[LIFE/ACADEMIA] Writing Scholarship in New Zealand with @VaughanPark

[LIFE/ACADEMIA] Writing Scholarship in New Zealand with @VaughanPark

For years I have wanted to apply for a Residential Scholarship at Vaughan Park (above Auckland, New Zealand), and it appears that my research bid below, has led to me being awarded a scholarship/writing retreat for March/April 2020.

I decided to go for it after a conversation with my Head of Faculty, who came to visit me the week of my secondary diagnosis. I mentioned that once I realised that I wasn’t yet dead, my biggest sadness was the impact that this was likely to have on my ability to travel. We (semi-jokingly) said that I should look for trips to do with work, and then work would be responsible for those costs. I then decided in the ‘life is short’ frame of mind, and knowing that I’m not doing any face-to-face teaching this year, this seemed the perfect time to give it a go. So, after further conversations/support of Head of Faculty and Head of Department, off the bid went.

So now we’ve ‘just’ the logistics to prepare for … and just praying that my oophorectomy – which I had already expected to have had by now, and am still waiting a date on, is at the very least before Christmas… so I’ve plenty of recovery time before a long flight. My oncologist agreed that I could take a short break from treatment (unless it can be done in New Zealand (which apparently has great healthcare) but obviously can’t do what I might otherwise have thought about – stay on a bit longer for some extra travel (thankfully I have been before).

I hope I might be able to see some old friends, although they may have to come my way as who knows how much the fatigue will have lifted, and obviously I am going for work. I anticipate that I’m doing public lectures at Vaughan Park, Laidlaw College, and Victoria University in Wellington – that seems plenty.

The Bid

Bio: Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, where she was previously employed to research faith in a digital age, and aid with digital literacy in the church. She has a particular interest in digital culture and the third sector, especially faith organisations, having worked with most national UK churches and a number of Christian charities. She has written widely on discipleship in a digital age, and her 2017 breast cancer diagnosis has led to added research on identity, social media and cancer. Treatment made physical engagement with church challenging, so the online space has literally been a Godsend.

Trained as a mass communications historian, Bex has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst  (Lion Hudson, 2014) alongside a number of book chapters and academic papers, and regularly judges digital awards.

Bex enjoys international travel, including two months travelling around New Zealand on a Magic Bus in 2007, before working as a tour leader for Oak Hall holidays in 2008. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, including a range of devotionals, most recently for BBC Radio 4 (http://bit.ly/Radio4LentCancer) and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.

Project: In 2014, Raising Children in a Digital Age (http://j.mp/digitparent), was published to positive reviews, and I would like to work on developing the second edition at Vaughan Park. The book was published by Lion Hudson, who are Christian publishers, keen to allow Christian authors to make a difference in the wider world.  The Financial Times described it as ‘sensible’ in a sea of scare stories, whilst a 14 year old, initially scathing at the idea that her mum would learn anything, read it and said ‘oh, she knows what she’s talking about’. Individuals at conferences have come up to me and said it has changed the conversation with their children, whilst youth leaders have said that my work has shaped youth ministry around digital over the past few years.

Other work is emerging from this work, exploring practical theology and media literacy, to resource the church and wider Christian community. I am currently developing a funding bid to ensure that churches have good policies for youth and children around social media, from which an academic paper will emerge, which will support my research impact. Over the past five years, I have continued to engage in a lot of media work around children and digital (http://drbexl.co.uk/press/), watching the conversation change, and it is time for a second edition. A 2014 book in digital terms is ‘prehistoric’: the book was written on principles so it would be a case of identifying and updating case studies, and adding more material on the big topics of screentime, addiction, mental health and gaming.

I would also be looking to further discussions with Stephen Garner, Academic Dean and Senior Lecturer in Theology, Laidlaw College, about publications and resources around the area of discipleship in a digital age. Stephen is the co-author of Networked Theology (2016), written with Heidi Campbell from their collaboration when she was a Vaughan Park Scholar. I would be developing further work I led on The Big Bible Project: http://archive.bigbible.uk/home2/archives/, and have published here: http://bit.ly/SurvSocFaithSocMedia. Stephen is also keen to have me give a public lecture at Laidlaw College, and introduce me to other scholars in our shared research areas, and there would be an opportunity to explore faith and media in the bicultural and multicultural contexts of New Zealand.

I am friends with Heidi Campbell, Cherry Hamilton, and Andrew Graystone, all previous Vaughan Scholars, and they speak enthusiastically about the experience. After a challenging two years (and ongoing) cancer treatment, and an uncertain long-term prognosis since my secondary diagnosis, a time of mental and spiritual space within a supportive Christian community, alongside space to think and work, would be a powerful restorative.

Summary of Expected Outputs:

  • Work on a revised version of book;
  • Thinking about an associated academic paper;
  • Present some talks on faith, media and digital life;
  • Develop collaborative partnerships;
  • Enjoy a refreshing and restorative rhythm of spiritual life and community.

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