"Finding a Home: Lesbian Women Reconciling Their Sexual Identity with the Church"
Abstract: Feminist theology as a whole asserts that the specific life experiences of women color the ways in which they interact with the world. A woman’s theological commitments and understandings are often a reflection of her social location and personal circumstances. Many feminist theologians assert that attention needs to be given to the specific life experiences of women, and the ways in which these encounters with the world impact a woman’s understanding of her faith. Groups of women who speak from specific ethnic or geographical locations have begun to emerge in the field; womanist theologians represent the voices of African American women and mujeristas represent the experiences of Latin American women. However, a meaningful look into the lives of lesbian women and the way their experiences influence their faith has yet to be pursued at length. Because their interactions with society, and often with the Christian Church, are drastically different than those of most heterosexual women, making broad sweeping statements about Christian women does not resonate with the experiences of lesbians. Feminist theology, although intended to be emancipating for all women, can have a further marginalizing effect when a large group of women simply cannot identify with the conversation. Consequently, it is necessary, not only to give lesbian women a voice in this discussion, but to begin filling this gap in feminist theological scholarship. A total of twenty gay women whose Christian faith is a core part of their identity will be interviewed as a way to gain specific insight into this subject. The interviews are semi-structured, each following the same basic outline of six broad questions which lead to a more detailed discussion based on each woman’s level of disclosure. Thus far, fourteen interviews have been completed. At the conclusion of the fall semester, I was able to draw some conclusions from interviews I had completed at that point and presented them in a paper. Hearing these women’s stories has allowed me to specifically explore the ways in which their experiences as lesbian women living in a largely heterosexual society profoundly impact their understanding of Christian community and what it means to be Church.
Participating in undergraduate research for the past 2 years has been an incredibly enriching experience. I have had the opportunity to engage in research that I am passionate about on a personal level. As an Arts and Humanities Scholar, I have been given the time and resources that have allowed me to invest a significant amount of energy in the ongoing work of a single project. Working directly with Dr. Peters and two other students has allowed me to do this work in a challenging and inspiring environment that would never develop in a typical semester long course. I am now much more confident in my ability to do graduate level research in the future and feel well equipped to embark upon future research endeavors.
Emily Shore | Erin Keys | Ann Marie Leonard
"Impact of Feminist Theology on Life and Thought of Christian Church"
Abstract: Over the past several decades there has been an emergence in the academic world of Religious Studies of a new strand of theology - feminist theology. The emergence of feminist theology coincides with increasing numbers of women in seminary and women seeking ordination. As women began to make their presence known in ministry and assert their right to ordination as equal to men, the feminist theology that many of them were reading in seminary has had a profound impact on the lives the women in ministry and on their vision of what it means to be church. An understanding of the exact relationship that feminist theology has with the church extends far beyond equality in numbers of men and women in clerical positions. The focus of this research is to examine the relationship between theology and the church by exploring the effect theoretical advances in feminist theology have had on the practical application of ministry. Using a snowballing technique for sampling to gather my data, I have interviewed twelve women who have been ordained in the Presbyterian (USA) church.
By interviewing feminist-identified women my objective has been to see how feminist theology has shaped their approach to ministry. My analysis seeks to offer an accurate portrayal of how feminist theology is being translated into a select group of Presbyterian churches in North Carolina, as well as to provide insight into how feminist theology continues to call for a transformation of ministry and the church. The findings of this research have drawn distinct parallels between women in ministry and women in academia. Further exploration into existing research on women in academia coupled with the results from my interviews shows that women in professional fields are facing similar hierarchical issues as women in the church. I have found that feminist theology is calling for a restructuring of the typical patriarchal models of ministry that have forced women to exist in careers where the top positions were created for men.
Reflections on research:
Participating in undergraduate research for the past three years has been the single most defining aspect in my abilities as a student. The expectations from Dr. Peters were an intense and challenging goal for myself, but through her constant support as a mentor, as well as the experience of peer review by other students in the program, this experience has prepared me for graduate school in a way that would not have been possible from just classroom assignments. I have realized that I truly enjoy research and have seen this new knowledge affect my work in other classes, making me a better student all around. I feel I am competitive with most students my age and confident in the training I have received. This experience will be one of the things that I take away from college as being the most challenging and rewarding that I undertook at my time at Elon.
"The Lives of Catholic Workers: Finding Refreshment in a Life Filled with Serving Others"
Abstract: The Catholic Worker communities in contemporary society are unique groupings of Christians who live alongside the poor, sick, and homeless through a lifestyle that they believe is how Jesus would live in our world today. These communities were started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who were radical Catholics who tried to live out their own convictions of social justice, pacifism, voluntary poverty, and love. This research project explores the personal motivations behind the kind of work that Catholic Workers perform, and moves into learning about the spiritual, physical, and emotional exhaustion that Catholic Workers often ultimately feel after giving their lives to this type of radical social justice work. This paper presents one aspect of a larger ethnographic research project that examines the Catholic Worker communities. In this paper I examine the ways in which Catholic Workers understand their identities, and I detail the specific ways that Catholic Workers rejuvenate themselves as a community and as individuals as they experience different types of weariness from living their lives at the Catholic Worker. Catholic Workers refresh themselves by having discussion as a community, praying together, serving together, developing their own individual ministries, and by standing apart from the outside world in their lifestyle and finding unification in that distinction. I collected this research by attending the semi-annual retreat of all the Catholic Worker communities in the Southeastern United States where six communities were present and I also spent time at one Catholic Worker community’s farm. During these experiences I interviewed twelve individual Catholic Workers. The academic purpose of this research is to continue my ongoing research within the Department of Religious Studies that has been exploring the motivations behind the service work that intentional Christian communities perform. This research will focus by spotlighting the Catholic Worker community and by exploring specifically not only what motivates them to serve, but what rejuvenates them after they give their lives to service, and how they fit this process of spiritual, emotional, or physical renewal into their lives.
My experience of doing independent research with Dr. Peters has been a foundational part of my education here at Elon. Over the past two years I have been developing skills in reading, writing, interviewing, thinking critically, and using creativity in all aspects of my research. These skills have helped me tremendously in all of my other classes, and I have noticed a huge difference in the quality of my schoolwork. In addition to these practical skills, I have gained confidence and wisdom that will remain with me for a lifetime. The research has been really fun, extremely difficult, and totally eye-opening all at the same time! I feel strongly that when I graduate in a few months my degree will be much more valuable, at least to me, because I have had the opportunity to research at this level as an undergraduate.