Beyond the organisation: how else might we conceptualise the interaction between faith, wellbeing and social policy?

Heather Buckingham

Research output: Contribution to conference (unpublished)Paper


Social researchers often have to consider the balance between emic and etic categories when seeking to understand and interpret data. To what extent do we give credence and voice to the way in which this individual or organisation explains their own story, motives and so on, and to what extent do we describe, explain and communicate according to our own conceptualisations, perhaps informed by our academic training, previous research and reading, life experience and reflection? Very often, a combination of the two produces insightful findings. This paper suggests, however, that focussing on faith-based organisations and institutions puts social scientists in danger of misrepresenting the way in which many individuals and communities of faith conceive of and seek to embody or enact the relationship between their faith and their engagement with social issues. I argue that whilst an organisational perspective sheds some light, it can also restrict our understanding of the contribution and meaning of faith groups’ engagement with wider communities (van der Ven, 1996). Previous work in this area has demonstrated the importance of bringing theological understanding into conversation with empirical data and social theory (e.g. Cloke et al., 2007), and there is an increasing recognition that policy makers need to understand something of the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ when it comes to faith-based social engagement. But perhaps we also need to allow these empirical and inter-disciplinary voices to inform the way in which we go about researching and conceptualising the relevance of faith to social policy. Focusing on Christian churches, this paper proposes some alternative ways of conceptualising the relationship between faith, wellbeing and social policy.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2015
EventSocial Policy Association Conference, 2015 - Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Jul 20158 Jul 2015


ConferenceSocial Policy Association Conference, 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • faith
  • social engagement
  • church
  • social action
  • community


Dive into the research topics of 'Beyond the organisation: how else might we conceptualise the interaction between faith, wellbeing and social policy?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this