Faith-based Youth Work: Education, Engagement and Ethics.

Bright, Graham; Thompson, Naomi; Hart, Peter and Hayden, Bethany. 2018. Faith-based Youth Work: Education, Engagement and Ethics. In: Pam Alldred; Fin Cullen; Kathy Edwards and Dana Fusco, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Youth Work Practice. London: SAGE, pp. 197-212. ISBN 9781473939523 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Youth work represents ‘a people-centred, commitment to diversity, anti-oppressive practice and the provision of relational spaces in which individuals and groups can think critically about their lives and worlds, in order that they might act to shape them differently’ (Bright, 2015a:xvii). Grounded in critical pedagogical praxis (Freire, 1970), youth work continues to hold the ethea of equity and inclusivity paramount (Batsleer, 2008; Sapin, 2013). Despite these commitments however, there continues to be considerable debate regarding the nature of youth work and its relationship to the various faith-based practices in which much of its history is rooted. This comes at a time of on-going dialogue regarding the telos of the profession - a period characterized, in England and other neo-liberal economies by continuous restructuring, cuts and uncertainty, to which the faith sector has remained broadly resilient. Interest in the nature of faith-based youth work and its relationship to wider forms of practice can be seen in the growing number of academic publications and conferences on the subject. Despite a narrative of growing secularization, faith praxis remains a significant, albeit contested contemporary driver. Building on the work of the authors (Bright and Bailey, 2015; Hart, 2016; Stanton, 2012, 2013) this chapter draws on narrative case study interviews with youth workers operating in different faith settings, to explore how they conceptualise and experience some of the joys and challenges of inclusive praxis. It further considers ways in which faith-based youth work attempts to promote social, religious and institutional inclusivity, as well as examining practice motives, and potential conflicts in personal, professional and religious consciences.
The present policy environment in England and beyond has reduced much youth work practice to a 'rump’ (Jeffs, 2015:75). The faith sector has taken its moral duty seriously by developing provision to mitigate recent fiscal effects, yet neo-liberal inducements have led to attempts by states to colonize, marketize and control religion in welfare production (Woodhead, 2012). Such processes are evident in youth work, where civically-minded people of faith, concerned with young people’s wellbeing have engaged in continued voluntarism and localized processes of co-production. Pimlott (2015a, 2015b) in addressing those involved in Christian youth work, argues that people of faith should engage, but do so with active critical political insight, lest they risk accelerating the race to the bottom.
All youth work, in common with all education, is an act of faith (Jeffs, 2011); full, in equal measure of possibility, uncertainty, hope and adventure. Whether that faith is in something political, social, educational, philosophical, human or ‘religious’, youth work in its myriad forms, draws in diverse ways on these ‘faiths’. Faith gives youth work its dynamism. Jolly (2015) suggests whether expressed or not, that there are inherent links between these ‘faiths’ and practitioners’ motivations for practice. The motives for faith-based (religious) practice have often been viewed with an external glare of proselytizing suspicion. However, little ‘secular’ youth work expresses its intended purpose. State agendas are not benign, yet they remain surreptitiously unnamed. This flies in the face of ethical transparency (Sercombe, 2010), and undermines a key tenet of youth work practice: informed voluntary participation. In contrast, by virtue of the spaces and places in which it is undertaken, much faith-based practice is, on the surface at least, more teleologically accessible to young people. As an act of inclusive and encompassing faith, all youth work is premised upon, and concerned in the most ethical sense with, espoused processes of conversion – of empowering and enabling young people’s potential transformation from one state of learning and being to another. Irrespective of sector, the telos driving these transformative, experiential ‘border-crossings’ (Coburn, 2010; Giroux, 2005) which open up processes of possibility require further interrogation. Drawing empirically on youth workers’ practice narratives, the purpose of this chapter is to explore these concerns in relation to faith-based provision.

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS)


1 July 2017Accepted
1 July 2018Published

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Date Deposited:

06 Oct 2017 12:47

Last Modified:

01 Jul 2019 01:26


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