Image: steps up to a church door. By Charles Clegg. Creative Commons licence, Flickr.
Update, 15/4/16: We have now finished looking for participants, and the results of the study are on the way! Thank you to everyone who generously took part and shared their stories.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is doing this research, and what’s it about?
I’m Naomi Jacobs. I’m studying for a PhD in sociology of religion at SOAS, University of London. I’m researching the experiences of Christians who are disabled (or who have long-term/chronic illnesses). I’m looking for disabled people in the UK who attend churches, or used to, so that I can explore their stories with them.
Why are you doing this research?
I’m a disabled person myself. I’ve been interested in churches and disability for a long time, as I used to attend churches, where I experienced various responses to my impairments. This was my inspiration for starting a PhD in the subject. Eventually I’d like to provide information, ideas and resources to churches and disabled Christians.
Who counts as ‘disabled’ for this project?
‘Disability’ can be a controversial idea, although it can also be a useful one. I’m looking for people who would be considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010. This includes people with sensory and mobility impairments, people with long-term illnesses, people with mental health difficulties, and people with learning difficulties or autistic spectrum conditions.
These are all people who tend to experience exclusion in society because of other people’s responses to their conditions. It doesn’t matter if you don’t personally define yourself as ‘disabled’ – as long as you fit this description, you can take part.
What kinds of churches count?
I’m looking for anyone who defines as a Christian, as long as they are (or were) involved in any kind of church. Later I’ll be looking for people from particular types of churches and delving deeper into your stories. If you don’t go to church anymore, you are still very welcome to take part.
What will I have to do?
Ideally, it would be great to meet you and interview you about your experiences. I can travel to a convenient location for you, in most cases. The interview could be one-to-one, or in a group (perhaps if you know others who would like to be interviewed with you, e.g. friends who are also disabled Christians).
I’ve also been having some discussions with people over Skype. If this would be easier for you, it can be arranged easily.
Later on, I will be asking a few people if they’d like to be used as case studies. This means I’ll be doing a longer interview with you, exploring your story with you in more detail, and perhaps coming to your church with you if possible. But there’s no obligation to take part in this later stage of the research. If you just want to be part of the focus group, on one occasion, that’s fine.
How will my stories and information be used?
I’ll be recording your interview responses and taking notes, so that I can write about them later. I will keep your information in a locked cabinet. Everything you say will be made anonymous when I share it. Names will be changed, and so will any information that could identify you to anyone.
Some of the things you say might be shared with a research advisory group – a group of disabled Christians who will be helping me to write about the research. But it will be made anonymous first.
Next, it is likely that I will be quoting you in my thesis, which will be seen by my PhD examiners, and in some other places including journal articles and conference papers, which will be read/heard by other researchers. Again, at this point your stories will be anonymised.
Later I hope to be able to share the results of the research with churches, too, and perhaps with seminaries and Bible colleges.
We can talk about how your story will be used, before you agree to take part.
What will I get out of taking part?
You will be offered some financial compensation for your time, as a ‘thank you’ for taking part. Travel expenses can also be refunded. Later on there will also be opportunities to help with sharing the results of the project with churches, seminaries and so on. There’s no obligation to take part in anything after the research, though. You can choose to have just a little involvement with the research project, or you can get more involved!
Has this research been approved as ethical?
The research project has ethical clearance from SOAS, University of London. Their ethics policy can be found here. This means that senior members of staff at the university have agreed that I have clear plans for protecting people’s personal information, ensuring they give consent, and not putting anyone at risk.
What perspective will you be writing from?
This is a sociology project, not a theology one. I will be looking at the experiences of disabled/chronically ill Christians – their experiences of churches, from attitudes to accessibility. My main perspective comes from the field of Disability Studies. This includes the social model of disability (see here), and other ideas about society’s problematic responses to disabled people. You can read more about disability studies on my blog here, and I plan to write more about it there soon.
Who is funding the research?
I have some research funding from the St Luke’s College Foundation, which aims to support people who are researching religion. This money will be used to give financial compensation for the time and travel costs of people taking part in the research.
What’s your academic background?
I have an MA in Disability Studies from the University of Leeds.
How do I get involved?
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message me at the Facebook group.
I used to go to church but I don’t anymore – can I take part?
Yes, if you’ve had experience of churches in the past – as long as you were attending church while you were disabled (or chronically ill).
I’m not disabled myself, but I’m the parent/sibling/partner/friend of a disabled Christian – can I take part?
That may be possible, depending on your relationship with them, and whether you go to church together. Get in touch and we can discuss it.
Where can I find out more?
You can follow there research blog here (https://naomijacobs.wordpress.com ). You can keep an eye on the Facebook group, where I will be posting about the project, and about disability and Christianity in general. You can email me with questions at email@example.com. If you don’t have regular access to the internet, you can write to me at: Naomi Jacobs, Suite 355, 78 Golders Green Road, London NW11 8LN. (I find it difficult to use the phone for disability reasons, but we can arrange for my support worker to ring you, if that’s better for you. Get in touch through one of the other ways above, and we’ll sort that out.)
I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks in advance for your interest in the project!