Contexts/Comhthéacs

Introduction/Réamhra

As a child, I grew up with languages from two places: Ireland and Australia. The word comhthéacs is a masculine word for contexts: places, histories, experiences that fold together to make contexts. As a result, sections of this chapter have a title written in both English and Irish, to bring the two worlds that make up my own context to the fore. My research participants inhabit multiple worlds in the same way that I do, and this book is made up of resonances between vastly different people’s experiences. These shared voices, which I have seen come together across countries, places, religions, cultures, have also become part of me as I have watched them unfold across the last four years.

This project has grown from, and consistently reminds me of, the fact that I am attached to structures of feeling that are associated with Irish Catholicism in ways that are complex and marked by conflict. I was born in 1977, to a politically left-wing North Dubliner father of Catholic upbringing and a Londoner mother who was raised in the Church of England. My mother was not religious when she married my father, who, in his younger years, fancied himself quite a rebel and devoted his life to performing political protest songs. My parents spent their honeymoon in an IRA safe house in Derry after marrying in Cambridge, where they lived for the first years of their marriage. They moved to Australia in 1974 and later my mother converted to Catholicism – and to my father’s fury, I was raised a Catholic. These constellations are just the very beginning of a complex emotional attachment I experience to religious icons and which orients my methods. 

When I was eight years old, I visited St Gabriel’s Church in Clontarf, Dublin, while staying with my grandparents in Ireland. I had travelled from Australia with my friend Emily, and her father, Ciaràn, my father’s childhood friend. There, I discovered what I would come to call ‘the Virgin Mary section’. The stained-glass windows arching around the plaster of Paris statue painted eggshell blue framed the sea of tea light candles at her feet beautifully, and the image resonated with me in a way that has stayed with me ever since.

This first encounter with the Virgin Mary has to be understood in the context of wanting to recuperate my Irish father’s social and emotional displacement, which affectively shaped my life. In my mind, my dad’s displacement was also informed by his furious disavowal of the religion in which he was raised. This disavowal seemed symbolic of trying too hard to move away from Ireland. Or had the Church committed injustices against him, about which I will never know? Such questions will never be answered, but I suspect not, as on his deathbed my father asked for his last rites and to be taken back into the Church. In Six Days to Shake an Empire (1966) Charles Duff sketches the psyche of the distressed Irishman by saying that there is a particular kind of dark, angry man who is also ferociously divorced from his religion, and that turn of phrase rings true to me when thinking of my father. 

Regardless, there I was, an 8-year-old girl in my best dress, thinking that perhaps it was actually quite magic to be a girl. In fact, if I wore a blue-and-white dress with a veil, perhaps people would also light candles at my feet one day and make statues that looked like me. Indeed, as trips to the family farm in Charleville (Cork) taught me, women wearing the white dress with blue veil are displayed with candles even in totally destitute surroundings, near sickbeds, in dark corners, and in unruly gardens. In fact, most places that might need brightening are quite brought to life by a plaster of Paris woman, a set of tea lights, and some rosary beads – or a bottle of holy water, if the organising purpose behind the shrine is illness. 

Three doors down the road from my grandparents’ house in Dublin, my friend Emily’s father became very ill. She looked sad and pale. Everyone spoke in hushed tones. Feeling lonely without her to play with on the street, I asked if I could sit with her at her dad’s bedside. She took me through their red front door and as we went upstairs the air got heavy with smoke. When Emily opened the door to her dad’s room, thick incense smoke poured out. Her grandmother, a priest, and aunts stood around her father Ciarán’s bed, holding plastic Virgin Mary bottles filled with holy water, which was hopefully going to save his life. They prayed in Latin and shook water all over him. Clearly this Virgin Mary has many uses, I thought.

I returned to Australia, equipped with rosary beads chosen by Ma (my grandmother), determined to become a better Catholic. And, to be completely honest, this wasn’t because I thought Catholics were correct, or better than others; rather, it was because they were where I belonged, and where my family was from – and they were the people who gave women their own statue surrounded by tea lights. I hate to admit that the organising power of the plaster of Paris statue may actually have been top of my list of reasons. 

My father read children’s stories to me in Irish and I learnt a few turns of phrase. I was told about the injustices of the English from a young age, but more specifically, I witnessed some affective recounting of the issues played out between my mother’s English parents and my dad, which, as a grown woman, I have to say my father did nothing to appease. Suffice it to say, the emotional geography of my attachment to icons, sounds, smells and places was firmly established, and this mapped across complex feelings of diaspora, class and nation. I am, biologically, no more Irish than English. But I was raised Irish and not English and, by the age of 18, I had chosen my passport to match. My identification with Mary has never left me, although in what I would now characterise as the decolonial feminist consciousness of my late teens and early 20s, I developed a critical reading of the brightly lit shrines that had populated my childhood. In an aesthetic and symbolic reconfiguration of this attachment, I became increasingly interested in Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is not only non-white, but has clearly been through puberty, and in some representations has a natural moustache. She looks like she has not only given birth but also masturbates. At age 21, I decided to mark this attachment to Mary with a tattoo on my back (Figure 1.1). 

Caption: Figure 1.1: The author’s back with a tattoo of Mary.

There are much more complicated histories of domestic violence, alcoholism, abuse, and chronic illness that resulted in my father’s death, and which are woven through my experience of growing up. But these aspects only matter in so much as to say that I have a complicated, critical, yet enduring attachment to Catholicism. It is not ‘religious’ in the sense that I am not a practising Catholic, nor do I believe in the orthodox teachings of Catholicism, but I am attached to aspects of affective landscapes of Catholicism, which are partly constituted through “the unchosen complexities of religious experience” (Kitching 2020, 6). This attunement to religious culture in everyday life has remained with me, and I share these experiences in fieldwork. 

Subjective experience is a direct result of socialisation. Raymond Williams (1977) identified the imagined ‘distance’ placed between our feelings and society as a strategy of governance. It’s a way of suggesting to us that it’s not society’s fault that we feel depressed or unsatisfied. On the contrary, those bad feelings are our own fault for not being more-successful people – or so says society, anyway.  Feelings, in other words, are as much products of institutions, formations and positions as biographies – and, of course, they in turn shape biographies. The ‘Virgin Mary section’ of St Gabriel’s Church is very special to me, but it is also no different from any other Catholic church, all of which have their own version of a ‘Virgin Mary section’ featuring a statue, candles and other adornments signifying value. The economy of the Virgin Mary, and of her Muslim equivalent, Maryam, runs worldwide. 

This connection between religion, culture and everyday life is at the heart of my research. In my original Australian Research Council (ARC) grant application, I argued that counter-radicalisation initiatives are not working because they misrepresent the Islamic religion and are divisive, and that if the Australian Government actually wants to address concerns about religious intolerance and violence, it needs to change popular, inaccurate attachments between religion and radicalisation. More than this, popular media and mediatised discourses of religion need to be informed by everyday religious experiences. 

The strategy I put forward for this was to conduct arts workshops with children, exploring their attachments to religion, social values and ‘what really matters’, alongside focus groups and interviews with parents examining themes of identity, religion and belonging. These would be followed by a quantitative survey that established whether or not the qualitative data generated was reflective of broader community sentiments. This methodology has been refined in process, but the key components of the method were established in the initial bid and are the substance of my discussion in this book. 

The anecdote framing the development of the project title into Interfaith Childhoods is situated in a Dublin pub in 2016, where Aislinn O’Donnell – a good friend of mine and Professor of Education at Maynooth University – and I were having a drink after the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) graduate show. Aislinn recounted her position, building on her astute, published work (O’Donnell 2016) in which she problematises agendas such as the UK’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, which I discuss below. She argues that: “Prevent appears to imply that: (i) there are linear causal pathways of ‘radicalisation’ and clear observable indicators which can signal who is at ‘risk of radicalisation’; (ii) there is a clear causal relationship between the existence of extremist or even radical belief systems and terrorist or violent actions; and (iii) one can be ‘vulnerable’ to and indeed ‘infected’ by ideas.” (2016: 53-54). More than this, Prevent should not have anything to do with education. Indeed, it is antithetical to it. 

That night in the pub, I suggested Aislinn’s work showed we have to talk about the need to critically renegotiate governments’ investments in ideas of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘de-’ or ‘counter-radicalisation’. Aislinn responded by telling me, in absolute terms, that there was no way the phrase ‘counter-radicalisation’ could ever be used to good ends. I maintained that our perspectives would not shift the government’s investment, unless we acknowledged their existing investment and began critique from this point of acknowledgement. Aislinn maintained her refusal of the utility of such a strategy. From this point, I reconsidered the utility of a critical perspective on the radicalisation agenda. As my fieldwork and resulting publications show, I subsequently moved further and further away from any direct comment on this issue. Popular media and Prevent policy agendas still link religion to radicalisation and terrorism, in acts of public pedagogy that are enduringly problematic. 

As a response to this worrying cultural trend, the Interfaith Childhoods project was born when RMIT University committed to match the funding awarded by the ARC for my Future Fellowship. This joint funding supports the research team of 11 who work across my research sites in six cities. The methods I employ when working with children facilitate processes of making collaboratively together, as a way of exploring themes of belonging, attachment, value, and community. The conversations I have with children’s parents explore the same, or similar themes, but the parents can guide these. Transversal lines of connection between geographically disparate sites are striking to me, and in thinking through my work as transnational, multi-sited ethnography, circulating images, refrains, and attachments become clear.

