Meaning making narratives among non-religious individuals facing the end of life

PI: Dr Christel Manning, Religious Studies, Sacred Heart University, USA

Christel Manning






Project team:

Dr Christel Manning, Sacred Heart University, USA (Principal Investigator)
Dr Vern Bengston, University of Southern California, USA (Consultant)

Dates: 1 July 2017- 30 June 2019
Award: £23,533.60

This project will explore the meaning-making narratives of non-religious Americans, both white and black, who are facing the end of life. Using a qualitative methodology, investigation will focus on two main research questions. The first pertains to content. What kinds of stories do non-religious individuals tell to make sense of death and dying? What general narrative patterns exist (in themes or structure), and what interpretive patterns exist as individuals apply a more general narrative to their own particular situation? The second research question is comparative. What are the similarities and/or differences between (1) non-religious individuals generally and religious individuals; (2) various types of non-religious individuals (atheist/humanist; spiritual/agnostic; indifferent); and (3) white Americans (who are over represented among the nonreligious) and African Americans (a group that is much less likely to be non-religious)?

The project will proceed in two phases. Phase 1 will be a pilot study of 30 elders (individuals over 75) that will include both non-religious and religious respondents for comparison. The purpose of the pilot is to test both the screening and interview instruments and improve these as needed. Phase 2 will be a larger study of 100 additional respondents focusing specifically on non-religious individuals. Phase 1 will be conducted at the Mary Wade Home (MHW), a facility providing assisted living and off-site elder services in New Haven, CT. Phase 2 will begin at MWH but will extend to additional facilities across the greater Connecticut and New York area.