Christian and Disabled? Join the research!

The ‘Uncovering the Roof’ research project into Christianity and disability is still looking for participants. I’m currently organising research discussion groups, and you can still get involved in those. We have groups coming up in London, Northampton and the north of England, as well as over Skype. Email me using the form below if you’d like to talk about getting involved, or if you have any questions. Or visit the Facebook page about the project, where you can send me a message.

People with a range of impairments or long-term conditions are very welcome to take part. This could include those with mental health problems, people on the autistic spectrum, people with learning difficulties, anyone with a long-term condition (such as MS or fibromyalgia), and people in situations more traditionally thought of as ‘disability’, such as those with sight problems, hearing problems or mobility difficulties.

I’m currently particularly looking for older people, men, and people from BME backgrounds* at the moment, to balance things out and make the groups more representative of Christians in the UK today. But that doesn’t exclude people who don’t fit into these categories, who are still welcome to join us! And we’re always keen to talk to people with invisible conditions, as well as those affected by other types of impairment/disability.

Full FAQ is here. So far, the groups have been talking about the negative and positive experiences they’ve had in churches; what inclusion in church life would look like for them; what kinds of barriers get in the way of people’s involvement in church (from physical barriers, to aspects of church culture like standing for hymns or closing eyes to pray); the way theology and ideas about disability are expressed in church, e.g. in sermons/talks, and how people feel about that. Among other things! The discussions have been fascinating, and I’m looking forward to sharing the thoughts and ideas with churches. The more people get involved, the more we’ll be able to do this.

I hope to hear from you!

*black and minority ethnic communities

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Barriers to Research Participation (OR You Want How Much For Your Accessible Meeting Room??)

Meeting room

Image: A rather inaccessible meeting room. Martin Deutsch, Creative Commons licence, Flickr.

It’s been at least 30 years since we first started talking about emancipatory disability research, in the disability studies arena. As I start my fieldwork, I’ve been appalled at how difficult it is even to make basic arrangements that will allow disabled people to be involved. You can’t have a participatory research project if disabled people can’t participate.

Of course it’s always logistically difficult organising research. But now try to imagine a small PhD research project that specifically needs disabled participants. With an extremely limited research budget, but a commitment to good accessibility, with all the costs that entails. And a disabled researcher who has various difficulties with making arrangements.

I’ve just had an email from a certain prominent religious-community venue (run by a religious group which has a stated commitment to social justice), offering me a non-fully-accessible room for a price that is well outside my range, and suggesting that I change my (accessibility) requirements if I want it for less. And that’s a community space. In other locations, my only option has been hotels, which are mostly far outside of my budget. This is the situation for researchers attempting to enable good participation for disabled people. I’m approaching despairing point – though I probably should have seen this coming. (I’ve sent the religious group in question a rather blunt email. This research project is making me braver…!)

So many things go into accessibility*, when it comes to planning groups or events like this. A few examples of what might be necessary: Continue reading

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Now looking for participants!

uncoveringroof

Image: steps up to a church door. By Charles Clegg. Creative Commons licence, Flickr.

Update, 18/3/15: We’re still looking for participants. See latest post for more details!

I’m looking for people who are disabled (or have long-term illnesses or learning difficulties), who attend churches, or used to. I’m hoping to explore people’s stories of disability and Christianity with them, with the aim of finding out more about the situation for disabled Christians today, and being able to share this knowledge with churches in the future.

Under the ‘read more’ link, you can find an FAQ with details about how you can get involved, what you’re committing to, and how we’ll try to make it possible for you to take part. I’d love to hear from you if you think you might fit the categories I’ve outlined below. Please have a look at the FAQ, and if you’re interested, get in touch.

Continue reading

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Fighting to Protect University Mental Health/Counselling Services

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Image: students at a student support centre. Picture by University of Nottingham, Creative Commons, flickr.

I have an article up at the PhDisabled blog, about the media debate currently going over student mental health services in the UK and how they are overstretched and underfunded.

Continue reading
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Balancing Responsibilities: Community and University

14633238509_64ac14da5c_zImage: the Lego Research Institute. Adorable lego researchers with a dinosaur, a microscope, a telescope and other research equipment. Image from the Lego Shop.