In this chapter, I introduce core themes and research locations, while the following chapter explores my methodology and methods, unpacking arts-based research and multi-sited ethnography in detail. I will begin by introducing the themes of faith and symbolic communication, as seen through the eyes of Philomena:

There’s a saint everywhere, wherever you look. And … so I knew – I always knew I wanted a place like that in my own home. When we first moved in, I made it: the Muslim plaque is from a Turkish friend of mine. We used to live in a unit and she was our neighbour and even at the unit I always had a religious spot, so that was a gift from her and so I very proudly put that up on my wall. I didn’t even give it a second thought – it was, ‘Wow, what an amazing gift, I’m going to put it up with the cross,’ and I’ve had that cross since I was 14 years old. So … what else is up there? Oh, then there’s another plaque there, which I picked up, I remember which shop and everything and that meant a lot to me, so I put that up on the wall as well. And these ones here, I went searching for a picture and I ended up finding these …. which I loved and I got my husband to put the shelf up, no questions asked. He didn’t say, ‘No, that’s not Muslim’ or whatever, just – yeah, it’s just a given, just ‘I want this, put it up.’ (Philomena, Western Sydney, 2019)

Like Philomena’s wall of saints, symbols and memories, adults’ worlds are made up in complex ways of beliefs, images and experiences of living and dead people, icons, and places. Children’s worlds are also shaped by such images and memories, and by their visual imaginations. Flying soccer balls that are ice-cream factories inside, cars with wings, mobile recycling plants, streets that are  rivers: these are just some of the many inventions that children have offered up to me as examples of ‘what really matters to them’: their childhood version of Philomena’s special wall featuring a saint everywhere, wherever you look’.

I have designed this book as an accessible survey of the work in my Interfaith Childhoods project, in which I explore these lived experiences of faith and symbolic communication. Thinking about what these stories show us about ‘what matters’ in culture and in children’s worlds, I open a window into the communities with whom I work. In explaining my arts-based methods for community engagement and research, and examining how collectively-made knowledge has agency, I provide resources for those working with children and communities to examine complex social issues such as belonging, community cohesion, faith and attachment. I hope that this book will provide a set of resources for those who wish to work with art practice to explore similar themes in complex social circumstances, either as ‘research’ or as ‘community engagement’. In such increasingly divided times, work like this is needed now more than ever. 

The project began in 2016 with funding from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. This faculty grant supported an experimental pilot of my methods and ways of recording them, which formed the basis for the methods that feature in this book. This early work was undertaken at a community service provider in Western Sydney. This organisation became an ongoing partner in my empirical work, hosting three series of week-long workshops for children and follow-up focus groups and interviews with parents and carers. After receiving funding from the ARC and RMIT University, I was able to examine experiences of community, belonging, attachment, faith, belief and ‘what really matters’ in contexts as diverse as Manchester and London in the UK, and Western Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide in Australia. Each of these sites is geographically and culturally specific in ways that shape residents’ experiences of community and belonging. The methods I developed for working with children and communities were used consistently across all sites, with variations depending on available materials, environment and weather. At the time of writing, the project has 628 research participants. I have run 30 arts-based research workshops (each taking three to four days) in Australia and the UK, and I have undertaken 22 in-depth interviews with parents or carers and 24 focus groups. Artworks made in the project have been exhibited in four exhibitions to date, with more planned. Fieldwork is ongoing and these participation numbers are increasing. 

During my fieldwork, I tried to be as consistent as I could about the ways I invited children to make art, and the materials I gave them. I have developed a set of nine lesson plans for encouraging collaboration through making, which scaffold and build on children’s skills. These lesson plans are designed to be implemented in a sequential order and are discussed in my methods chapter. The lessons support debate and collaboration exploring values, beliefs, history and culture (Barker-Perez, Feinstein, and Robbi 2019) – the big stuff of life. After a round of failed papier-mâché and some pilot research questions that were too direct to elicit interesting or complex answers, I developed methods that have proven effective and enjoyable for children aged 5 to 12, and can also be modified to be used with different age groups. The artwork produced as a result of these collaborative making processes offers engaging windows into children’s experiential and imaginary worlds, and illustrates their values and experiences of daily life. Such windows into experiential and embodied worlds provide a unique base from which to build relationships with parents, carers and members of the community. Parents have usually met me through their children’s stories about their art-making before they actually meet me in person. 

Colonised contexts: Koorie country and British Christmas dinner/Coilíním

Colonial power either constitutes or haunts the contexts in which this research takes place. This book is written on the lands of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, lands that are unceded and rightfully owned by Koorie Aboriginal people. I am a newcomer to these lands, the first person in my family born in Australia. I was born on Kaurna land, and after moving across the world and back again, I now live on lands owned by Koorie people. I acknowledge the elders, past, present and emerging, of this community. The racist foundations on which contemporary Australia has been constructed, and on which it still operates, overlay the ethnographic work I have undertaken in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, and Adelaide. I write to the sound of crickets chirping through the dark blue light that is settling in after the sun has set. Indigenous activist Professor Marcia Langton explains the Aboriginal Australian world as having a very different space-time from white worlds: 

The idea of ‘Old People’ corresponds to the perception of the stars as being representations of the past. The Old People are encountered in the landscape, just as we see stars when we gaze at the night sky. We know that stars are what can still be seen now of some cataclysmic event in the universe many thousands of light years ago. That is, the light of the explosion emanating through time and visible to our eyes in the present. Likewise, Aboriginal people perceive the spiritual presence of Elders in the landscape as what has emanated through time since the ancestor died. (Langton 2018, 205) 

Time-space matter is configured in particular ways in Aboriginal Australia, and arguably all places have unique space-time assemblages. The role of the white anti-racist ally in such spaces is complex and often irreconcilable with the views of the white majority. This was one of the first lessons I learnt when studying social anthropology.

A difficult lesson: Part one 

In 1997 I was living on Kaurna land, studying social anthropology and performing arts at the University of Adelaide. Through some of my social anthropology courses I was learning about Tarntanya (red kangaroo place) and Karrawirra Pari (red gum forest river). I would ride my bike to the city early every morning for yoga and stay back late for dance rehearsals. My white North American anthropology lecturer used to spit all over me, the nerd, sitting in the front row. His overuse of the phrase ‘rituals of Balinese cock fighting’ spattered little American man droplets all over me. I had five waitressing jobs, two cleaning jobs and a cash envelope for each major life expense (rent, electrics, food), which I kept under my mattress. 

1997 was the year I started thinking in earnest about the complicated ways that men and patriarchal knowledge systems can tell women that their knowledge does not matter via means that are so persuasive that the rest of the world believes them. I already knew this, and lived in the shadow of this truth. The Ngarrindjeri women of the Coorong had to experience this fact as a vehicle for racism, on a global stage. They had to sacrifice Kumarangk, their fertility lands, because material histories and embodied knowledges can be maligned with words. White ‘land-owners’ and aspiring property developers convinced the white government to give them money to build a bridge out to an island that had been renamed after a white man. The sacred women’s place of Kumarangk was re-named ‘Hindmarsh Island’. 

Kumarangk sits at the mouth of the Murray River, facing the Great Australian Bight and with its back to the tiny coastal town of Goolwa, one hour south of Adelaide. A significant area around the island and the Murray estuary was designated as a protected wetland site in 1985. When a plan to build a $6 million bridge linking Goolwa with Kumarangk arose in the 1990s, Ngarrindjeri women complained about the desecration that would be caused to their sacred site. The land matter held stories that were part of who they were, knowledges that were embodied and inherited and enmeshed with place.

The developers complained. The white people knew nothing about this secret site. The white men had never heard of the secret women’s business. There were at least twelve separate aspects to the claim of ‘secret women’s business’ identified during the course of the resulting Royal Commission into the Hindmarsh Island Bridge. This knowledge was ancient and passed only to a small number of properly initiated women, hence the ignorance of prior anthropologists to the myth. The island is a fertility site, as its shape and that of the surrounding wetlands resembles the female reproductive system. The Ngarrindjeri name for the island, Kumarangk, is similar to the word for pregnancy, or woman. The island had to remain separate from the mainland because it would be disastrous if two separate bodily organs were connected together when they were not supposed to be. The proposed bridge would interfere with the ‘meeting of the waters’, the mixing of salt and fresh water in the Goolwa estuary, which is the source of Ngarrindjeri fertility. The waters of the Goolwa channel need uninterrupted views of the sky, particularly the Seven Sisters constellation, which is part of a number of Dreaming stories. Archaeological evidence also suggests that the site was used for ritual burials (Langton 1996). 

The Hindmarsh Island Bridge Act of 1997 expressly removed the Hindmarsh Island area from the purview of the Racial Discrimination Act. Racial discrimination had been outlawed by the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, but in 1997Kumarangk and the area surrounding it were exempted from this law (Langton 2010). I watched this racist debate about the impossibility of material knowledges happen across the local newspapers and the conversations between white anthropologists (see Bell 1998). It was a giant and crippling version of the racist and sexist ‘knowledge politics’ we have to live every day. The Hindmarsh Island Bridge Act of 1997 exemplifies one of the biggest lessons I learnt while at university, a lesson that still shapes the ways academic institutions operate: White, patriarchal knowledge systems do not have the capacity to respect embodied and material knowledge, particularly women’s knowledge and knowledges from non-white cultures. At the time, newspapers and white men made jokes about ‘secret women’s business’. At times, they still do. 

