‘River! that in silence windest’ The place of religion and spirituality in social work assessment: sociological reflections and practical implications
Authors: Parker, J., Ashencaen Crabtree, S., Reeks, E., Marsh, D. and Vasif, C.
Start date: 20 April 2015
This paper explores the place of religion and spirituality in social work assessment. Place represents a topographic or locational concept that suggests an embeddedness within a physically bounded space, implying here that religion and spirituality are centrally important to the lives of many people and therefore necessarily part of the social work relationship between practitioners and their clients or service users.
A range of concepts and implications arising from the idea that religion and spirituality form a necessary part of quotidian social work practice require some discussion. First of all we must recognize that religion and spirituality are often seen as synonyms and we must first discuss this and suggest discrete definitions of each concept.
We also need to discuss assessment itself in social work, recognising the power relations and potential for the normative imposition of unspoken and taken-for-granted assumptions in making judgements about vulnerable people’s ecologies and psychologies. This is problematised further when we consider questions of vulnerability – a contested term in itself; who makes someone vulnerable, is it a quality or characteristic or does it reflect something structural, or both? Social work may be considered as a locally contextualized set of processes or moral practices that make statements about assumed vulnerabilities. We are taking this further by asking about religion and spirituality as one aspect of this collection of processes. This may project social work as both homogeneous, transferable and globally understood, an idea we will need to debate.
Accepting that all these concepts may be contested and problematic we can move forward to consider ways in which religion and spirituality may be assessed in social work, making reference predominantly to UK and US social work whilst being tentative in making any normative assumptions about this exploration. A number of models will be introduced, drawing out some of the potential meanings and consequences of these for interpersonal relationship and also for people’s spiritual perspectives. A case example of the exclusion of religion and spirituality, notably Christianity, from UK social work in the recent past will be provided. This background prepares us for moving towards a sociological analysis of the state of play.