Research student, School of History, Archaeology and Religion
My name is Michael Coombes. I am a PhD student at Cardiff University in the SHARE school, doing doctoral research in Religious and Theological Studies.
My area of research is how primary school children learn about death and the afterlife - known in theology as eschatology - from their Religious Education and other sources, and whether and how this affects their grief when they experience a bereavement.
I came to this research after publishing a book "I'm Invisible - a handbook for the bereaved". This described my experience of two decades of bereavement counselling when I often witnessed distress and confusion in people struggling with their understanding of the afterlife, and failing to gain comfort from any religious or spiritual beliefs to help them cope with their grief - Complicated Spiritual Grief. With one possible reason for this phenomenon being young minds’ misunderstanding of what they have learned in Religious Education, my research explores:
‘What do children today understand about concepts of death and the afterlife?’ - From Fear to Faith.
My research seeks to contribute ultimately to the improvement of bereavement counselling through the exploration of any contribution made by what children understand about death and the afterlife, to the alleviation of Complicated Spiritual Grief.
One of the major findings of my Masters degree in Counselling and Psychology on the subject of "Does belief in the afterlife help or hinder the grieving process?" was that the participants' understanding (or lack of understanding) of the afterlife was a major contributor to their difficulty in coping with their loss. This led to my doctoral research examining one possible cause for this. My research is titled
‘What do children today understand about concepts of death and the afterlife?’ - at the crossroads of hope and despair.
Aim of the research
The research will conclude with consideration of how it may contribute to the ultimate aim of improved bereavement counselling.
My research is comprised of four studies:
Study 1: What do children understand and how is their knowledge acquired?
Study 2: What do church leaders and policy makers want taught?
Study 2: What is delivered through formal Religious Education?
Study 3: What is the outcome of what has been taught - does Religious Education help young people cope?
The data collected from the first study will be used as a basis for the research of the other three studies, which are intended to identify any discrepancy between what children know and understand, and what is actually delivered through formal Religious Education.
Three qualitative research methodologies will be used:
Moderated Focus Groups will collect data which will be analysed using grounded theory to establish children’s understanding of concepts of the afterlife;
Qualitative Research Interviews will be used to analyse faith leaders’, policy makers’, and teachers’ understanding of what is taught.
Finally, Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis will be used to explore the outcome of what has been taught.
Complicated spiritual grief
What do children today understand about the concepts of death and the afterlife? At the crosdroads of hope and despair
Complicated spiritual grief