 In 2019, I was running a multi-sited ethnography across 6 cities and 2 countries. My head was mainly full of other people’s stories, feelings, and expressions. Any spare space was full of logistics: what needed to be brought where and when. I was collecting community stories told through art. When I came home from communities, I would go to bed and lie there, trying to quieten my mind and remember myself. Sometimes, if I was going away again soon, I would not unpack my bags until the next trip. They were ready to go. I wanted to use embodied knowledge – memories, feelings, movement patterns, associations we make when watching bodies move – as a key knowledge source and a way of understanding orientations to faith. Two white academics wrote to me and told me I was racist. They were the only white Australians allowed to talk to Muslims because they belonged to the Critical Race Studies group and I did not. A Muslim woman academic wrote to me and told me I was racist because I was not Muslim. I am quite good friends with many of the Muslim women in my research. From all my participants, the overwhelming majority of which are not white, no one asked to withdraw, no one disputed my account of events or even vaguely insinuated I am racist. Muslim mothers brought me food and stayed to chat. We all wanted to get to know each other and got along. Some Muslim women spoke to our national broadcaster with me and we had a feature published on their experiences of racism (Hanifie 2019). I am warmly welcomed back into the communities with whom I have worked since 2016. And I am not a race scholar; I am an arts-based anthropologist who thinks critically. But that does not make me racist. My whiteness does not mean I cannot hear. It means I am the site for other people’s anger, and an ally who first and foremost works in and with diverse communities.

*

Long histories in both Australia and Britain of colonial trauma, multi-religious relationships and multicultural[1], superdiverse[2] success and failure inform the contexts in which my fieldwork takes place. Both Australia and Britain are colonial places. Australia is a constitutional monarchy built on colonialism and Britain is composed of the spoils of colonial bloodshed: Scotland, Wales and Ireland were independent countries before England attacked and invaded them. The colonial histories of both places frame my research, as well as bringing with them the continuation of a need for longstanding redress of issues surrounding imperialist cultural norms and the normalisation of white power. These cultural and political aspects of local research sites and countries are difficult to change, as while on one level they are constitutional, legal, institutionalised and normalised, on other levels they are unconscious and affective, articulated through pleasure, desire, taste and style. Here is another example of the affective and often unconscious normalisation of white privilege, this time from Britain.

A difficult lesson: Part two

Ersheen and Rafi didn’t have long; their son needed to be picked up from childcare before their daughter’s school day was up. South East London traffic is impossible after half-three, anyway. Rafi was hoping to get back out in the cab before prayer time at the mosque, too. Why did ASDA keep moving the halal meats section? It used to be here. They complained to each other as they scoured the long refrigerator. 

Ersheen moved to avoid a man with a shaved head wearing a black duffle coat. He mirrored her body, moving back in front of her. “Whatcha wearing that for?” He spat, gesturing angrily up and down her niqāb. Ersheen couldn’t understand his hastily blurted words, but she could see he was angry and his body language made his point for him. She asked Rafi to explain for her, which Rafi did, despite his anxiety about time. 

“A niqāb helps women dress modestly,” Rafi explained, continuing: “Face veiling is not a requirement of Islam; however, if women choose to, they can cover their faces in public.” 

“Well, yer not in Iraq anymore, are ya? Dress like a Londoner!” the white man spat back. Rafi thought about mentioning that they were from Bangladesh, as he put his arm around Ersheen and ushered her past the angry white man, further along the aisle. “Let’s go?” he asked her, heading for the checkout. They could make do with the provisions in the house for dinner tonight, and tomorrow was a new day.

*

Six months later, Ersheen was sitting with me in her daughter’s school, taking part in a focus group I ran in South East London in 2019. The group consisted of parents of the children I had worked with making collaborative art for three years. I had met most of the parents numerous times, but not all of them. There were 10 parents, two researchers and an interpreter in the room and we were discussing racism, because one of the questions I ask in focus groups is whether parents have experienced any racism or religious prejudice. Most parents said they had not experienced racism or prejudice, except Ersheen. Wearing her niqāb and speaking through an interpreter, she told us the story related above, of how she was shopping with her husband in ASDA in South East London when a white man confronted her, asking her why she was wearing the niqāb. She had asked her husband to respond, partly because she felt her spoken English wasn’t good enough, but also because she was scared of the stranger. His anger came out of nowhere. He pointed his finger at her, waving his hand angrily. Ersheen brought up this attack in response to my question regarding racism and prejudice. Before I could respond, Sarah, a white working-class mother, who was sitting in between two white mothers – the only white parents in the group – chimed in, “But that’s not assault, is it? You can’t say that’s assault, can you?”. Up to this point, no one had mentioned assault. I couldn’t understand where that came from. The broader conversation that came before this exchange was as follows:

Sarah: Religion’s always existed …. But people have always got along. I think with events around the world, some people ask questions like, ‘What’s going on? Why do people behave like this?’ And some people – intelligent people – they look into it and look for answers, rather than just go with the trend and not fully understand what’s happening around the world. But people have always got along and have been accepted. We look different, we dress different, but we all get along.

Anna [researcher]: … Was it Amara’s dad … who was saying there’s no such thing as racism here? That racism is dead? And I was just thinking if he went to Australia, maybe he’d think differently about that? I guess I’d like to ask you whether you think racism is really dead or do you still experience forms of prejudice? 

Sarah: I think it’s how you interpret it. I think it’s in the way people feel threatened or attacked. I mean, you’ll probably get people that might look at you differently or probably choose not to talk to you or probably just come and ask you a question. 

Ersheen: [Speaks in Urdu]           

Interpreter: She was saying because there’s quite a large Bengali community everyone gets along. So it’s not a small number. It’s a large number, so everyone kind of integrates and gets on –

Madge: And all the children as well play together as well. They’re not bothered.

Anna: That’s amazing. And there’s no prejudice around?

Ersheen: [Speaks in Urdu]

Interpreter: She is saying she had one experience of prejudice.

Anna: Really? What happened?

Interpreter: A man in ASDA was questioning her, ‘Why do you wear this? Why’d you come here?’

Sarah: That’s not really an assault though is it? 

Madge: He asked her why she wore it. Yeah. That’s not an assault. 

(Focus group, South East London 2019).

The conversation did not begin with assault; it began by discussing prejudice. As our discussion continued, I interjected, explaining that it wouldn’t seem right if people in ASDA were questioning me for wearing an ‘I love New York’ t-shirt – I suggested we would all be thinking ‘I can wear what I like!’ Sarah, the white mother who seemed to be suggesting that religious prejudice was only problematic if it was expressed as assault, went bright red after speaking, perhaps experiencing shame, or anger, or embarrassment. She said little else.

Earlier in the focus group, she had been clear how proud she was of her child, and all the children at the school, for “getting along with everyone”, explaining how kids “these days” all learn to accept and get along with each other. Her identification of generational difference also made it clear that this group of accepting children were schooled in new ways, and were different from her generation. 

 After the discussion of racism and prejudice,  I asked the group whether there was a certain meal, place, smell or object that expressed their place belonging and identity. Sarah said that, for her, this is a British Christmas roast dinner. For me, the affective and symbolic communication here is really important. Sarah, blushing, suggested she felt regret or confusion about her assertion that “it’s not really assault, is it?”. The traditional British roast Christmas dinner seemed to symbolise the bounty of the Empire, as well as the popular celebration of the Christian religion. Interestingly, during this discussion, Ersheen, the mother who was confronted in ASDA about wearing the niqāb, made a point of raising, explaining, and discussing the relationships between Mary (the Christian Mother of God) and Maryam (the Arabic name for the sister of Moses). The birth of Maryam is narrated in the Qur’an. Maryam’s father is Imran, the equivalent of Joachim, who is Mary’s father in some apocryphal Christian writings. Her mother is Hannah, the equivalent of Christianity’s Saint Anne, who is sometimes referred to as Joachim’s wife and Mary’s mother. This discussion of closeness between Islam and Christianity was unprompted and was clearly a means of showing the relationships not only between the Christian and Muslim religions, but also the people who are associated with, or believe in, these religions. This short excerpt gives some insight into Ersheen’s thinking:

Interpreter for Ersheen: …We believe that Mary is Maryam. Through her we learned to cover ourselves, dress modestly. So she said, ‘We think it’s quite important.’ So we take that. It’s like Christianity thought ‘we will believe in that’. Then Islam came in. So we know we follow the religion that came before… we’ve taken our religion, our religion came in, so we follow it. Veiling is not just something Islam just invented. We’ve taken on things from Christianity. (Focus group, South East London, 2019)

This exchange between mothers is hard for me to understand. At first, I thought it was an expression of Sarah’s racism, but then I wondered if she was actually trying to smooth over a difficult situation. I saw Ersheen make an obvious attempt to appease the perpetrator of racism in her response that linked Christianity and Islam. I was taken aback by the overt nature of the racist comment, “That’s not really assault, though, is it?”, and noted that this comment ‘spilt’ out of Sarah, seemingly involuntarily. She appeared to have no way of holding it inside or thinking critically about the sentiments she was expressing. It was a raw feeling. 

While I tried to create space for further exchange, I wasn’t convinced that Sarah, the mum who felt that British Christmas lunch symbolised home and belonging had understood, or even heard, the discussion about Mary and Marayam and the similarities between Christianity and Islam. The implied suggestion that ‘putting up’ with racism in ASDA should be somehow ‘okay’ stuck with me, very uncomfortably. Ersheen, the Muslim mother, was clearly not implying that Sarah, the white British mother, should put up with anything. One of the questions arising from this exchange for me was: can I do anything to change this involuntary response to cultural difference? I also wondered if this response came from fear of difference, rather than curiosity. I tried to organise a follow-up interview with Sarah, but she declined. Moments such as these are scattered throughout the years between 2016 and 2020, years I spent living in places away from home, making art with kids and talking to their parents about ‘what really matters’. There are some patterns and stories that emerge, but also many loose ends, like the above exchange, which I was never fully able to resolve. 

