Faith, values and metaphysical positionality in qualitative research

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Positionality has long been a preoccupation for qualitative researchers within and beyond geography. Reflexive assessments of positionality typically examine the ways in which a researcher’s sociodemographic identifiers such as gender, age, ethnicity, dis/ability, sexuality and/or the intersections between these affect research encounters, processes and outcomes. Religion rarely features in such interrogations, and then usually only in relation to participants’ ethnic or racial affiliations. Drawing upon experiences conducting a study exploring the role of faith-based organisations in welfare provision for homeless people in the UK, this paper focuses on the related (but not synonymous) issue of metaphysical stance, that is, belief or non-belief in the existence of God(s). It argues that metaphysical stance should be regarded as a sui generis aspect of positionality, which fits into none of the identity categories typically considered, but which is deserving of separate analysis with respect to its ethical and practical implications. Further to this, it contends that extreme diplomacy and discretion are required when exploring issues as inherently value-laden as the moral frameworks underpinning welfare approaches. This is especially true when participants’ views divide in part along theist/atheist lines, such that religious and policy ‘literacy’ are valuable attributes for researchers negotiating these sensitive terrains in the field.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Early online date25 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Aug 2021


  • metaphysics
  • positionality
  • qualitative methods
  • reflexivity
  • religion
  • values

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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