was gathered from participant observation by the researcher, and from interviews and documentary analysis of FBOs in front-line settings including foodbanks, homelessness prevention, housing provision and street safeguarding patrols. This ethnographic and sociological research reveals how meaning making, motivation, and definitions of theological concepts like charity, compassion and redemption align with and deviate from contemporary secular visions of welfare policy. Analysis of local faith-based activism reveals shortfalls inherent to progressive welfare pluralism in Britain, as well as the religious, ethical and theological forces underwriting the third sector in Scotland. The first two chapters provide an introduction and literature review, detailing the scant academic attention afforded to the significant public role of FBOs in Scotland. Chapter three describes the ethnographic research design of the fieldwork, inducting a qualitative approach to the research question. Chapter four traces the narratives of local volunteers which lay claim to a distinctive phenomenology of place regarding theologies of welfare work in Scotland. Chapter five develops documentary analysis of public FBO representation compared with how volunteers and staff define their work. Chapter six describes how participatory observation across two years of fieldwork can shed light on the social drivers behind local faith-based activism overseen by national trusts. Chapter seven attends to themes generated via interviews regarding subjective meaning making processes employed by FBO workers within state-sanctioned services. Chapter eight offers a final analysis suggesting a symbolic typology which illuminates the theological ethics exhibited in the three case studies. The concluding chapter summarises the unique theological qualities encountered among faith-based social activists in Edinburgh and points toward further evolution of the research agenda and design.