In an attempt to redress the cultural normalisation of white power that leads to exchanges such as those explained above, and the fact that I am a white woman writing on Koorie lands, I draw inspiration from the political orientations of decolonial theorists who work towards a “‘programmatic’ of de-linking from contemporary legacies of coloniality” (Mignolo 2007, 452). Many of the participants and collaborators in my research are living in Australia or England because they needed to escape war and have been, or are in the process of being, granted refuge from Syria, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, West Papua and many other countries. Most Australian refugee participants came via refugee detention centres, having travelled to Australia by boat. To quote one Melbourne father, he arrived from Christmas Island with no more than “the shirt on my back” (“and now I have two cars”, he rejoiced). Others in the UK have been granted citizenship or temporary residence for similar reasons. A father in Manchester told me emphatically: “England is a safer place to be a Muslim than any Muslim country” (Hulme focus group, 2019). The same sentiment was expressed by members of the Islamic community in focus groups in Adelaide and Canberra. The causes of the wars from which these people have fled are complex assemblages of politics, capitalism, religion and empire. They can’t be equated simply with European and British colonisation, although in most instances, the broader context of colonisation has led to the stigmatisation of cultural and religious practices that are not historically British. Even in light of this, there are a lot of fulfilled religious people in my study, living safe and engaging lives. 

I read a book recently called It’s Not About the Burqa, a collection of essays edited by Mariam Khan (2020). Some of the stories in this book are amazing: Yassmin Midhad Abdel-Magied, an Australian-Sudanese woman, tells of her experience working on oil fields and combatting sexism and racism, and Jamilla Hekmoun offers an incredibly moving account of struggles with mental health in Muslim culture. Yet some other contributions are angry manifestos about the ‘awful plight of the Muslim women’ in fashion, feminism, and various other contexts that are shaped by class privilege. While clearly anger and outrage are key resources for these young women, I was left thinking about the hundreds of Muslim mums in my study, many of whom have lived through extremely traumatising experiences but are, for the most part, often genuinely happy, despite the huge complexities of forced migration, religion and racism. I want to tell their stories of everyday lives, lives that are complex, and include sadness, but are liveable and happy enough. This is not to downplay serious issues, but to suggest we need to celebrate everyday, ‘ordinary’ success stories in all their diversity more than texts like It’s Not About the Burqa (Khan 2020) might suggest. 

I also believe that the broader multicultural histories of colonised countries need to be taught and appreciated, rather than the versions of history so often institutionalised in curricula. In Australia, history typically begins with white settlement, and in the UK, history places the British Empire on a pedestal in ways that fail to recognise the damage caused by colonisation. One example of Australia’s multicultural history that could feature more prominently in the school curriculum is the fact that Turkish Muslims traded peacefully with Indigenous Australian people prior to British colonisation (Ganter 2012; Hersi 2018). There is also significant evidence of the role that Muslim camel traders (Jones and Kenny 2010) played in supporting expeditions such as Burke and Wills’s journey across inland Australia. Townships such as Alice Springs in Central Australia and the city of Darwin feature identifiably Muslim place names, particularly street names, which testify to the role that Muslim community members played in building these places. Despite this, and other, longstanding histories, practices of othering and the negative portrayal of Muslims have a long history in Australia (Aly 2007; Brasted 2001) and also in the UK. These practices of othering are deeply seated in historical colonial beliefs and continually represent Muslims in a negative light (Aly 2007; Noble 2008; Said 1979). Australia’s history of racial discrimination, beginning with white settlement in the eighteenth century and the introduction of the White Australia Policy in 1901, was formed on the basis of racist ideologies privileging ‘whiteness’. Australia’s shift to multicultural social policies in the 1970s made space for the appreciation and recognition of diversity and difference, particularly for non-white migrants. However, social relations in both contemporary multicultural Australia and Britain continue to be informed by legacies of colonialism, in which race and racism are used as organising systems that re-inscribe white racial privilege (Hage 2003; 2005; Noble 2005). An example of this in Australia is Senator Pauline Hanson’s racist ridicule of the burqa on the floor of Parliament, and it can also be seen in contemporary Britain’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy.

Pauline Hanson provides the foremost example of using white privilege in an attempt to inform Australian policy. Hanson is an Australian politician who rose to infamy with her notably xenophobic and nationalist campaign for the Australian Liberal party in the 1996 federal election. Despite being disendorsed by the party shortly before the election, she won and became a Member of Parliament first as an independent and then as a member of the One Nation party, which she founded in 1997. After losing her seat in the 1998 election, Hanson was elected to the Senate as the leader of One Nation in 2016. One Nation is a right-wing populist party, with strong white nationalist platforms formed against Aboriginal Australians and in response to the ‘invasion’ of immigrants in Australia and the ‘threat’ they pose to ‘white Australia’. These views came to a head in 2017, when Hanson, who is not a Muslim, wore a burqa to a session of the Senate, claiming it “oppresses women” and calling for its ban in public places in Australia. 

Echoing similar sentiments, Prevent is one of four streams that comprise the UK’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which was introduced in 2015. It is aimed at identifying and stopping individuals and groups who might be “drawn into terrorism” (UK Home Office 2015). Along with providing police with increased powers to restrict movement and behaviour, the Prevent strand of the Act is notable in that it anticipates individuals and groups who are likely to be “drawn” into terrorism, rather than punishing them after they have actually committed a terrorist act. Prevent has been criticised for encouraging the formulation of ‘suspect communities’, which are often characterised as existing around particular ideologies, religions (usually Islam), and races (usually non-white) (Qurashi 2016). It has been criticised for inciting Islamophobia, restricting the freedoms of British citizens, and stigmatising and alienating Muslims in the UK (Awan 2012; Heath-Kelly 2013; Sian 2017). Similarly, Pauline Hanson could easily be compared to UK nationalist politician Nigel Farage, as both Brexit and the Prevent agenda reflect the fact that there are echoes of a more recent kind of historical displacement haunting Britain, performed in Sarah’s assertion that “that’s not assault though, is it?” and, more broadly, through the Brexit vote. 

Feelings of uselessness lead to frustration. My nan’s family owned an English sweet shop in Stanmore, London. It was passed through the family for generations. But when it came time for my uncle to retire, his sons wanted nothing to do with the shop: boiled sweets had long been replaced by Haribos and corner stores were all Indian businesses. An Indian family bought the shop and transformed it from the neat rows of sweets in jars into a sell-all corner store overflowing with items ranging from hardware to cigarettes. My uncle and aunt didn’t know how to explain their sadness about this in words. They felt like generations of meaning had lost their place in the world and no one cared. Their own icons, the coloured boiled sweets in jars, had been replaced by others: baskets of plantain and stockings on special. Their children didn’t see anything wrong with that – it is the new way – so they tried to make the best of it. Not long after, my uncle had a fall while riding and passed away, and Aunt Madge moved to a nursing home in Plymouth to be nearer her son. She voted for Brexit. She voted for Brexit because there is not enough space created in England (or Australia for that matter) to bring together value systems of old and new worlds. Those boiled sweets in glass jars symbolised family, inheritance and belonging for my uncle and aunt. It is still a great sadness to my aunt that generations of meaning lost their place, that World War II – the war to keep England safe, in which so many of her friends had died – was for an England that does not exist anymore. In political terms, I could respond by telling Madge that England was built on wealth stolen from others and it was always already overextended, built on slavery and exploitation, a cruel enterprise deserving of its fall. This truth has, however, been proffered by younger generations and left-wing news outlets for years, and what it completely ignores is the great feeling of sadness. Aunt Madge’s special icons have lost their meaning; indeed, they have altogether gone, and no one cares. This is not just about Aunt Madge; it is also Sarah, the mother from South East London, and most of the Brexit ‘leave’ vote, who have been told for years that their feelings don’t matter. Systems of attachment, old and new, can’t simply be discarded or replaced.  Somewhere in the middle of the cultural mixtures that make up contemporary everyday life, we need to make more space for valuing old and new systems of meaning and bringing them together.

Black panics/Dubh scaioll

In my 2013 book, Youth, Arts and Education, I characterise the ‘black panics’ about Aboriginal youth and Sudanese refugee boys that were sweeping across the Australian media. These panics continue to this day in relatively unchanged forms. Drawing on Cohen’s (1972) classic theory of media moral panics and the production of projected and internalised deviancy, I argued that: “Media moral panics suggest  Aboriginal and Sudanese people living in Australia are a disadvantage: they are a threat to peaceful forms of social cohesion and do not have value.” (Hickey-Moody 2013, 52) Similar arguments can be made in relation to Muslim and, to a lesser extent, Hindu communities in Australia and the UK. 

During fieldwork between 2016 and 2019, experiences of racism were clearly articulated by many research participants, although, strikingly, this was the case more than twice as often in Australia as in England. Communities in Australia and Britain both live with the wounds of colonial power and the ghosts of empire; institutionalised and lived continuations of empire constitute social and cultural contexts in enduringly problematic ways. In Australia, discourses of Islamophobia and racism have become part of everyday life in many places. In both Australia and Britain, civilians are repeatedly reminded to beware of potential terrorists, or of bombs ‘disguised’ as unattended baggage on public transport. Public announcements repeatedly remind commuters to look out for “anything suspicious” and to report such unspecified suspiciousness immediately. Everything from a forgotten bag of shopping, to a religious woman in a burqa reading a book, and an imagined vast terrain of inanimate objects in between, may put one’s life at risk. Quite an anxiety-inducing proposition indeed. 

