On 21 September, we launched the British Ritual Innovation under COVID-19 impact survey aimed at ritual leaders and participants to investigate how people of all faiths and beliefs across the UK have been adapting their ritual practices during the pandemic. Equipped with “socially distanced” methods (the online survey to start with), we’ve set off to explore how religious institutions and individuals have tackled lockdown and social distancing restrictions, the challenges they’ve faced in adapting their practices, and the implications it all has had for their ritual lives. Our survey is the first step on our journey to understand the complex practical, spiritual, and affective consequences of such adaptations, especially given the rapid move to forms of online participation.
We want to capture change as it happens in real time. With further lockdown restrictions to be introduced in a matter of days, we ask how we can capture these real-time transformations in the ritual lives of the diverse UK population, how we can understand what kinds of rituals people are able to take part in and need during the pandemic, and what such changes mean for their individual and communal experiences of ritual making. We are interested in regular services and everyday (religious) ritual practices, as well as events like funerals, weddings, birth rituals, and holiday observances. If you take the survey, you can expect to come across questions like:
In addition to multiple-choice options, we opted for a range of open text questions to allow participants for their own reflections on ritual making and alternative forms of gathering. The survey has been designed to take between 10-20 minutes, but the open text design means that our participants are welcome to spend more time completing the survey should they wish to do so. This is facilitated by the ‘Finish Later’ save option.
In circulating the survey, we have also had many opportunities to speak directly to ritual leaders and participants to deepen our understanding of their experiences. These exchanges have been invaluable for reflecting on the challenges posed by our attempt to capture ritual lives of people from a broad range of context, especially those relating to language and concepts used in designing our questions. As our survey attempts to capture experiences of individuals from such a broad spectrum of ritual-making communities, we’ve favoured open-text design in our survey to pay attention to vocabulary used by our participants to narrate their stories, and we continue to reflect on our terms in conversation with the participants’ feedback. In this regard, we’ve been also supported by our research partners, – Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), Interfaith Scotland, and Faith & Belief Forum, who’ve helped us avoid some of the pitfalls of comparative research by adjusting some of the key operational terms included in the survey.
We’ve had further fruitful exchanges with fellow researchers and community leaders who have also been conducting surveys about the impact of Covid-19 on people’s religious life. For example, see Dr Gladys Ganiel’s report on a survey of faith leaders on the island of Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic; and Rhiannon Grant’s summary of the research results conducted within the Quaker community on worship practices in the pandemic. These conversations have already led to some comparative discussions, and we look forward to future discussions once our survey concludes in spring 2021.
So far, we’ve heard from across Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh Pagan, Humanist, and Quaker communities. Over the coming weeks, we’ll reach out to many more individuals, while continuously addressing any gaps in our data concerning diversity and equality of representation. We are therefore actively reaching out to communities representing minority voices including members of the Black Churches, as well as Inclusive Churches / Mosques, migrant religious communities, and non-religious ritual practitioners.