Beginning in 1969 Edward Bailey developed the idea that he would come to call “Implicit Religion.” It was, and remains, a very different approach within religious studies in that it did not look at religion but rather asked – where do people’s passions lie? Bailey was interested in how people develop true / authentic selves, meaningful lives and undertake decision making when their passion lay in areas of what is called the secular rather than the religious. Scholars of Implicit Religion since Bailey have also asked why and how things get designated as ‘religious’, ‘secular’, ‘sacred’ or ‘profane’ and what such designations reveal about power dynamics in social constructions and everyday life.
Bailey developed an analytical toolkit to undertake research amongst various different groups, communities and individuals, which has three axioms or tools for examination:
Commitment(s) – that to which the person, group or community is committed to the level of being willing to make sacrifices in some regards for it.
Integrating foci – the aspects or rituals or material artefacts of the wider aspects of the commitment that enables the individual to bring the various aspects of their lives and / or identities into a coherent, meaningful whole.
Intensive Concerns with Extensive Effects – what issues or causes arise from the commitment that the individual or community is willing to repeatedly act upon, even at great cost to themselves?
Implicit Religion does not attempt to assert that something is ‘merely appearing’ to be religious but was really ‘secular’, nor does it insist that something could be termed ‘religious’ by scholars regardless of what the participants thought. Instead it takes a particular interest in the ways in which people were expressing markers of faith, of belief, of ritual either towards or within parts of their everyday lives. For example, and as a means of demonstrating how it differs from spirituality, while partaking a sporting event or listening to a live jazz performance, the ways in which Christmas is both remembered and demarcated politically within communities.
Edward Bailey (1935 – 2015), the originator of Implicit Religion, founded and ran the Implicit Religion journal (Equinox) from 1998 and the annual Implicit Religion conferences from 1978, known fondly as the Denton Conferences – named for the hall they were held in. Edward was also the first President of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality. He received his MA from Cambridge, a second MA and his PhD from Bristol University. He was Rector of the Parish of Winterbourne, Bristol from 1970 to 2006 as well as a Visiting Professor at Middlesex and Staffordshire Universities, UK.
In 1968 Edward initiated the formal study of ‘Implicit Religion‘, which he initially termed ‘secular faith’, until his wife stepped in and suggested implicit religion. In many regards, Edward was a pioneer with his work on Implicit Religion, and it is now that we are reaping the benefits of this. Implicit Religion is a broad ranging concept that seeks to understand the sacred amongst people where they are gathered, where they are most ‘at home’. He argued that if we are to understand the vitality and breath of what religion is or could be we must look for commitments outside of religious institutions and traditions in what is typically considered the ‘secular’. Then we must examine how those commitments help individuals and communities create integrating foci for their lives and identities. Doing so will help us to understanding meaning making by providing an insight into how strong intensive concerns lead to extensive effects or actions. The ‘sacred’ is the heart of Implicit Religion.
At the heart of Edward’s approach and scholarship was his selfless capacity for mentoring and encouraging of young and emerging scholars. Edward was always willing to step outside of his comfort zone and experiences to encourage what he saw in others. He had a real capacity for drawing out the passions, insights and experiences of young scholars and gently guiding them into a realisation of the conversations and applications of Implicit Religion within their work, their just forming ideas or their additional passions. He was superb at matching up seemingly disparate academics by showing them how Implicit Religion gave them a common thread to talk about and to what mattered to them – in many cases setting up friendships, mentoring and guidance for life. The Edward Bailey Research Centre is set up to honour and continue that ethos and commitment to supporting young scholars, and to broaden it out to marginalised scholars as well.
Although the creator and originator of Implicit Religion, Edward was not jealous and guarded with it, he offered it to all and did not restrict how and to what they applied it as a means of making a genuine examination. That spirit of generosity, collegiality and willing to give is what this centre, and the activities, events and teaching it provides, aims to emulate and continue. It will do this through the range of courses it will develop. Through the spaces it provides for undergraduate students at international conferences. Through the workshop and feedback style of the USA conference. Through the intentional lifting up and celebration of the work of marginalised scholars through their keynote presence, their guest lectures and continuing to embrace digital technologies to ensure accessibility. We do this for the betterment of the field of religious studies and to the memory and work of Edward Ian Bailey.
We, the Trustees of the Centre for the Study of Implicit Religion and Contemporary Spirituality (CSIRCS), were pleased to establish in Bishop Grosseteste University, the three-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Implicit Religion and welcomed the appointment of Dr Francis Stewart to that position.*
We have been impressed by the way in which Bishop Grosseteste University has been able to nurture research and teaching in Implicit Religion alongside Dr Stewart’s internationally-respected leadership in the field. The establishment of the Edward Bailey Centre gives a clear focus for Bishop Grosseteste University’s presence in this international field of study.
Edward Bailey’s conceptualisation of and research in Implicit Religion made two original and important contributions to knowledge that have potential for significant impact on personal and social wellbeing.
Bailey’s first insight was that the body of knowledge built up within Departments of Religious Studies had the capacity to unlock and to illuminate many aspects of contemporary life. In her own research Francis Stewart tested that insight in her analysis of Straight Edge Punk (see her book, Punk Rock is my Religion). In Bishop Grosseteste University the Edward Bailey Centre invites students to draw on the rich resources of Religious Studies to explore the Implicit Religions that matter to them.
Bailey’s second insight was that the functions served by explicit religions are now being served by Implicit Religion in contemporary lives. Bailey argues that Implicit Religion is recognised by: commitment, integrating foci, and intensive concerns with extensive effects. In Bishop Grosseteste University the Edward Bailey Centre invites students to explore and to value the Implicit Religion and Contemporary Spirituality through which people share meaning, purpose, and fulfilment.
The impact of these two insights on personal and social wellbeing is enormous. In Bishop Grosseteste University the Edward Bailey Centre invites students to promote their personal wellbeing and to shape healthier societies. This is entirely compatible with the mission of a Cathedral Sector University.
Note: CSIRCS is a registered charity, Charity number 1047179.