Young people's perceptions of poverty: material and spiritual dimensions: voices from a Christian outreach group

Jones, L.J. (2009) Young people's perceptions of poverty: material and spiritual dimensions: voices from a Christian outreach group. (MSc(R) thesis), Kingston University, .


The decline of the influence of traditional religious institutions and the rise of the consumer society have, in tandem, had a profound effect on individuals' lifeworlds. The institutionalised assumption that the appropriation of material wealth will confer the greatest happiness to the greatest number has become the predominant aspiration in a "rampantly individualistic" society (Layard, 2005). This may fail to take into account the importance of the spiritual lives of individuals which, it is argued, is an important developmental domain of human flourishing. Aims and Objectives: This qualitative study sought to generate insight into young people's understandings, beliefs and experiences of wealth and poverty. The capacity of their constructions to influence perceptions of what it means to live a "good life" was explored and any dynamic tension between these dimensions examined. Design and Method: The participants were eight 11-16 year aids who were all members of a youth group involved in an outreach project by an evangelical Anglican church. Qualitative methods were used in order to allow participants to express their perceptions in their own terms and to aid contextual understanding of their accounts. Interpretive Thematic Analysis was chosen to allow the theoretical freedom to provide a rich and detailed but complex account of data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Two sessions took place for each of three focus groups where participants discussed questions concerning material and spiritual wealth and poverty. Group A comprised two females and two males; Group B, one male and two females; the third proposed group, (Group C), had only one participant in attendance and so this constituted a semi-structured interview. It was decided that the data from this interview should be included in the study as it made a rich and meaningful contribution to it. The questions were derived from the consideration of personhood as being made up of mind, body and spirit and how well-being is maintained in these dimensions. Participants brought in visual images: photographs, magazine and newspaper cuttings, to facilitate the discussions. Results: Key themes arising from the data included perceptions of relative poverty, materialism, attributions for poverty, the paradox of the relationship of wealth and happiness, personal relationships and intimacy, trust, worries and concerns, coping strategies, "formative" and "transformative" spirituality (Savage, Collins-Mayo, Mayo & Cray, 2006). Conclusions: Participants were able to articulate perceptions of their own and others' spirituality with reference to these themes. However, whilst they could describe the transformative quality of their own spirituality, they perceived that others often engaged with their own formative spirituality in a limited or even detrimental manner. Evidence was found that a tension exists between perceptions of material and spiritual dimensions, but that participants were adept at managing any cognitive conflict which arose from this in order to preserve a sense of existential coherence.

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