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Stories of Resistance to Religious Authority: A Discursive Analysis

Abuses of power within certain religious communities have become a matter of public concern in recent decades. Less well known are the stories of people within local Christian communities who experience practices of religious authority which do not make headlines, but which nonetheless diminish the possibilities of their lives. Feminist analyses have highlighted the historical, cultural, and theological roots of the oppression of women in Christian communities, but work remains to be done on understanding how other subjugating practices, which oppress women and men, and resistance to such practices, are produced in religious contexts. This study asks (1) how it is that regimes of power and knowledge can subvert the call to freedom and justice which is pervasive in longstanding streams of Christian tradition, and (2) what has enabled some people to resist the practices of religious authority constructed by such regimes. In responding to these questions this thesis adopts a poststructuralist conceptual framework, drawing particularly on Foucault’s theorisation of knowledge, power, and subjectivity. In addition to Foucauldian ideas, poststructuralist feminist discussions of human agency, and Sampson’s (1993) notion of monologic and dialogic power relations, strongly influence the theoretical and ethical stance of this study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine people, from a variety of Christian communities within New Zealand, who at some time had found it necessary to resist everyday practices of religious authority within their contexts. The interviews focused on their accounts of the subjugating practices they had encountered, the effects of those practices on their lives, and their acts of resistance. A discursive approach to narrative analysis was developed and applied to transcriptions of these interviews. This analysis identified a range of discursive technologies which had contributed to the subjugation of the participants and protected the hegemony of discourses which supported subjugating practices. This study concludes that (1) monologic power relations within religious communities are a primary indicator of problematic discourses and practices of authority; (2) the “Man of God” discourse and its variants inevitably subvert freedom and justice; (3) sexual abuse by religious leaders belongs to a spectrum of discursively produced entitlement practices; (4) the embodied effects of subjugation bear witness to ethical hopes and intentions, and are instrumental in producing resistance; and (5) repeated exposure to a range of religious texts and rituals both supports and subverts people’s subjectification within the dominant discourses of a religious community.
Type of thesis
Crawley, D. R. (2014). Stories of Resistance to Religious Authority: A Discursive Analysis (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8665
University of Waikato
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