Dissertation Proposal Defense by D. Bethan Theunissen
Date and Time
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Mother Rosalie Hill Hall, Room 201
"INTONATIONS OF THEIR OWN LANGUAGE": AN ANALYSIS OF LEADERSHIP AND SYMBOLIC RESONANCE IN THREE PROGRESSIVE YOUNG-ADULT-FILLED CONGREGATIONS IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Although most religious communities hope to pass their faith on to future generations, Christianity in North America is in decline and young adults are leaving the church in considerable numbers. The fastest growing “religious” group consists of those who identify with no religion at all. Although virtually all denominations are waning, this qualitative research study will focus on one high-impact group: progressive mainstream congregations. Rather than studying decline, however, this research will investigate three outlier congregations in the Pacific Northwest, each of which is attracting substantial numbers of 18 to 30-year-olds to church services.
This naturalistic case study/cross case research will identify and analyse how these three congregations are successfully attracting members of a younger generation, a generation that usually seems indifferent towards mainstream religion. More specifically, the study will focus on how congregations and their leaders create webs of significance and intonations of language (Hopewell, 1987, p. 6) that either resonate with (or, possibly, repel) those seeking a spiritual home. The research strategy will, by design, be emergent.
The primary data gathering will occur through interviews/focus groups with leaders and participants that encourage storytelling, by observing worship services and other church-related interactions, and, to a lesser extent, by analyzing websites, social media, and advertising. The case/cross-case inquiry will employ a variety of types of narrative analysis to seek patterns and themes within and between sites.
This study should provide insight about the intersection of religious congregations and the spiritual lives of young adults. Hopefully, it will offer new thought categories and working hypotheses for denominations, seminaries, clergy, congregations, young adults, and others interested in religious experience in emerging adulthood. At a more general level, it also should contribute to the growing literatures on symbolic and narrative leadership and congregational studies.
This event is free to USD faculty and graduate community