Digital Jewish Community



Ethnographic study of religious innovation among Orthodox Jewish women under Covid-19

Katja Stuerzenhofecker is a research associate on the UKRI/AHRC project Social Distance, Digital Congregation: British Ritual Innovation under Covid-19 (BRIC-19), led by Dr Joshua Edelman, MMU (PI) and Dr Alana Vincent, University of Chester (Co-I). She is writing an ethnographic case study of innovation in Orthodox women's leadership and participation in communal prayer under COVID-19.

The wider project seeks to examine how British religious communities have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it has imposed. It will document, analyse, and understand the new ways that religious communities are coming together, and to use those findings to help make religious communities of all faiths stronger and more resilient for the future. The project investigates communities of all faiths and beliefs across the UK.

Religious rituals do work, essential social work, according to both ritual theorists and the UK government, which has recognized clergy as key workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funerals, weddings, birth rituals, and holiday observances are vital to people’s psychological wellbeing and sense of community, especially given the sense of unease created by the pandemic. However, the key means by which clergy do this vital work—live communal ritual—is not possible during lockdown conditions.

Ritual specialists have been forced to improvise and move rituals online, something which is virtually unknown to most mainstream clergy. Due to the fact that these improvised innovations are being done quickly by busy practicing clergy with little co-ordination between them, they are not being collected or studied in a systematic or detailed way. The full implications of these innovations are thus not being adequately considered or developed in ways that could be beneficial for the wellbeing of Britons of all faiths long after the pandemic is over.