In the beginning, I was over-ambitious. When I wrote this post, I firmly believed that my research should be shaped by disabled people who are involved with churches, rather than just by me. I wanted to do a two-stage research project, beginning by talking to as many disabled Christians as possible, and asking them to shape the second stage of the research with me. I hoped that they could be my co-researchers, or at least very active participants, rather than just research ‘subjects’. Continue reading

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Listening to Disabled People

'See the Light' by Vinoth Chandar - creative commons. Light shines through a door into the darkness.Image: ‘See the Light’ by Vinoth Chandar – Flickr Creative Commons. Light shines through a door into the darkness.

Nancy Eiesland’s wonderful book ‘The Disabled God’ includes a disabled person talking about her experience of the pressure to appear ‘normal’ in church:

She [the pastor] said, “Well, Diane, you can’t get in the choir.”
And I said, “Why not?”
And she said, “Well, for one, there’s a step going up to the choir.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You could make a ramp. Or, I could be up there already when the choir marches on.” […]
“Oh, no,” she said. “And plus that, when we all stand, and you’re sitting there, that would look so awful. It would look so uneven. And what about your robe? You can’t wear a big old robe.”
I said, “I could get one made for me.”
She said, “Oh, it just wouldn’t look right.”
- Eiesland, ‘The Disabled God: Towards a Liberatory Theology of Disability’, p.35-36

I’ve given talks at two conferences recently. At one, I talked about normalcy, and the way that disabled people in the churches are caught up in ideas of needing to be ‘normal enough’, and good enough, to attend church – whether that’s about being told what it means to have ‘enough faith’ as a disabled person, or hearing ministers speak about how disabled people will (and must) be healed in heaven. This is almost always covert and subtle – it’s something that isn’t talked about clearly, but runs underneath all of the Church’s theology – in its sermons, in its ‘pastoral’ services for disabled people, in the language that it uses about disabled people… It’s unspoken, and therefore hard to challenge. At the other conference, I talked about ‘imaginative hermeneutics’ – which essentially means telling the lost stories of disabled people, particularly in the Bible. There are many disabled people in the Bible, but they only incredibly rarely have a voice of their own, and they are always, always healed. (What does that mean for the rest of us?) I talked about how re-telling their stories, imaginatively, may be one way for disabled people to reclaim their voices in the churches.

We cannot tell our stories if they are not listening.

And both ideas – challenging normalcy and creating new stories – must involve listening to disabled people. We cannot tell stories of disabled people without their input – that’s been done to disabled people far too much, for far too long. And I would argue that we cannot understand normalcy without the input of disabled people either. The pressure to be ‘normal’ is very difficult to understand from an outside position. So when Wayne Morris and Ron McCloughry explicitly reject the views of disabled people, because they don’t find them useful, they have failed to listen to the disabled community and disability studies – and that’s oppressive.

And we cannot tell our stories if they are not listening.

In particular, church leaders, theologians, and members of the churches must listen to theologians who come from a disability studies context or from within the disabled community. At the moment, they’re mostly not listening. And that’s partly because they know that the churches are responsible for excluding disabled people, and that it needs to get its act together. The Church doesn’t want to hear how it has contributed to oppressive normalcy. But normalcy doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It’s created by the Bible, theology, church practices and traditions. The churches draw on modern society’s ideas about what is ‘normal’ and acceptable, but the churches’ ideas on the subject also predate these – and in some cases, the churches helped to create our modern social discourse of normalcy. No wonder theologians and church representatives get angry or defensive when these ideas of normalcy are brought into the light. But we won’t hide our lights under a bushel!

We cannot tell our stories if they are not listening.

Where can we find examples of disabled people talking about these things? In terms of normalcy, it’s written about all through disability studies writing (which isn’t hard to read, especially if you read disabled people writing about their own experiences). The classics are really good – like Jenny Morris’s ‘Pride Against Prejudice’, Eli Claire’s ‘Exile and Pride’, and Mark Priestley, and Colin Barnes, and Carol Thomas… On the subject of disability and theology/church itself, if you’re up for some quite difficult reading, I love Betcher’s ‘Spirit and the Politics of Disability’, which has been ignored by theologians and disability scholars alike, which is a terrible shame as it’s an amazing book. There’s also the wonderful ‘Deaf Liberation Theology’ by Hannah Lewis, which is very readable and which I think everyone working in churches should read. And anything by the wonderful John Hull, and by Jennie Weiss-Block, and Kathy Black. The reason I think that disabled people should read writing like this, is that we need to be armed and ready to fight back against the inevitable resistance that comes when we call for our stories to be heard. If we can see normalcy, we can challenge it.