In 2016, in the Australian Parliament – whose proceedings are screened on national television – far-right senator Pauline Hanson warned white Australians that they were at ‘risk’ of being ‘taken over’ by Muslims. In 2010, just a few years before this declaration of a plague of ‘Muslim people’, Hanson told the Australian public they were at risk of being swamped by Asian people. The linking concern here is contagion: fear of bodies that are not white and therefore represent an imagined threat. Human rights are violated daily in Australian offshore detention centres, sending a message to asylum seekers to ‘stay out’ of Australia (Human Rights Law Centre 2015). Media discourses of Islamophobia and racism are accompanied by more institutionalised strategies for governance. Even proposals for ostensibly progressive policy, such as the document produced by the Counter-Terrorism Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think-tank, ‘Strategy: 18 Years and Counting’ (Kfir 2019), can be seen as legitimising punitive forms of governance and feeding the culture of fear and xenophobia accepted as part of Australian public culture. However, the policy recommendation in the ASPI report does specifically note that there should be a move away from discussions of ‘radicalisation’, stating:

It’s important to move away from the castigation of Salafi-jihadism as a radical ideology and focus on it as an extremist ideology that wants to overthrow the established order through non-democratic means—violence. The need for the distinction stems from the basic fact that ‘radicalism’ is a relative concept and that, historically, being a radical wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many early radicals fought for positive social, political and economic change. (Kfir 2019, 20)

The broad frame of radicalisation might be thought of as reinforcing the stereotypical construction of radical Islam I have so fervently argued against (Hickey-Moody 2017). A comparable form of institutionalised racism can be found in the fact that the British Government spends forty million pounds every year on the Prevent strategy. This is one strand of the UK government’s counter-terrorism policy, which has four strands – designed to Pursue, Protect, Prepare, and Prevent terrorism (UK Home Office 2015). This is a very particular way of trying to bridge different cultural beliefs, and one that has been rightly criticised based on racial profiling (Awan 2012; Heath-Kelly 2013; Sian 2017). Nonetheless, this substantial financial investment made by the British Government illustrates the urgency with which these issues need to be attended.

Aislinn O’Donnell (2016; 2018) has written thought-provoking work on the educational implications of the Preventagenda in the UK. Her analysis focuses on what she characterises as the associated deployments of epidemiological logics of contagion, infection, risk and bodily threat. O’Donnell rightly contends that such narrow social imaginaries, and the prohibitions that they legitimise, shape and limit forms of community engagement. This needs to change, because a community in which young people from different cultural backgrounds thrive together cannot be founded on xenophobia. O’Donnell shows the concept of ‘radicalisation’, which is mobilised as a rationale for Prevent, is inherently problematic. There remains an enduring lack of clarity concerning what exactly ‘radicalisation’ is, and numerous methodological problems associated with ideas of how people might become radical. Rhetorics of Islamophobia, fears of cultural contagion, and xenophobia remain the dominant discourses through which the politicisation of refugees and asylum seekers is justified. 

Broadly speaking, the social and cultural contexts in which my research takes place are united by complex, postcolonial circumstances and policy agendas that are racist strategies used to transmit cultural fear. These historical, socio-cultural and policy contexts are the ‘big picture’ within which my research sites are located, but each site has a distinct demographic, atmosphere and sense of identity.

Places/Áiteanna 

Western Sydney 

My trousers would always stick to the train seat on the ride out west. Wollongong (my home when I started this work in 2016) to Auburn (where I was researching) is a brutal two-and-a-half hour commute by train. My first site for the project was Auburn, in Western Sydney, New South Wales. Finally escaping the train, I would buy coffee at a hole-in-the-wall cafe and walk along the side of the station, taking in the wall-length mural featuring faces of people from different backgrounds and symbols of hope. I’d stop and look at the fruit-and-veggie shops, wondering whether I would ever be inspired enough to cook again, and once I bought a mezze plate so big I couldn’t fit it all in. I really like Auburn. It has a feeling like you can be whoever you want and no one cares, and a multicultural demographic and atmosphere, with streetscapes peppered with Lebanese, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Greek grocery shops, cafes, eateries, various types of doctors, and fortune tellers. Auburn is well-known in Sydney as a multicultural area[3]. My research sites in Auburn were a settlement services association and a mosque. The settlement services association became a significant and enduring research site for the project. The service provider in Auburn and the mosque invited their communities to be involved in my research. Auburn was always hot, busy, and had a life of its own that carried me away. I was always exhausted, as there were huge numbers of children and families. Parents brought me food, and I made friends with some English-speaking families and became acquainted with those who didn’t speak English. I had the most delicious Lebanese lunches and planned the details of workshops on train station platforms, while my ‘car next door’ rent-a-car was stuck in traffic, or while enjoying a respite from the heat on the Bankstown-line train. Chinese medicine clinics, migrant support centres, churches, halal cafes, and money lenders are offset by the silhouette of the gorgeous Turkish mosque. It is a place where all kinds of people are making a life for themselves in all kinds of ways, which is freeing and interesting. I ran three two-and-a-half-day workshops, three focus groups and numerous follow up interviews in a range of locations across the suburb over the two-and-a-half years of the project. It was enlivening, exhausting, rewarding and eye-opening to be welcomed into such a complex community.

Manchester

Yellow ‘magic’ buses with free wifi and cartoon wizards painted on them, colourful corner shops selling everything from twine to tahini to halal meat, long walks along Chorlton Brook, and multiple visits to art supply shops in Arndale: my second research location was Manchester. There were three research sites there: Levenshulme, Hulme and Moss Side. In terms of community life and liveability, Manchester is an interesting, engaging and very human place to undertake ethnography. The local shop owners in Levenshulme, where I was staying, got to know me; my colleagues at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) listened eagerly to stories from the field on days when I felt like my head was exploding; and I felt grounded within the community. Levenshulme is the most gentrified area of Manchester I worked in. A former working-class neighbourhood, ‘Levvie’ is rapidly developing a large middle-class resident base[4]. Levenshulme is economically much more well-to-do than some of my other research sites, including the neighbouring Manchester site of Moss Side. My research sites in Levenshulme were in Alma Park: a primary school, and a ‘kids’ club’ daycare facility. I recruited children and their families through these sites.

Not far from Levenshulme, but noticeably bleaker, Moss Side has a reputation for its history of gang violence, which came about in the 1980s as a result of a large council investment in social housing in the 1970s. A lack of accompanying education, training and development opportunities led to a lot of people with no money and little to do. Moss Side is much less dangerous now than it was in the 80s, but it is still economically deprived and, broadly speaking, is quite a desolate place in which to work and live[5]. My research site in Moss Side was a local primary school. The school was notably different from the other research sites in terms of its very strict attitude to discipline and an associated broader atmosphere of anxiety. The data from this school is quite different from the data from other sites, which are clearly connected thematically. Consequently, my work in this school is not a focus of the analysis in this book, but it does form the subject of my ongoing analysis elsewhere. 

My third research location in Manchester was Claremont, an especially fabulous primary school in Hulme[6]. The school is completely decorated with children’s artwork. Floor to ceiling, the walls of the school corridors are covered in children’s artwork telling stories from British history (the War of the Roses, the Great Fire of London) and the narratives of famous plays (Hamlet, Macbeth). Soon after my first visit, the brightly coloured canvases that the children had made in my workshop took pride of place on the walls of the upper-primary reading room. The school has well-kept grounds and a genuinely inclusive culture. As these statistical profiles make clear, the communities in which I worked in Manchester are majority-white communities that are very multicultural. Despite this fact, my research participants in Manchester were not mainly white; rather, they were largely migrant families and not native English speakers. They came from Somalia, Pakistan (often via Italy), Nigeria, Kenya, Syria, Yemen, China, and there was also one white Canadian and one English-born white mother who took part in the work. The other research comparison site in England was London, and two primary schools formed the location of my research in South East London. 

London

Grey streets with blue skies. Street markets that sell vegetables by the bucketload alongside ladies’ underwear; the gentle sway of the light rail ambling over the river. My fieldwork in London was undertaken in South East London, not that far from areas where I had lived and worked previously. I have a familiar feeling for that part of the city and the kinds of communities that constitute it. My research sites were primary schools in Charlton and Isle of Dogs. The Cherry Orchard Primary School where I worked in Charlton shares the name of the neighbouring housing estate. The families whose children attend primary school are mainly the white working-class residents of the housing estate, who in most instances have lived on the housing estate for a couple of generations. Gentrification has marked all parts of London, and although Charlton[7] has a working-class history, and the estate and school in which my work was located are very clearly working-class, the broader area is gentrifying. 

Isle of Dogs is in the Tower Hamlets borough. Tower Hamlets is renowned for being one of the most multicultural areas of London. Some of the local wards in Tower Hamlets include: Blackwall/Cubitt Town, Millward, Limehouse, Stepney, Old Ford, Poplar, Bromley-by-Bow, Bethnal Green and St George in the East. It is a huge borough and it includes the shiny silver business district of Canary Wharf, as well as the residential areas named above. Within this broad and famously ‘multicultural’ borough profile, Harbinger School, where I undertook ethnography for three years, is part of the Millwall Ward in the Isle of Dogs[8]. Both London sites showed signs of gentrification and poverty mixed together. The next place in which I began my three-year program of research was Adelaide, South Australia.

Adelaide

I grew up in Adelaide. For six years, between the ages of 16 and 22, I waited until my chronically ill father died, so that I felt able to leave. Adelaide is a small ‘city’ of 1.306 million, and it operates at half the speed of most urban centres. Its highlights for young people include two shining mirror balls in the central shopping area, Rundle Mall, popularly known as ‘The Mall’s Balls’ and a green water fountain in the middle of the same shopping strip. 

Our past is a place that lives on in all of us. I try to avoid Adelaide as much as I can. It reminds me of a childhood shattered by violence, disability, and conflict, and it is a place that moves so slowly one feels that escape is impossible. My high-school teachers were pathetically surprised when I was accepted into my first degree of choice, and sitting in classes at the University of Adelaide I remember looking at my female peers and wondering to myself, “ Are you just filling in time until you get married and have kids?”. At the age of 19, I knew these were not my goals, but exactly how I was going to get out of Adelaide was not clear. I thought that maybe I would suffocate with grief and never escape. Whenever I go back there, I think maybe I still will.  

