Toward Tensegrity: Young Women, Narrative Agency, and Religious Education Open Access

Bischoff, Claire Elise (2011)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/qj72p8130?locale=en
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Abstract

Abstract
Toward Tensegrity: Young Women, Narrative Agency, and Religious Education
By Claire Bischoff


This dissertation argues that Christian faith communities are critical resources for young women striving to enact narrative agency within situations of meaningful cultural constraints. The first two chapters introduce a narrative approach to identity and present appreciative, transformative inquiry as a fresh method for research with young women that arises from feminist, ethnographic, theological, and educational commitments.

Chapters three and four presents the results of Stories of Gender, a narrative- and small group-based research project in which young women told and discussed stories about their gender identities. Against the backdrop of popular, religious education, and practical theology literature about girls, Stories of Gender reveals the importance of a measured approach to young women's agency and narrative identity, that is, one that recognizes both the challenges young women face in constructing female identity and the means by which young women meet these challenges, particularly the way a girl's relationship with a loving and accepting God acts as a site of resistance in a culture where many young women struggle to balance being true to themselves with garnering acceptance for projecting a proper image of female beauty. Finally, a claim is made for tensegrity--a wholeness that finds its integrity through the balancing of tensive parts--as the telos toward which young women's narrative identity work should strive.

The final three chapters articulate resources that Christian faith communities offer young women in support of their narrative identity work. A transcendent, eschatological, and embodied theological anthropology provides young women with the imago Dei, made in the image of God, as a reparative narrative thread. Religious education grounded in critical reflection, exploration of new possibilities, and action for integration, as well as the exercising of imagination, promotes identification of damaged narrative threads and the construction of salutary narratives. Finally, the entire life of Christian faith communities mediates to young women their imago Dei status and invites them into formative and transformative practices, so that young women deepen their relationships with God and develop a stance of identity-constituting receptivity through which they learn to see themselves as God sees them.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

FOREWORD...1

Never the Right Sort of Girl--Personal Identity... 2
Not Sure How to Teach--Professional Identity... 7
Narrative and Identity, Femininity, and Pedagogy--Conversation Partners from the Literature... 8

CHAPTER ONE
GIRL POWER OR GIRLS IN CRISIS: YOUNG WOMEN'S NARRATIVE AGENCY...12

Perfect Girl or True to Yourself? Iesha's Girlhood Dilemma and Her Turn to Theological Discourse...17
Young Women's Narrative Agency: Thesis and Terms...21

Young Women: Who and Why...23
Narrative Identity...26
Christian Faith Communities--Denouncing Sin and Announcing Grace...36

The First Wave of Research on Young Women of Faith...37

Introduction to the Conversation Partners...40
Methodological Commitments in Work with Young Women...43
Themes of Female Identity...44
Themes of Faith Identity...47
Recommendations for Practice in Communities of Faith...47

Overview...50

CHAPTER TWO
APPRECIATEIVE, TRANFORMATIVE INQUIRY: A FEMINIST ETHNOGRAPHIC THEOLOGICAL EDUCATIONAL APPROACH...55

Stories of Gender: Research Subjects and Method...59

Research Subjects...59
Research Method...65

Appreciative, Transformative Inquiry...70
Approach: A Feminist Ethnographic Theological Educational Endeavor...73

Feminist...73
Ethnographic...75
Theological...77
Educational...82

Tensegritous Research: Practicing Appreciative, Transformative Inquiry...87
Commitments for Future Research...91

Use More than Verbal and Written Analysis...92
Build Participant Interpretation into the Research Process...94
Do Homework and Participator Action Research...97

CHAPTER THREE
LISTENING TO GIRLS: RESULTS FROM STORIES OF GENDER...103

Let Me Introduce You to Bethany, Emmy, and Lauren of Grace United Methodist Church...103

"Looking for Mr. Right": Bethany's Story...105
"You Have To Be a Certain Way": Emmy's Story...108
"Can't a Girl Just Be Herself?": Lauren's Story...109
Exit Interviews...111

The Content of Female Identity: Themes from Stories of Gender...113

Being Yourself...113
Creating the Right Look...114
Reaping Social Rewards of the Right Look...115
Maintaining Right Relationships...116
Striving for Independence...118
Feeling Isolated...118
Experiencing Menstruation...119
Living Responsibly...120

