Research Methods for the Study of Religion

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Purple horizon
Picture by Michael Holden

Researching the contemporary moral landscape

Researching the Contemporary Moral Landscape is a training resource developed through a Collaborative Research Training award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and with the support of the Social Brain Centre at the RSA.

Its aim is to help researchers working across a range of disciplines to think about the conceptual and methodological approaches they use to studying the role of moral meanings for social and cultural life. The notion of the ‘moral landscape’ carries a range of implications. It suggests that moral meanings should be thought about in a broader social and cultural context than individual values and beliefs. It suggests that moral meanings provide a framework that people inhabit and negotiate in dynamic and complex ways. It suggests that our ability to ‘see’ the contours of our social and cultural worlds is always premised on moral perspectives. It suggests that moral meanings themselves are subject to on-going processes of change. Clarifying how we might better study the contemporary moral landscape is therefore essential for understanding the societies we live in as well as the ways in which those societies are changing.

The main resources developed through this project are a series of presentations made at the RSA in London in September 2012. Many of the presenters have developed their broader ways of thinking about moral meanings in the context of studying religion and the secular. As the project bibliography demonstrates, the study of the contemporary moral landscape will benefit from contributions from a wide range of disciplines.  Researchers working on the religious and the secular in the contemporary world, though, have increasingly had to find new ways of conceptualising their work in the face of rapidly changing patterns of commitment and belief. This has generated new ways of thinking about the meanings around which people build their lives. The films, therefore, explore new ways in which ideas of the ‘sacred’, ‘ritual’, ‘belief’ and ‘non-religion’ could be used to make sense of moral landscapes today, as well how we might think about the role of moral meanings in relation to visual and material culture.

An important element of the project is also to help researchers think about how they communicate their work to wider public audiences. There is obvious public interest in promoting clearer understandings of the moral landscapes that we inhabit. The project resources also, therefore, include presentations by speakers with substantial experience of different kinds of media work, focusing on how academic ideas and arguments can be presented most effectively to a wider public audience.

Researching the Contemporary Moral Landscape is part of the wider range of methodological training resources developed by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kent, including its annual training workshop on ‘Research Methods for the Study of Contemporary Religion’.