Most of my research sites were chosen because they have a notably diverse population. This is only the case for one of the two research sites in Adelaide: the mosque I worked with there. The first site I discuss here is a church that approached me. After hearing about my research, they invited me to come and work in their community. Though I was aware that their population was more consistently white than my other fieldwork sites, their views towards faith and religion added great complexity to the research. My experience with churches in Western Sydney was very difficult. All the churches I approached refused to be involved, and I was left crying in a hot street by a church administrator who told me I was “going to hell” because I believed all people are equal. I had coffee with a pastor who asked about the ‘gay and lesbian radicalisation’ of children being undertaken in contemporary culture and, for that matter, was I able to fix this? I encountered suspicion layered upon suspicion. The Sydney mosque in which I worked welcomed me with open arms, as did the multiple mosques I visited on ethnographic field trips to Manchester (15 in total and more shared meals than I care to count. I remember the imam at Manchester Central Mosque chasing after me with a bag filled with rice and curries for my dinner), yet churches proved a completely different story. I not only hit a series of brick walls when trying to approach Anglican churches in Sydney, I found the brick walls attacked me like animate objects. Consequently, I felt that I could not refuse the offer of coming to work with a church in Adelaide, even if I risked accidentally drowning in a sea of grief with each return visit. The open and reflexive nature of this church community is most likely due to its liberal nature, which is embedded in its constitution; the many church stories that run throughout this book are from this really wonderful community. 

My second fieldwork site in Adelaide was a mosque and, in the third round of workshops, the church and mosque came together and the communities collaborated across a week of art-marking. The church that invited me is in Norwood, Adelaide[9]. The church members with whom I worked are broadly friendly and welcoming people, and their church has a lovely outdoor garden and a well-equipped children’s Sunday School room. The second Adelaide suburb I worked in is not that much more ethnically diverse but is of lower standing in socioeconomic terms[10]. The mosque where I worked is a huge hub for the Islamic community in Adelaide, with fantastic facilities and a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The mosque congregation is very multicultural, far more than the demographic of the area suggests, and the imam delivers all services in Urdu. Though the Adelaide fieldwork sites are arguably less diverse than most of the other communities with which I work, by bringing the church group together with the mosque community, a rich and diverse community backdrop formed that allowed for imagining the possibilities of how to create future cross-cultural collaboration through art. 

Melbourne

As an academic based in Melbourne, my fieldwork sites here are ongoing. The first of these is in Noble Park[11]. Driving through the sprawling suburb, houses look similar, like new builds sold off the plan that just appear out of nowhere. The local shops remind me of growing up in the suburbs of Adelaide. Things feel far away from Melbourne’s city centre here, with large house lots and little to do within walking distance of the school. I wonder what the young people do for fun. I sip my coffee on a crisp August morning and get ready to meet the children. It’s cold in the community room, so I turn up the heating and roll out the making tables. 

My fieldwork site in Noble Park[12] is an accelerated arts-based learning program for artistically talented children, but is also known as a skills and mentoring training session for children that may need support outside the classroom for working on their creative talents. The program recruits from different local primary schools, so the children involved in my research are from a range of local schools. The incredibly diverse nature of the participants in the focus groups and their eagerness to respond to our questions around interfaith and intergenerational experiences speaks to the complex nature of the program. It supports children in developing artistic talents, but also offers a service that provides childcare on weekends and a space for mentoring and skills training for those that may not get this at home. Noble Park and the Future Foundations program work with children ranging from refugee backgrounds to middle-class families that want their child’s artistic talents recognised. It is hard to describe in words how engaging this fieldwork site is, which I go on to analyse further in a later chapter. 

My second fieldwork site in Melbourne is in a gentrified inner-city area, in a bilingual primary school that services the residents of a large council housing estate built on the same road as the school. Fitzroy is a suburb of contrasts[13]. As I jump off the tram and walk around the corner to the school, the smell of old beer wafts from the cellar of the local bar. They are unloading kegs through the basement door. A tree-lined street features a mixture of well-to-do terrace homes, dilapidated share-houses with couches and beer bottles littering front lawns, and the Fitzroy Estate council housing estate, which pokes up out of the landscape. The people that pass me on the road vary from hospitality workers stumbling home at 7am after their infamous Tuesday nights out (‘hospo’ nights in Melbourne feature cheap drinks for service workers), a group of mums in orange and pink headscarves dropping their kids off at school, and a man in a suit getting into his BMW. This area is made up of differences. New immigrant populations occupy many of the council housing estates, while hospitality workers, students, professionals and more take up the area in different ways. It’s alive – thrumming with artists, murals, food and cultures. The primary school remains an ongoing research partner. The two Melbourne sites could not be more different in terms of the areas in which they are located, although both have mainly non-white communities who are non-English speaking. The final research site is a suburb of Canberra in the ACT. This religious school was also an originally unplanned research visit that invited me to come and work with them. 

Canberra

A sea of moving blue. As we drove up to the school, the sea of moving blue parted and groups of girls in light blue hijabs stared at us while we lugged our suitcase full of quilt materials onto the steps of the school office. The surrounding grounds were brown, and the school, likewise, had a greyish-brown appearance. Canberra has this sort of monotone brown nature to it: dry grass, red sand, brown rolling hills. The houses near the school are clean and neat, although all alike in appearance. The brown school disappeared amongst a sea of beautiful blue hijabs. The school didn’t currently have an art program, so the children’s and teachers’ eagerness to partake was well-noted throughout their time there. It is worth noting that, due to the fact this is an Islamic private school, a lot of the students do not live in the local area of Weston[14], but travel in. Consequently, the statistical profile of the area does not reflect the multicultural makeup of the school and my participants. The children in this research site were focused and well-behaved. ABC Canberra, the local branch of the national broadcaster, featured my arts workshops on their television news and morning radio show during the 2019 fieldwork, bringing the Islamic school’s efforts to create intercultural community collaboration into Canberra’s media headlines.

The Australian research sites span incredibly varied socioeconomic areas in Western Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra. There are three notably middle-class areas: Norwood in Adelaide (South Australia), Fitzroy in Melbourne (Victoria) and Weston in Canberra (ACT). The differences between these sites and the lower socioeconomic sites of the project, such as Noble  Park, Moss Side, and Marion are stark, not just in statistical terms but in terms of the aesthetics of place, the values expressed and children’s energy and modes of engagement. The Australian fieldwork sites are schools, charities, settlement services, mosques and a church. Some outreach has been undertaken with the Islamic Museum of Australia and art gallery exhibitions, with further engagement workshops and exhibitions scheduled in Melbourne and Adelaide for 2021. The fieldwork in the UK across Manchester and London was undertaken in three schools in deprived areas in Manchester and two schools in traditionally working-class areas in London. Some outreach work in galleries also occurred in the UK, at P21 Gallery (London) and the Whitworth Gallery (Manchester) and a number of mosques across Manchester. As a result, the sensory scapes of the places in which the research was undertaken vary quite significantly, as does the experience of working in and with these places. 

Orientations/Treoshuímh

These sites offer a broad range of orientations to faith and religion, which range from engaging children and parents who belong to religious or spiritual communities as a recreational and/or devotional practice, to working with those who identify as secular, humanist, or searching. For example, one research participant in Manchester stated she hated being called a ‘non-believer’; she said, “Look up at the stars – something’s got to be there”.  I have developed a unified approach to thinking about the orientation of my research participants as a result of working with, and across, a range of different orientations to religion. The people involved in my research are all united by the fact that they have faith. Whether it is faith in the secular nature of society, faith in family, faith in God, faith in the promises of capitalism, or faith in the belief that life is worth living, everyone maintains, and is maintained, by faith. In an article I wrote for Philosophy Today, I drew on Braidotti’s suggestion that “… all beliefs are acts of faith” (2008, 11) to argue that faith is an ontological state, an orientation and a capacity to act. I developed an affective notion of faith as a set of practices, an embedded emotional geography that choreographs subjectivities and communities. 

Philosophies of religion often account for transcendental frameworks, as a religion is a belief structure; however, like Ammerman (2013; 2014), I argue that as much as it can be seen as being transcendental,  faith is material – it is a capacity to act that is characterised by belief in the world that brings together those who identify as being religious or spiritual and those who do not. Faith in the truth of a secular perspective remains a form of faith. To quote from my paper in Philosophy Today (Hickey-Moody 2020):

[…In my] fieldwork I speak to religious and secular community members in Australia and Britain, all of whom have faith. For some of these research participants this faith begins with a faith in a God, or Gods, yet, for many others it doesn’t – rather, faith is about connectedness to community, family, values, places and rituals. Faith is a way of being a person and belonging to a community. It is a capacity to act, or a set of embodied orientations that limit capacity to act. (925-926)  

In examining how faith shapes people’s attachments and orientations, I developed four research questions that were responses to my experiences of fieldwork, and which guide my analytic sensibility. Before I introduce my research questions, I would like to contextualise them by saying they are intended as a means of understanding vernacular and informal religious or spiritual beliefs and attachments, as well as orthodox ones, along with secular organisations of subjectivities and associated investments. To put this another way, I am working to open up, rather than close down, the plurality of ways we can think about faith attachment to include ways of thinking about aspects of involuntary experience, non-verbal attachments, material and geographic actants, embodied and inherited memory and trauma. To use Raymond Williams’ (1977) famous phrase, I am interested in the “structures of feeling” that make up faith. Williams developed the notion of “structures of feeling” (1977, 128) in the 1970s to facilitate an historical understanding of what he called “affective elements of consciousness and relationships” (132). Since then, the need to understand emotions, moods and atmospheres as both historical and social phenomena has become more acute in an era of social networking, and indeed this has become a key focus of the field of affect studies (see Coleman 2018). 

