Stewart, Francis

Francis Stewart

Francis Stewart

I grew up in Northern Ireland leaving at 18 to go to university in England to study religious studies and English literature, as it was then impossible to do a course on comparative or world religions in Northern Ireland. I followed this with a PGCE in religious studies and 7 years teaching RS at high school level. In 2006 I moved from England to Scotland and undertook a Masters in Theology at the University of Glasgow, this was then followed by a PhD at Stirling, which came to a very happy conclusion in 2011.

The main focus of research interest for my PhD was on the intersection of emerging spiritualities, religion and subcultures. In particular I focused on the subculture I belong to which is Straight Edge punk, a subset of hardcore punk, as a surrogate for religion. This entailed examining the ever broadening field of religion and secular, sacred and profane, notions of the self, the concept of authenticity and a link between rapture, punk music and religion. It directly related to my interest in examining religion and spirituality as it can and does exist outside of institutions, dogma (sometimes even doctrine) and mainstream society, particularly amongst those for whom religion is a best a problematic notion and at worst a pernicious influence best removed from society.

Since completion of my PhD my interest in critical religion has grown, particularly in relation to my engagement with the notion of violence. That is, much like and indeed related to religion, the concept of violence needs unpacking and honestly examined as a concept within the 21st century. That is that it cannot be considered to be something that stands alone but is influenced by many factors. Furthermore, we need to meet head on the question of can it be a positive force for creativity and meaning making?

Not only is religion often erroneously assumed to have a standard meaning and application but when it is linked with the notion of violence the understanding and use of the term becomes even more narrowly defined and utilised. The current crop of secularist writers often malign religion for its connections with violence, in particular conflict. However they often neglect to nuance both terms and concepts and to view them in anything other than negative and destructive, rather than acknowledging that the interactions and effects are far broader reaches and ripples, both in terms of cultural creations and spiritual awakenings and possibilities.

Currently I am working on exploring how the violence and the music of punk (in its more classical sense rather than strictly Straight Edge, although that is a part of it) found in Northern Ireland provided a way for the adherents to overcome the religious divides that were a significant factor in the troubles or civil war. This work also focuses on taking a strong stance on the popular opinion that it was ‘simply’ a conflict between Protestants and Catholics and instead open the conversation into the role of spirituality and non religion within Northern Ireland, the role of assumed traditions (historical, cultural, religious and political) and the role of popular culture in its broadest sense.

To date I have published three journal articles which relate to the attempts made by the punks I interviewed to reach an understanding of what they mean by terms such as ‘religion’, ‘spirituality’ and ‘faith’ and the distinctions, parallels and interactions contained therein. The articles are:

“Beyond Krishnacore: Straight Edge punk and Implicit Religion”, Journal of Implicit Religion forthcoming volume 15.3 (2012) pp259 – 288.

“We Sing for Change: Straight Edge punk and Social Change”, United Academics Journal of Social Science May / June 2012 pp40 – 54.

“Punk Rock is My Religion: Hardcore Music and Religious Rapture”, Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Vol. 1 Issue 4 pp59 – 74.

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