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Researcher of the Month, September 2023: Amy Quinn-Graham

Researcher of the Month

“Amy Quinn-Graham is a PhD candidate in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds and a member of the Centre for Religion and Public Life. Her research focuses on responses to domestic violence and abuse in the contexts and structures of The Salvation Army. (For an earlier post by Amy, see here.)”


Tell us a little about your ‘research journey’ – how did you get to where you are right now? 

Many years ago, and in what feels like another life, I originally trained as an actor. After graduating, I quickly realised that the acting life wasn’t for me, especially as I was developing a keen interest in and passion for issues related to women’s and girls’ rights, particularly gender-based violence. As I began working with girls and young women, supporting them to speak out on issues that affected their lives, by attending events such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), I found myself reflecting more and more on how we capture the experiences of girls and young women in ways that allow them to take the lead, speak for themselves and don’t exploit their vulnerabilities. I didn’t realise at the time that I was starting to explore principles of participatory research (particularly participatory action research) as I created spaces for young women – often those affected by violence and abuse – to come together, reflect on the problems in their lives and communities and work together to generate solutions. Eventually I decided I wanted to formalise this experience by pursing a Masters. In 2017, I started an MA in Gender and Development at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). As with so many twists and turns in my career, God’s hand was firmly over this, as I didn’t think I was qualified enough academically to gain entry to the course and IDS is the perfect place to study if you want to be equipped to undertake your future work or research in a genuinely participatory way.

My experience at IDS introduced me to the work of Professor Emma Tomalin and I knew that if I ever pursued a PhD, I wanted her to be my supervisor. When I then started my current role at The Salvation Army as an Action Researcher and discovered that conversations were happening with the University of Leeds about funded PhDs that would be supervised by Emma, one of which would be about domestic abuse, I laughed out loud! COVID-19 and a baby later, I was successful in my application to undertake the domestic abuse PhD.


Who, or what, sparked your interest to work on your particular research area? 

Professor Mariz Tadros at IDS has been a huge influence in my journey. Prior to starting my Masters, I’d recently reconnected with my Christian faith and as my studies progressed, I began to realise that very few people in international development wanted to talk about religion or faith, either seeing it as a private matter that shouldn’t affect public life or as something ‘backwards’ and outdated that international development had no place entertaining (although this is changing to some extent). At the time, Mariz was Director of a DfID-funded project called the Coalition for Religious Equalities and International Development (CREID), and her passion for capturing and representing the experiences of religious minorities as those often overlooked in international development inspired me as I became more interested in the role of faith in the lives of those we work with. Mariz mentored me by providing me with opportunities to contribute to CREID. I was able to work with and support women from religious minorities in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Iraq to conduct and write-up participatory research with women in their communities, unpicking the specific issues facing these women as their gender and religious identities intersect. I used my dissertation to explore how Christian faith-based organisations working on Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality were conceptualising gender in their work, and to what extent this reflected the theologies of the denomination they were linked to.

In my personal life, growing up in a Christian environment meant I saw how the Bible and various Christian teachings can be misused or misinterpreted to cause harm. I knew I wanted to return to gender-based violence and/or domestic violence and abuse (DVA) in my career, but now I felt like God had equipped me to do this from a Christian perspective, in the knowledge that faith is an integral part of the lives of so many people we work with and shouldn’t be overlooked.


What are you currently, or about to start, working on? 

I am about to begin my second year of my part-time PhD funded by The Salvation Army (TSA) and the University of Leeds, exploring TSA’s response to DVA with the aim of developing an evidence-based framework to guide TSA in its response in the future. I am interested in exploring what a faith-based approach to DVA looks like in an organisation like TSA which is both a church and a registered charity that holds various government contracts. I am also interested in better understanding how the theologies of church leaders across the movement shape teaching and responses to DVA. My field work will take place in two stages. I’ve already started stage one, interviewing various stakeholders across TSA to get a sense of how DVA shows up in their work and am in the process of developing a survey that will be made available to all people connected to TSA exploring beliefs, attitudes, and experiences of DVA. I hope in the second stage to utilise participatory action research with survivors of DVA, providing them with a space to reflect on their experiences of accessing support within TSA and to co-create the proposed framework.

I recently presented a paper at the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology’s (BIAPT) annual conference on the role of Christian hospitality in The Salvation Army’s response to domestic violence and abuse (DVA). This was based on semi-structured interviews with staff and volunteers at one of TSA’s more formalised expressions of DVA support in South London. I received positive feedback, as well as helpful questions and prompts for further exploration, so am in the process of submitting the paper for potential publication in Practical Theology journal.

In what way(s) do you feel your research examines the role of religion in public life and the relationship between the two? 

The Salvation Army is one of the UK’s most significant providers of social service support, as well as being present in communities across the whole of the UK & Ireland in the form of 630 churches. Therefore, how the organisation responds to an issue like DVA and how faith shows up in that response directly and indirectly impacts the lives of thousands of people every year. This research will add to existing literature on faith-based organisations (FBOs) and grow our understanding of how religion – specifically the form of evangelical Christianity that TSA espouses – shapes an individual’s ability to access support and guidance in the public space when they are affected by an issue like DVA, especially if they are a person of faith. Victims and survivors of DVA often turn to their church leaders for advice and support, so equipping church leaders to respond in a safe and empowering way is in the public interest.

Additionally, the UK and Ireland have both historically been shaped by Christian teachings and ethics in various ways and to differing degrees. The Bible is recognisable within society, with scripture and Christian teaching still showing up in public debate and decision-making. The Bible has influenced, and continues to influence, attitudes to DVA and beliefs around gender, marriage, and power, even as the UK shifts to a ‘post-Christian’ society. Exploring and unpacking this influence is therefore vital to promoting a society that condemns DVA and recognises interpretations of the Bible that promote healthy, equal relationships.