Fieldwork in Religion, Vol 1, No 3 (2005)

Religious Identities, Social Networks and the Power of Information

Greg Smith
Issued Date: 12 Feb 2007


The work of Manuel Castells is perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of contemporary urban society covering urban geography, urban social movements, the power of identity, the rise of the network society and the significance of information technologies at a global level. Other sociologists such as Robertson and Beyer have developed theories of globalization and glocalization with particular reference to religion, while scholars in the disciplines of anthropology and cultural studies have provided useful models for understanding ethnicities and identities. Finally theorists of social capital such as Coleman, Putnam or Bourdieu have produced influential ways of looking at social cohesion and local social networks. This paper will enter into dialogue with each of these major themes in a reflective account of fieldwork practice and findings in the East London Atlas of Faiths project co-ordinated by the author in the late 1990s. Religious organizations and individuals are seen as engaging with the three types of collective identity described by Castells, legitimizing, resistance and project. However, it is with resistance, albeit so implicit that it is better termed support and survival identity, that the majority of religious organizations working with ethnic minorities in East London are concerned. In a globalizing, rapidly changing setting, described by Castells as a "space of flows" resistance is shown by lack of trust of all things official, thus making information gathering particularly difficult. The reflexive analysis of the situation linked with the faith-based transformative ‘project identities’ that they have espoused raises difficult political and ethical questions for researchers themselves.

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DOI: 10.1558/firn.v1i3.291

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