For now, I want to situate my approach to faith as one that builds on this cultural studies tradition of understanding everyday life and the structures of feeling that shape everyday lives. My approach is aligned with much of Karl Kitching’s work and, to borrow a phrase he coins in his 2020 book, he expresses it as examining “the unchosen complexities of religious experience” (Kitching 2020, 6). Kitching draws on Saba Mahmood in advocating approaches to religion and, I would say, faith, that are grounded in cohabitation with icons, images and symbols. (Mahmood in Kitching 2020, 6). I find it useful to remember Kitching’s characterisation of “the unchosen complexities of religious experience” (Kitching 2020, 6). It seems to me that neither Kitching, Mahmood nor I are for a moment wanting to objectify or essentialise experiences of faith and religion. Quite the opposite: I want to examine intersections between religion and culture, between class, race and faith, between material cultures and attachment. For example, a mother in one of the ethnographic sites in Melbourne is a newly arrived Australian who speaks Arabic. She wears a hijab and identifies as Muslim, yet does not identify as either Sunni or Shiite, and neither she nor her husband attend a mosque. Rather, they pray at home and have a designated prayer space in their home. I read this story as illustrating the very broad range of ways people practice religion. Once, after I joined in with Sunday evening prayer, a mother at the Adelaide mosque asked me how I distinguished between ‘culture’ and ‘religion’. The nature of this question suggested to me that I was involved in questions of culture and not attentive enough to questions of religion. My answer to the mother at the time still stands, as a definition of the messiness and complexity of relationships between religion and culture. There is no universal dividing line between religion and culture; this distinction is different for everyone. As much as some people can clearly identify religion, other research participants say they are religious but may not have much knowledge about their religion. Everyone involved in this project defines distinctions between religion and culture differently, and the most consistent thing this project has taught me about religion is that everyone who identifies as ‘religious’ in some way does ‘religion’ very differently. Like the instance of the Melbourne mother above, not all Muslims attend mosques or, like the Manchester mother, not all ‘believers’ believe in God – some might believe in a higher power that is evidenced by the stars. Across this broad spectrum of ways of knowing and believing, people are sustained by various forms of their faith. 

A key finding of this study is the conviction there can never be a right or wrong way, or even one definitive way, of categorising faith experiences. One person’s belief in a clear divide between culture and religion is completely disproven by another person’s unorthodox religious identity, which they nevertheless experience as being religious. 

Privilege, conflict and attachment/Pribhléid, coimhlint agus ceangaltán

The embodied position from which I speak, work and experience the world co-produces my research findings. I try to acknowledge this wherever possible, alongside the ways my heritage and lived experience shape my interests and orientations. One of the ways I do this is to begin all of my focus groups with adults in Australia by acknowledging the unceded Aboriginal land on which we meet and, in both UK and Australia, by acknowledging my own privilege, living as a white woman in dominantly Anglo-Saxon, diverse social and cultural contexts. As I have suggested, both Australia and the UK are dominated by negative discourses in relation to Islam, and its relationship to contemporary incidences of terrorism (as I acutely observed during my UK fieldwork when the Manchester and London terrorist attacks occurred in mid-2017). Privilege is also associated with my role as a widely respected university professor. In the context of my research, I assume the position as the asker of questions and the agent who wants to map engagement and listen. As well as a listening researcher, I am a speaking and caring person. I identify myself to research participants in terms of my history of conflict and attachment, especially with the Catholic Church, which provides me with some insight into their experiences. They also contribute to the emotional labour of care involved in this project, which is often a heavy weight to bear. 

Conclusion/Conclúid

Places live on in people, even when they leave them. The contexts of this ethnography are pasts and presents brought together in themes, colours, symbols, sounds, smells, the earth and the stars. Entangled with the places we live are complex pasts and belief systems. Whether it was the harsh refusal of Sydney churches to accept my work into their spaces, or the open arms of the mosques in Sydney, Manchester and Adelaide, affective moments have changed both the ways in which I conduct the research and also the ways I see faith unfold through everyday life, through people and through place. This chapter establishes contexts for understanding the analysis I undertake, which by the nature of new materialist ethnographic work, responds to the cultural, racialised, classed, religious and gendered makeup of the communities I study. The research questions, statistical profiles of the areas and political positioning of myself within/with the research sets the stage for the attachments and orientations to community, religion and belonging in the chapters to come. I hope this chapter has given a glimpse into the richness and complexity of the diverse places and people with whom I conducted this research. May the saints that bless Philomena’s mantle be a marker for the everyday lived experiences that faith has in making life worth living. Because faith can, if you let it, mean that “there’s a saint everywhere, wherever you look” (Philomena, Sydney, 2018). Faith is what sustains people, and it is the most unifying aspect I have found across diverse populations. We all have faith in something.

References

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[1] The term multiculturalism holds a variety of meanings in policy and social research and has been widely endorsed and critiqued (Levrau and Loobuyck 2018). In the 1970s and 80s multiculturalism emerged as a way forward for societies with high levels of immigration (Modood 2007). The idea was that different groups should be able to practice their cultural traditions and speak the languages of their places of origin while also identifying with their new country of residence (Foster 1988). Underlying this approach was a cultural relativism of the time that allowed for the equivalence of different cultural traditions. More recently, however, critics have argued that multiculturalism appears either as a tokenistic exoticising of otherness (Prato 2016), or that as a policy approach that leads to segregation and conflict and can even result in radicalisation (Ragazzi 2016; Vertovec and Wessendorf 2010). As a result of growing collective anxieties around radicalisation, and following terrorist attacks in Europe and other regions of the world in which migrants and the children of migrants have been implicated, multiculturalism and its outcomes have come under increased media scrutiny. It has become clear that many countries struggle with the lack of social inclusion of immigrant groups, and that the limited integration even of second-generation migrants has led to lower outcomes in terms of education and socioeconomic status.

[2] The term ‘superdiversity’ was coined by Vertovec in a BBC article in 2005, in which he discusses the findings of several census-based projects on migrant identities. In it, and in subsequent articles, he describes the changing nature of UK immigration and makeup of migrant communities, away from two or three established countries with deep roots to the UK as a result of colonial histories and towards a more diverse range of countries and constituencies. As Vertovec writes, in the UK, “…recent migrants have come for a greater variety of reasons and through a wider set of channels” than in the past (Vertovec 2005). This means that diversity has increased within migrant communities, which as a result have become less homogenous.

[3]Auburn’s population is 37,366 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016), and the average household size is 3.5. It is rapidly gentrifying, with most of my research participants travelling ‘in’ to Auburn from further out west. Median monthly mortgage repayments are $1,733 and the median weekly household income is $1,240. The most common ancestries are Chinese (18.2%), Turkish (8.0%), Lebanese (7.3%), Nepalese (6.1%) and Indian (5.7%). This was reflected in the constitution of my research participants in Auburn, who were from China, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. No participants were white Australian. 29.5% of Auburn residents were born in Australia, and the most common other countries of birth are China (12.7%), Nepal (6.5%), Afghanistan (6.1%), Pakistan (5.5%) and India (5.0%). The Auburn area is a migrant community, with 84.6% of residents having both parents born overseas. This is reflected in my research, with only one family out of 60 having parents born in Australia. The most common religions are Muslim (43.0%), no religion (15.5%), Catholic (9.7%), and Hindu (8.8%). This diversity is also expressed through language, food, and religion. Everyone speaks multiple languages, and many residents have very little English. Just 12.9% of people speak only English at home. Other languages spoken at home include Arabic (13.3%), Mandarin (12.0%), Turkish (8.4%), Cantonese (6.8%) and Nepali (6.7%). The community is broadly known as working-class, and this is statistically supported, with the most common occupations being technicians and trades workers (19.1%), and labourers (18.0%).

[4] The UK 2011 census (UK Office for National Statistics 2011) states the neighbourhood currently has a population of 15,430 and its most common ancestries/ethnic groups are white# (58.9%), Asian/Asian British# (27.8%), and Black/African/Caribbean/Black British# (5.1%). The most common passports held are the United Kingdom (73%), no passport (10.8%), and the Middle East and Asia (7.9%). In contrast to the low English-speaking population of Auburn, in Levenshulme 75.5% of people speak English as their main language at home. This whiteness is expressed in artisan craft markets and ‘open garden’ days. 10.3% of people have at least one person over the age of 16 in their household who speaks English as a main language, and just 11.9% have no-one in their household who speaks English as a main language. The most common religions in Levenshulme are Christian (38%), Muslim (28.4 %), no religion (24.6%), religion not stated (6.5%) and Hindu (0.9%). A large proportion of my research participants here were either no religion, Muslim or Christian, which is reflected in the census data. 

[5] The population is 18,902. The most common ancestries/ethnic groups are White# (32.8 %), mixed or multiple ethnic groups# (7.3%), and Asian/Asian British# (18.5%).  While 65.2% of people speak English as a main language at home, 19.5% of people aged 16 and over have no one in the household who has English as a main language. This shaped my focus group discussions, as we needed interpreters for a large amount of the discussion. The most common religions in Moss Side are Christian (36.2%), Muslim (34.0%), no religion (19.1%),  religion not stated (7%), and Hindu (1.8%). Household tenure in Moss Side consists of 44.2% social renting (11.1% of this group rents from the council or local authority), 32.2% private rented, 20.7% owned home. The most common occupations in Moss Side are elementary occupations# (22.6%), professional occupations (13.8%), and sales and customer-service occupations (13.6%) (Nomis 2011; UK Office for National Statistics 2011). As this occupational profile suggests, Moss Side is still very much a working-class area. 

