University of Sussex
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The faithful few? What can social work learn from the stories of African Caribbean Christian elders?

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posted on 2023-06-08, 14:03 authored by Josephine Kwhali
This thesis considers how Christianity shapes the lives, beliefs and identities of African-Caribbean elders. The topic has been selected because the relevance of the Christian faith to black elders has been under theorised in U.K. anti-racist social work literature. The study is located within a qualitative research tradition and draws upon narrative, ethnographic and life story influences. The research is primarily based on semi-structured interviews with fourteen participants aged seventy one – ninety years. The elders were born and raised in the Caribbean and now live and attend Pentecostal and Baptist churches in London having migrated to the U.K during the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The interview data is analysed using the voice centred relational method (Gilligan 1982). This method gives primacy to the words of the people being interviewed and the meaning ascribed to their experiences. A number of core themes or ‘stories’ emerge from the elders’ accounts of their lives and religion. These include the story of growing and belonging, the story of rejection and pain, the story of resistance and faithful compliance and the story of love, care and eternal hope. The stories reveal a complex picture where racism and rejection has been part of the tapestry of black elders’ adult experiences in the U.K. Equally, their religious upbringing in the Caribbean and their enduring Christian belief has nurtured the elders’ sense of identity and self worth and provided a buttress against their more negative experiences. The study draws upon black theology which aids understanding of how Christianity has influenced the history and religious experiences of black Christians. Black theological literature, along with transactional analysis, also provides the theoretical framework through which the elders’ stories are discussed. This approach provides originality as such analysis does not appear to have been undertaken previously. From the elders’ stories five key themes have emerged which provide insights in to the research question. These are: - the importance of the elders’ Christian belief; - narratives as an integral part of black history and knowledge; - dealing with racism and its intersections; - reconciling differing religious and social values- the challenge for social work; - the care needs of African-Caribbean elders – church, family and / or state? Through these themes the study outlines the necessity of social work embracing a more holistic approach to the meeting of African – Caribbean elders’ spiritual and religious needs and beliefs. The elders recognise that they may require practical help as they get older but do not feel that social care services will necessarily be responsive to their religious and cultural experiences or provide for the pray life, bible reading and church attendance that form part of their needs. The concept of heaven and an afterlife is very important to the elders and poses a challenge in how social work might work in partnership with church communities to ensure that elders have the ‘good life/ good death‘ they seek. The study makes a number of recommendations whilst questioning whether a largely secular profession will be equipped to provide or commission appropriate, faith based care to African-Caribbean elders. This is because of the largely hostile / indifferent approach towards religion which the study identifies. The final chapter evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the study and its methodological approach before concluding with a number of personal reflections.


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  • doctoral

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University of Sussex

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