Let the light shine in the darkness.

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Gender and Disability: Asking Difficult Questions

I’ll be presenting at the ‘Gender and Disability: Asking Difficult Questions‘ conference in May. I’ll be talking about disability and women in the Bible, and how we can reclaim their stories.

The conference is at the University of Sheffield on the 10th May. If you’re interested, the website is here, with more details on what, where and when. Hope to see you there!

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Inclusive Church: Disability

Last month I was able to attend the Inclusive Church one-day conference on disability, and I thought readers of this blog might like to hear about it. Continue reading

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The Relevance of the Bible (To Disabled People)

Image of a Bible

Image: a picture of a Bible

Image: A picture of a Bible. Photo by Camille Sauvager (CC).

Why research what the Bible says about disability? Isn’t it irrelevant to society by now? Aren’t there more important things to research? Why bother?

My research does not come from a specifically Christian perspective. I hope to be working with a partnership group of disabled Christians, and I expect (and hope) that their Christian ‘take’ on things will come through the research. But my views on Christianity, specifically the Bible, are sociological. I’m interested in the effects that religion has on society, and vice versa. And, perhaps most importantly to me, I’m interested in how the Bible has affected society – especially its effects on disabled people. Continue reading

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Theory in Practice: Disability studies journal article about recent government and media representations of disability

Poster: we're being [shafted] by the governmentPicture: protesters at today’s ‘Hardest Hit’ march, carrying a sign which is partly written in Braille. It reads “We’re being —- by the government.” Someone has written a translation of the Braille word below it: “shafted”. Photograph copyright Lisa Egan.

‘The language of shirkers and scroungers?’ Talking about illness, disability and coalition welfare reform – Disability & Society.

Yesterday’s discussion on the BBC’s You and Yours was about disability, cuts and welfare reform, and featured Where’s the Benefit‘s own Bendy Girl. Some contributors’ comments offered a clear example of how attitudes to disability haven’t really changed much since Victorian times – if not before. Some academic research recently published has been talking about how these attitudes might relate to the way that the government and the media are representing disability at the moment. Academic journal articles are expensive if you’re not at a university, but I think research around disability and society is vitally important, and this article’s conclusions are a late-but-appreciated part of academic debate – so here’s a bit of a summary of the article. Continue reading

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The Price of Education

Rise in university applications slows amid fears about degree costs |  The Guardian

This is an interesting one. A market research company has asked current students whether they would have gone to university if they’d had to pay £9000 fees. Around half of students surveyed say that they would not have done. Continue reading

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Plain English: My Research

Image of a stack of books. Photo by Dayna Bateman (cc).

Image of a stack of books. Photo by Dayna Bateman (cc).

Image: a stack of books. Photo by Dayna Bateman (cc).

If you’re a postgrad student and you haven’t discovered #phdchat on twitter yet, it’s worth taking a look. A number of contributors to the discussion have been putting their research into plain English to make it more accessible for readers – here are some examples. It’s a brilliant idea, and especially relevant to my project. Continue reading

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Theory in Practice: ‘Digital Researcher’ Conference, 2011

Inspired by Jennifer Jones‘ liveblogging, I’m putting down my thoughts on the Digital Researcher 2011 conference (twitter tag: #dr11) while experiencing it.

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Constructing Interpretations

Image of a Bible open at a page of the gospels. Photo by Rachel Davies (cc).

Image of a Bible open at a page of the gospels. Photo by Rachel Davies (cc).

Image of a Bible open at a page of the gospels. Photo (cc) Rachel Davies.

I did give the warning that ‘regular’ for me actually means ‘biannual’, didn’t I? Apologies for the long absence. We moved house, so life took over for quite a while. But! I am now enrolled on my PhD (although not ‘registered’ until I’ve submitted an extended proposal, which I’ll be doing after Christmas). Continue reading

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Theology in Practice: A Tale of Three Masses – 1*

Church image

Image of a church with steps leading up to it. Photo by Reinante el Pintor de Fuego. Creative Commons Licence

Image: a church with steps leading up. Photo (cc) Reinante el Pintor de Fuego.

Hoping to make a bit of a semi-regular series of theology/theory in practice, to complement more theoretical thoughts. Although to me, ‘regular’ tends to mean ‘more than once a year’. So we’ll see how it goes!

I’ve been to three churches recently, where I had very different access experiences. Continue reading

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