Faith, Social Cohesion and Socio-Religious Action in Contemporary Britain

  • Stephanie Dermott

Student thesis: Phd


The objective of this thesis is to examine the ways that a notion of faith has been conceived and operationalised as a key aspect in the development of a British social cohesion discourse in public policy since 2001. Using data drawn from ethnography in Greater Manchester, the thesis also aims to investigate the extent to which this conception is translated into practice through local organisations, and to examine the particular contribution of South Asian religious traditions to this discursive relationship. In doing so, the research actively deconstructs the key terms faith and social cohesion, as well as related terms such as faith community and faith-based organisation. Through detailed analysis of key policy documents from 2001 to 2016, it aims to challenge normative assumptions regarding these terms, and to highlight the linguistic difficulties associated within the operationalization of faith as a political tool. The thesis also explores the disjuncture of terminologies such as faith community with everyday experiences of religious diversity in the UK, using ethnographic fieldwork to discover both the mechanisms through which discourse is translated by organisations on the ground, and the ways in which organisations seek to negate these mechanisms in establishing social action initiatives from a religious perspective. As a result, the research uncovers an emerging alternative discourse of socio-religious action through which South Asian traditions in particular are increasingly acting to define and develop an approach to civic engagement strongly centred on religious principles and devotional practice. The thesis explores the apparent discursive synthesis of faith and social cohesion in policy and in practice. Chapter one presents the key questions, and provides a clear introduction to the research, including explanatory notes on the importance of precision in the use of terminology. Chapters two and three then present a literature review and methodological rationale for both detailed policy document analysis and ethnography, as well as an overview of the three key organisations upon which this fieldwork is centred. Chapter four examines the role of ‘faith’ in the development of social cohesion discourse in UK policy since 2001, at both a national and local policy level, and the impact of this policy in two areas of Greater Manchester. Through detailed analysis of key policy documents and government outputs, this chapter aims to provide a foundation for subsequent exploration of faith and social cohesion in practice in the ensuing three chapters. These three chapters present the ethnographic portion of the research in direct conversation with my analysis of public policy. Chapters five and six assess the ways in which the discourse contributes to the conception and formation of faith communities and interfaith or faith-based organisations, paying particular attention to the ways in which South Asian religious traditions have engaged with the discourse, and chapter seven aims to assess the ways in which these organisations conceive of their own contributions to the notion of social cohesion, and the specific role of South Asian religiosity within this. Overall, the thesis aims to address gaps in research regarding analysis and ethnographic exploration of faith and social cohesion as discourses located in both policy and practice, and the specific contribution of South Asian religious traditions to a developing discursive framework of socio-religious action.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn Zavos (Supervisor), Peter Scott (Supervisor) & Katan Alder (Supervisor)


  • Ethnography
  • Greater Manchester
  • Interfaith
  • South Asian Religion
  • Faith-Based Social Action
  • Community Cohesion
  • Social Action
  • Religion
  • Faith
  • Social Cohesion

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