Negotiating Community : An Ethnographic Study of an Evangelical Church.

Guest, Mathew John (2002) Negotiating Community : An Ethnographic Study of an Evangelical Church. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Evangelical Christianity is commonly interpreted in terms of an ongoing reaction to a religiously and morally defunct modernity. Some commentators argue for its popularity on the grounds that it compensates for the discontents of modernity, offering certainty in a context of uncertainty, clarity amidst confusion. However, the efficacy of this process is dependent upon the maintenance of effective boundaries against modernisation. In recent times, evangelicalism has increasingly engaged with secular agencies and with forces outside of its traditional remit, leading to a comprehensive accommodation to - and negotiation with - modem ideas, media and values. Tracing this process within a thriving evangelical Anglican church in northern England, I explore how congregational values are (a) liberalised, characterised by tolerance and a broadening of tradition; and (b) subjectivised, preoccupied with the inner life and needs of the self. As a point of comparison, I trace a different response in a progressive 'alternative' worship group attached to the church. In an interesting inversion, their driving ethos is a postmodern critique of the church and its apparent disconnection from contemporary culture; their concern: the discontents of the evangelical mainstream. These case studies throw into question several common assumptions: that liberalisation leads to decline; that subjectivisation leads to atomisation; and that both processes advance along a simple or unidirectional route within particular communities. In particular, they highlight the importance of local demographic and historical filters in the negotiation with modem trends. Moreover, while accommodation appears to generate diversification, this does not necessarily lead to fragmentation. Rather, growth and the maintenance of community here depend on sustaining cultural affinities with a target audience, providing opportunities for empowerment among members and maintaining a collective sense of self in public discourse.

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Thesis (PhD)
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02 May 2019 16:29
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30 Nov 2023 01:16