Using a narrative method to research young people’s religious engagement, past and present

Thompson, Naomi. 2023. Using a narrative method to research young people’s religious engagement, past and present. In: L Woodhead; L Cadman and N Graham, eds. Messy Methods: Researching Religion in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Book Section] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

Naomi Thompson is a is a sociologist of youth, faith and inclusion, using narrative research to explore people's lived experiences of inclusion and exclusion. She grew up in a large evangelical Christian family in the West Midlands of England, became a young parent at age 20, and is on an ongoing journey of faith, non-faith and identity. Her first career was as a local authority youth worker before her addiction to studying led to her falling into a second career in academia. She currently works at Goldsmiths University of London where she is a Reader and the Head of the Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies.

This chapter explores how Naomi’s own life narrative relates to what she studied. The research discussed in this chapter was a study of the peak and decline of Sunday schools in the twentieth century, and young people’s engagement with organised Christianity today. The specific time periods considered were 1900-1910, 1955-1972 and 2008 onwards. It was the first substantial study of Sunday school decline to consider internal factors in churches and religious institutions, rather than focusing on wider societal change. Narratives of rigid institutionalisation emerged, as well as a reinterpretation of whether young people have rejected churches – demonstrating that, in many cases, young people and youth leaders have been marginalised and excluded by religious organisations. The chapter outlines the postmodern approach and narrative methods used in this project and as well as some of the themes and discourses that emerged from the research. The chapter explores the challenges of conducting qualitative narrative research whilst recognising and being accountable to how the personal narratives of the researcher impact on interpretation and analysis of research findings.

Item Type:

Book Section

Additional Information:

This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book 'Messy Methods: Researching Religion in Practice' due for publication in 2024.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS)


1 September 2023Accepted

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Date Deposited:

13 Nov 2023 10:46

Last Modified:

30 May 2024 13:16


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