[6] The population of Hulme is 16,907. The most common ancestries/ethnic groups in this area are: White (56.8%), mixed/multiple ethnic groups (6.7%), Asian/Asian British  (16.9%), Black/African/Caribbean/Black British (14.8%) and Other Ethnic Group (4.8%) The most common passports held are United Kingdom (65%), Middle East and Asia (12.3%), and no passport (9.4%). Household languages in Hulme are reflected by the fact that 74% of people aged 16 and over speak English as a main language. 17.6% have no people in their household who speak English as a main language, while 7.2 % of people have at least one English speaker in their household, but not all people over 16 in their household speak English as a main language. Most of the communities in my project did not speak English at home. The most common religions are Christian (38.8%), no religion (36.3%), Muslim (13.1%), religion not stated (7%) and Buddhist (1.8%). The household tenure in Hulme is: 41.3% privately rented, 38.1% social rented (of this 11.7% rented from council), 18.7% owned home. The most common occupations in Hulme are professional occupations (23.6%), associate professional and technical occupations (17.8%), and elementary occupations (13.4%). 

[7] The population of Charlton is 14,385. The most common ethnicities/ancestries are: White# (63.8%), mixed/multiple ethnic groups# (5.5%), Asian/Asian British# (13.6%), Black/African/Caribbean/Black British# (15.5%). Places of birth were: United Kingdom (69%), other countries (23.2%), EU countries (6.5%), and the Republic of Ireland (1.4%). Passports held were: the United Kingdom (68.1%),  no passport (12.7%), other Europe (7.2%), Africa (4.4%), Middle East and Asia (5.3%), the Republic of Ireland (1.7%), and North America and the Caribbean (1.2%). 79.4% of people aged 16 or over speak English as a main household language, and only 9.4% of people had no others in their household that spoke English as a main language. The most common religions are Christian (47.2%), no religion (29.4%), religion not stated (8.4%), Muslim (6.8%), and Hindu (4.0%). Household tenure is: 41.1% of people socially rent (19.2% of this was rented through the council), 15.9% of people privately rent, and 41.7% of people own their home. 71% of people are economically active and 60.2% are employed,# 5.8% are unemployed, and 5.0% are full-time students.  The most common occupations are professional occupations (22.8%), associate professional and technical occupations (15.9%), and elementary occupations (11.5%). My second research site in South East London was not far away, in Harbinger Primary School in the Isle of Dogs, which has a more multicultural makeup than Charlton.

[8] The population of Millwall is 23,084 and the most common ethnicities are: White (52.4%), , Asian/Asian British# (34.7%), Black/African/Caribbean/Black British# (5.6%), and mixed/multiple ethnic groups# (4.4%). The most common countries of birth are the United Kingdom (47.9%), other countries (38.5%), other EU (12.6%), and Republic of Ireland (1.1%) . The most common passports held are the United Kingdom (57.8%), other Europe (14.1%), Middle East and Asia (13.8%), and no passport (4.3%). Household languages are broken down as follows: 62.2% of people aged 16 and over have English as a main language in their household; 23.4% have no people in household with English as a main language; and 12.3% of people have at least one but not all people aged 16 or over in their household who speak English as a main language. The most common religions are Christian (32.1%), no religion (22.4%), religion not stated (19.6%),  Muslim (18.0%), and Hindu (4.9%). Household tenure is 48.1% of people rent privately, 27.5% own their home, 20.6% rent through social housing, 2.3% have shared ownership (part-owned and part-rented). The most common occupations are professional occupations (32.2%), associate professional and technical occupations (22.7%), managers, directors and senior officials (17.0%) (Nomis 2011; UK Office for National Statistics 2011).

[9] The suburb has a population of 3,322 and the average number of people per household is 2. The median weekly household income is $1,485 and median monthly mortgage repayment is $1829. The most common ancestries are English (26.3%), Australian (17.0%), Irish (8.2%), Scottish (7.2%) and Italian (6.3%). Over half the population of Norwood are people who were born in Australia (64.4%). The broadly white nature of the area can be understood from the popular suggestion that there are ‘a lot of Italian people’ in Norwood – indeed, a whole 6.3% of people with Italian heritage, which is obviously noticeable against a backdrop of white privilege. The most common countries of birth outside Australia are England (4.9%), China (3.2%), India (2.1%), and Italy (2.1%). Nearly half (43.2%) of people have parents both born in Australia and slightly over one-third (36.3%) of people have both parents born overseas. The most common responses for religion in Norwood are no religion (40.8%), Catholic (18.7%), not stated (11.2%), Anglican (9.3%) and Eastern Orthodox (4.1%). Christianity is the largest religious group reported overall (46.8%) (this figure excludes not stated responses). Two-thirds (71.7%) of people speak only English at home. Other languages spoken at home include Mandarin (3.6%), Italian (3.2%), Greek (2.8%), Cantonese (1.1%) and Hindi (0.9%). The most common occupations are professionals (41.3%), managers (14.9%), clerical and administrative workers (11.5%) (ABS, 2016).

[10] Marion is 10km south-west of the Adelaide city centre. It has a population of 3,902 (ABS 2016). The average number of people per household is 2.2, the median weekly household income $1,129 and the median monthly mortgage repayment is $1,517. The most common ancestries are English (28.0%), Australian (25.2%), Scottish (6.2%), and Irish (6.2%). In Marion, 68.6% of people were born in Australia. The most common countries of birth for residents born abroad are England (5.6%), China (3.5%), India (2.8%), and the Philippines (1.5%). Slightly more than half (52.1%) of people have both parents born in Australia and just over a third (33.5%) of people have both parents born overseas. The most common responses for religion in Marion are no religion (31.5%), Catholic (18.8%), Anglican (10.3%), Uniting Church (10.2%) and not stated (8.4%). Christianity is the largest religious group reported overall (56.8%) (this figure excludes not stated responses). A majority of people (75.7%) speak only English at home. Other languages spoken at home include Mandarin (3.3%), Greek (1.3%), Italian (1.2%), Punjabi (1.1%) and Cantonese (1.0%). The most common occupations include professionals (23.2%), clerical and administrative workers (15.7%), and community and personal service workers (15.2%) (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016).

[11] Noble Park has a population of 30,998. To get a better understanding of the make-up of the community, the Australian 2016 census tells me that the average number of people per household here in Noble Park is 2.7, the median weekly household income is $1,108, and median monthly mortgage repayment is $1,500. The most common ancestries are English (10.6%), Vietnamese (10.0%), Australian (8.7%) and Indian (8.3%). Slightly over a third (34.7%) of the population was born in Australia. The most common countries of birth are India (10.9%), Vietnam (9.0%), Cambodia (5.3%) and Sri Lanka (4.4%). In Noble Park, 76.5% of people had both parents born overseas, while just 12.1% of people had both parents born in Australia. 

[12] The most common religions in Noble Park are Catholicism (20.3%), no religion, (17.0%), Buddhism (16.4%) and Islam (9.8%). Over a third (31.0%) of people speak only English at home. Other languages spoken at home include Vietnamese (12.1%), Khmer (6.8%), Punjabi (6.4%), Sinhalese (2.9%) and Mandarin (2.4%). The most common occupations in Noble Park are: labourers (18.5%), technicians and trades workers (14.4%), and professionals (12.9%) (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016).

[13] It has a population of 10,445. The average number of people per household is 2.1, and the median weekly household income is $1,715. The median monthly mortgage repayment is $2,286. The most common ancestries are English (20.4%), Australian (15.6%), Irish (9.5%), Scottish (7.0%) and Chinese (4.8%). Just over half (53.3%) of people were born in Australia. The other most common countries of birth are England (3.9%), Vietnam (3.3%), New Zealand (2.9%) and China (2.7%).  One-third (33.0%) of people had both parents born in Australia and 40.7% of people had both parents born overseas. The most common responses for religion are no religion (48.2%), not stated (16.8%), Catholic (13.1%), Muslim (5.5%) and Buddhist (4.1%). No religion, so described, constitutes the main belief group reported overall (58.0%). Well over half (61.0%) the people speak only English at home. Other languages spoken at home include Vietnamese (4.1%), Mandarin (2.5%), Cantonese (2.1%) Arabic (2.0%) and Greek (1.6%). The most common occupations include professionals (44.6%), managers (16.6%), and community and personal service workers (9.7%).

[14] Weston, Canberra has a population of 3,576 and is the best-resourced area in the research project. The average number of people per household in Weston is 2.5 and the median weekly household income is a generous $2,096. The median amount for a monthly mortgage repayment is $2,167. The most common ancestries are English (24.4%), Australian (22.3%), Irish (10.7%) and Scottish (8.5%). Over half (68.3%) of people were born in Australia. The most common other countries of birth are England (3.9%), India (1.4%), New Zealand (0.9%), China (0.9%) and Pakistan (0.8%). Slightly less than half (49.3%) of people had both parents born in Australia and 27.6% of people had both parents born overseas. The most common responses for religion in Weston are no religion (35.8%), Catholic (22.4%), Anglican (11.3%), not stated (9.9%) and Uniting Church (3.4%). As a result, Christianity is the largest religious group reported overall (52.2%). 76.1% of people speak only English at home. Other languages spoken at home include Arabic (1.0%), Mandarin (1.0%), Urdu (0.9%), German (0.7%) and Italian (0.7%). The most common occupations include professionals (35.4%), managers (18.7%), and clerical and administrative workers (16.5%).

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🌟Writer 🌟Artist 🌟Intersectional feminist 🌟Disability advocate 🌟@annahm on Twitter 🌟@ainecaitrin on Instagram

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  1. There is so much in this fascinating post, Aine. I love your description of the Virgin Mary “section” of the church that you like so much. I think that much of religion is about ritual – what people do – light candles, say prayers, fast rather than what people believe (lets face it most religions have some pretty strange sounding ideas in them). When I was a secondary school teacher in Wales, I noticed that children who were raised in a faith (be it Catholic, Muslim, Evangelical Christian) were a pleasure to know – they seemed more considerate and thoughtful as individuals – than the secular children raised with no system of belief. I was wondering what happened to your friend’s Emily’s father, did the poor man die?

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