Genres of Reading/Genres of Agency: An Ethnography of Protestant Women's Reading Groups Open Access

Laramee Kidd, Susannah Therese (2013)

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For this dissertation, I conducted fieldwork in five different groups of Protestant women at three churches in Atlanta, GA. The three churches I selected represent a variety within American Protestantism in terms of race, class, age and theology. Despite these differences between the groups, I found similarities in the reading practices of the groups that correspond to the genres of reading material the groups used. Thus my dissertation explores how genres of religious texts engender genres of reading practices and how genres of reading practices that women bring to the discussion shape their experiences of the texts. In order to illustrate the interaction between genres of texts and genres of reading practice within my dissertation manuscript, I combine an ethnographic narrative with reflection on theories the role of the other in the formation of the self in feminist philosophy and theories of reading and interpretation drawn from philosophical hermeneutics. Specifically, I engage the work of Linda Martín Alcoff, Wendy Brown, Adriana Cavarero, Lois McNay, Cynthia Willett, and Linda Zerilli in feminist philosophy; and the work of Wilhelm Dilthey, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur in philosophical hermeneutics.

By focusing on genres of religious reading across diverse groups of American Protestants, my project offers an alternative to the dichotomy of autonomy and heteronomy that persists in the study of gender and religion in American Protestantism. The genres of reading that are featured in the dissertation--resonating with the stories of others, struggling with and wallowing in doctrinal texts, playfully imagining oneself in biblical narratives, and defining boundaries through reading religious others--do not lend themselves to simple categorization in terms of limiting or facilitating women's agency. I argue that approaches to agency that attempt to disentangle the self and the other by determining whether the self is the cause (autonomous) or the other is the cause (heteronomous) of any given effect miss modalities of agency in Protestant women's reading practices. These modalities of interactions between individuals and different kinds of others represent different characteristics of co-agency that co-determine religious effects and co-construct the religious self.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction: Protestant Women's Agency and Reading Practices - 1

Chapter One: Resonating with the Stories of Others - 60

Chapter Two: Struggling and Wallowing: Internalizing Theological Texts - 106
Chapter Three: Playful, Imaginative Variations of the Self Otherwise in the Text - 165

Chapter Four: Defining Boundaries Through Reading Religious Others - 220

Conclusion: Genres of Texts and Genres of Co-Agency in Protestant Women's Reading Groups - 283

Appendix I: Semi-Structured Interview Questions - 312

Bibliography - 313

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