Girls, but Not Only Girls--Background Themes in Stories of Gender...121

Racial Identity and Being a Girl...122
Class Status and Being a Girl...123
Sexual Orientation and Being a Girl...123
Processes of Constructing Female Identity...124
Forming Narratives, Taking Action, Encountering Reactions: An Interplay...125
Narrating Identity--Becoming Conscious and Experiencing Healing...126
Encountering Stories of Self in Relationships...127
Reflecting, Projecting, and Subverting Cultural Narratives...129
Comparing with Young Men...129
Reacting to Major Life Events...131
Thinking Anew in New Surroundings...131

"God Wants Girls to be Themselves": Girlhood Identity through the Eyes of Faith...132

God Knows, Loves, and Accepts Girls as They Are...132
God Is Present, Particularly When Girls Face Hard Times...133
God Is Also Present to Girls through Their Friends...134
God Has a Plan for Girls' Lives and Does Everything for a Reason...134
God Makes and Blesses Girls' Bodies...136
God Is a (Loving) Father-Figure...136
A Strong Relationship with God Means a Stronger Relationship with Yourself...137
When Religion Leads to Further Isolation--The Limits of Faith in Young Women's Narratives...137

"We Got to Experience Each Other's Spirits": The Pedagogical Process of Stories of Gender...138

Sharing Is Fun and Empowering...138
Struggling To Write and Share...139
Discovering Confirmation and Contradiction...140
Helping Others through Your Story...141
Building Trust and Respect...141
Expanding and Re-Learning Gender...142
Connecting Gender and Religion...142
Engaging Experience and Listening without Judgment...143

CHAPTER FOUR
TOWARD TENSEGRITY: A GIRL-FRIENDLY APPROACH TO NARRATIVE IDENTITY...145

The Balancing Act of Female Identity...145

Playing Twister...149
Struggling and Thriving: A Measured Approach to Female Identity...151

Identities of Tensegrity: A Narrative Vision of Female Faith Integrity...163

CHAPTER FIVE
MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD: AN ALTERNATIVE IDENTITY NARRATIVE...176

Made in the Image of God: Our Essential Anthropology...178
Between Finitude and Openness to the Infinite: Transcendental Anthropology...179
We Are Who We Are Becoming: Eschatological Anthropology...183
Male and Female, God Created Them: Our Embodied Anthropology...185
Embodying God's Image: A Theological Narrative of Young Women's Identities...188
Journeys of Becoming: A Theological Reading of Narrative Identity Work...199

Women's Spiritual Journeys: Toward the Via Unitiva...200
The Spiritual Journeys of Young Women...205

CHAPTER SIX
GIRLS ONLY: (TRANS)FORMATIVE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION...212

Girl-Only Spaces: Caring for Young Women through Religious Education...213
An Argument for Imagination...218

Aesthetic Education...220
Narrative Education...221
Embodied Education...224
For What Can We Hope?...226

Story-Sharing as a Model of Transformative and Imaginative Education...228
Eschatological Education: Transforming Identity Narratives...234

Reflecting Critically...234
Encountering New Possibilities...239
Acting for Integration and Transformation...240
In Communities of Support and Care...242
Image Is Everything: An Example of Eschatological Education...244

Transcendent Education: (Trans)Formation through Feminist Prayer Practices...246

Lectio Divina...249
Guided Meditation...251
Askesis...253

CHAPTER SEVEN
MEDIATING GOD: FAITH COMMUNITIES AS CRITICAL PARTNERS FOR YOUNG WOMEN'S NARRATIVE IDENTITY WORK...258

Implicit Curriculum: Comprehensive Ecclesial Response...259
Directions Still To Be Explored...275

APPENDIX A
NARRATIVES FROM STORIES OF GENDER...280
APPENDIX B
STORIES OF GENDER INFORMED CONSENT LETTERS...302

APPENDIX C
STORIES OF GENDER PARTICIPANT QUESTIONNAIRE...313

APPENDIX D
STORIES OF GENDER DISCUSSION GUIDE...315

APPENDIX E
STORIES OF GENDER EXIT INTERIVEW QUESTION SCHEDULE...317

BIBLIOGRAPHY...319

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