|Department of Religious Studies, Furness College, Lancaster University LA1 4YG.|
Kendal is a market town with approximately 28,000 inhabitants situated at the south-eastern entrance to the English Lake District. This regional centre is relatively self-contained and autonomous, supporting two secondary schools, two supermarkets, a college of Further Education and a hospital. Towards the end of the 1990s three academics at Lancaster University, Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead of the Department of Religious Studies, and Bronislaw Szerszynski of the Institute for Environment, Philosophy and Public Policy, decided to use Kendal as the location for the first locality study of the sacred in Britain (and, so far as we know, elsewhere) - a study which would enter into the ‘heartlands’ of contemporary religious and spiritual life and report back on what it found.
We were very aware how little is really known about religion on the ground in the UK, and keen to fill the enormous gaps in our knowledge. Our main aim was simply to find out what is happening, and to see how things are changing. Our second aim was to use our findings to test the most influential claims about what is happening to contemporary religion and spirituality, including our own hunch that some sort of ‘spiritual revolution’ may be currently underway.
The ‘heartlands’ which we wanted to study were those in which what can broadly be called ‘the sacred’ is most richly in evidence. One was obvious: the clearly visible associational activities of church and chapel. We came to refer to this as ‘the congregational domain’. The other was less obvious: the more ‘invisible’ activities of the what is often termed ‘alternative spirituality’, which we came to refer to as ‘the holistic milieu’.
We called these the ‘heartlands’ of the sacred in Kendal because these are the key settings in which people come together, on a voluntary basis, to engage with what they believe to be sacred, and to do so by way of face-to-face activities with like-minded people. Accordingly, these are the territories where religion and spirituality are likely to be most accessible to view and most richly elaborated. This is why these two territories (rather than those of the home, workplace or school, for example) have been of primary concern to the Kendal Project.
After an initial pilot study supported by a grant from Lancaster University, the project proper was launched in October 2000. A generous grant from the Leverhulme Trust enabled the employment of two full-time Research Associates, Benjamin Seel and Karin Tusting. The research in Kendal continued until the end of June 2002.