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The identity politics of interfaith encounters: a social psychological analysis

Whitney, Teresa (2015) The identity politics of interfaith encounters: a social psychological analysis. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Interfaith dialogue is an identity re-negotiation process at the heart of the current UK context. It facilitates temporary, project-based community building between diverse groups and is materially, symbolically, and psychologically mediated. While there is a rich social psychological literature on identity and intergroup relations, the role the material environment plays is less well explored. This thesis argues that the physical environment is a central component of contextualized identities and thus intergroup relations. Taking a social representations approach to knowledge encounters and dialogue, this thesis explores how the physical environment functions as a channel of communication between groups and affects identity formation and community building. This research is made up of three studies that examine the process of interfaith contact and dialogue. Study I focuses on the actions of students at 27 faith related events prior to the opening of a University Faith Centre. Findings indicate that students verbally communicated inclusiveness and engaged in physically protective behaviour during interfaith encounters, thus maintaining their faith in-group identities while simultaneously meeting the expectation of participating in interfaith dialogue. Study II examined how university students in 6 focus groups made sense of the concept of interfaith dialogue and of the new Centre as well as how 7 school managers viewed faith on campus. Findings show that interfaith dialogue is a time-intensive process of re-evaluation that is mediated by space and can be hindered by psycho-social processes of identity. Study III focused on the experiences of 18 interfaith practitioners across London, exploring how they make sense of interfaith relations and how they manage interfaith encounters. Findings indicate that interfaith relations are part of a wider social project of re-presenting faith in the UK public sphere, which is pursued via physically and psychologically facilitating dialogical encounters between diverse belief groups in order to maximise social capital. Overall, the findings highlight the interplay between the material, symbolic, and psychological aspects of identity negotiation and community building, and show that interfaith dialogue is a complex process that functions not just at the psycho-social level of contact, but also via the physical environment.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Teresa A. Whitney
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Psychological and Behavioural Science
Supervisor: Howarth, Caroline

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