Religion in the Public Sphere (UG, second year) 09 27863 Academic Year 2018-2019 (2 semesters)

Course Overview

In this course we confront the many dimensions of religion in the public sphere, the problems that arise, the nature of the role of different religions in public life, and the ways that it may serve as a resource particularly in public policy contexts. At the heart of this course is a consultancy project, where students will work in small teams with real West-Midlands employers. Each employer has provided a problem or query regarding some aspect of religion facing their organisation and will be looking to these teams as collaborative partners in providing outside expert advice. Along the way you will receive training which will help you to develop as a professional and researcher. We will also explore a range of models which have been proposed as possible ways to configure the place of religion in the public sphere and each research team will use this knowledge to sharpen their critical commentary and presentations on their research brief.

This work will all culminate in the submission of a policy project write-up after the course has concluded. By the time you get to the final project write-up, however, you will already have written a series of ten worksheets, reflections and commentaries and received a variety of different forms of feedback. These pieces of work will serve as "patches" which you can then stich together and revise to make this final write-up. At the mid point in the course, there is also a shorter paper due in which you synthesise your scholarly understanding of the role of religion(s) in the public sphere. This paper, due at the end of term one is meant to give you a chance to refresh and consolidate the solid theoretical foundation you will have already developed in your first year, through study of a series of topics where the public role of religion is contested, misunderstood, stereotyped, or simply neglected.

The overarching idea is that we will engage critically with public issues, particularly inasmuch as they intersect with religious belief and practice. We will orient our “blue-sky” thinking about issues – particularly conceived in an international or foreign context – towards more grounded reflection in a local community context.


• 1 x 2000 word essay • 1 x 3000 word policy project

Task 1: Essay (2000 words):

Essay question: With reference to the various models we explored in semester 1, what place should religion occupy in modern political discourse and practice?

The purpose of this assessment is to ensure that students have a clear, critical understanding of the possible ways that religion can be positioned in contemporary political thought and practice in the public sphere. You may want to consider focussing your commentary and analysis around a particular political, organisational or national context.

Task 2: Policy Project (3000 words)

Preliminaries: The piece of writing which you will submit at the end of the course represents the culmination of ten key milestones. This will include a series of [6 critical self-reflections]({{< ref "files/teaching/" >}})

) on your project work and context (in canvas as digital submissions), you will conduct some independent research which will help to illuminate the policy context for the whole group, and you will prepare a group presentation which will present a rough-draft of your project findings to the whole class. You will also conduct reading on a range of scholarly topics and it is expect that each of these elements, both self-reflection and peer feedback will be drawn into your final submitted piece of work. Personal research: For the personal research element, you will spend 15 or more hours in a specific mode of data collection. This time will include your work acquiring some basic awareness of best practice for this mode of research and analysing data after it has been collected. Possible options include: - Ethnography: ethnographic analysis relates to the systematic study of people and culture in a given context. The ethnographer is an (often silent) observer watching closely for clues as to cultural norms, and trying to inhabit the point of view of another person or group. - Semi-structured interviews: for your project, you may want to conduct one-to-one or focus group style interviews. A good interview tends to be less than 60 minutes long and “semi-structured” means that you will have prepared a series questions ahead of time which you will use to structure the conversation. This structure will make it easier to identify similarities and differences in the answers different respondents provide. An interviewer will always confirm that they have permission of the interviewee for their conversation to be recorded (either in written form, or using a recording device) and this transcript will provide the basis for analysis afterwards. - Surveys: surveys usually come in written form, with a series of questions, but can also be executed live in a particular setting. Care will need to be put into the design of the survey instrument, thinking of what and how many questions might be best at drawing out meaningful answers from a group of persons. - Documentary / media analysis: Every setting has its own material culture, and this kind of analysis takes up careful reading of written documents (or audio / video / visual media) for possible indications of culture and/or values. Analysis will involve highlighting significant features and comparing these features across a range of media. For each of these modes of research there is a short tutorial you must first complete which will brief you on best-practices and some possible pitfalls to avoid. Policy project write-up: Once you have completed your research and the group policy project presentation, you will take all the information you have gleaned and apply it towards a final (individual) project write-up. The purpose of this written assessment is integrative: to try and synthesise the high-level insights about religion in the public sphere that you have learned across a variety of topics and critical theories towards the very specific context presented in your policy project. You will articulate and apply critical understandings of religion, politics and philosophy to practical issues and problems arising in the public sphere. Your policy project write-up should include the following elements (with the following rough indications of words to be included): (1) Overview. Provide an introduction of the organisation that provided your project brief. This should be accessible to a lay-reader and include details of the brief you were given by the organisation. (500 words) (2) Research: summarise the findings of your individual research work. Explain the mode of research you conducted (interviews, survey, discourse analysis, etc.), explain what you hoped to achieve with this work, and present the results you found. On particular, you should indicate how this research helped illuminate the brief presented by your policy project. (750 words) (3) Analysis: provide a briefing on the wider problem that serves as a backdrop for your project (i.e. hate-crime; environmental protection; integration of spirituality in business practice; etc.). Provide specific details relating to the West-Midlands context. (750 words) (4) Policy project: present your group policy project from your own perspective. Explain how this project was designed to address the problem and context you have illuminated above and how it was tailored to the specific needs of your organisation. What did you attempt, how did this relate to the brief you were given by the organisation, and what did you achieve? Include details of your own role within the team and indicate what skills you developed over the course of that work. (500 words) (5) Knowledge gained: Writing towards a public audience, familiar with your organisation, summarise what you learned about religion in the public sphere in conducting your project in this very specific context. What kind of advice might your project and the research you conducted lead you to provide to someone working professionally in business, third sector, or government with relation to the brief you considered? (500 words) The document you produce will need to be clear, critical, well informed and concise. It may well need to be selective but you will need to justify your selectivity so that your reader is clear about your exclusions and suppositions and can therefore understand the status and perspective of your analysis. It should be easily readable by someone who is not expert in the academic study of religion and theology, but be well referenced so that ideas, concepts and assertions can be followed up, evidenced and evaluated. You can use bullet points, lists, charts, diagrams, headings, different kinds of type, italics, and abbreviations if that helps to make the shape of the document clearer and to convey information and ideas more sharply, but not at the expense of ensuring that your analysis and advice is readable and well-considered. The highest marks will be awarded for clearly presented and well argued, well informed and evidenced documents that provide a clear analysis of the subject under consideration with options for action and attitude that are well justified intellectually and relate realistically to the subject/issue under consideration.