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Intimate relationships as means for ethical self-formation and social change in evangelical churches of Austin, Texas

Knuutila, PA; (2017) Intimate relationships as means for ethical self-formation and social change in evangelical churches of Austin, Texas. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis explores how evangelical Protestants of two conservative churches in Austin, Texas make and experience intimate relationships, and how these relationships shape their ethical self-development. It focuses on interpersonal relations within their church communities, with people in need and relations with divine forces. Both the meetings of church small groups and organised occasions for evangelism reflect a local ideal of intimacy, as they aim at conversation that is spontaneous, non-instrumental and self-disclosing. Evangelical discourse about intimate interaction understands it as an ethical tool: It allows participants to discover moral faults in themselves and to enrol others for self-disciplinary support. Such an ethical tool depends on a model of personhood that in the thesis is called forensic. Evangelicals following this model understood themselves as autonomous individuals held accountable to biblical norms that are separate from them. Based on ethnographic material gathered from 15 months of fieldwork, the ethnography demonstrates that the performance of intimacy is often in contrast with the churches’ relational ideology. Rather than relations that aspire to mutual disclosure, they also include tacit or explicit acknowledgement of power relations, negotiated reciprocity and measured distance. Moreover, in additional to the forensic model, responses to intimate relationships were also understood with a contrasting logic of personhood, as indeterminate and contingent on powers that are distinct from both the acting ethical subject and social institutions. These statements connect with a growing anthropological literature on morality and relatedness that attempts to account for the richness and incongruity of ethical practice. Long-term participant observation makes it possible to understand personal striving for piety not only in terms of its ideals and inherent logic, but also its potentially contradictory outcomes. The ethnographic material suggests evangelical norms and means of self-formation are associated with frustration and ambiguity, particularly as they aspire to be the singular source for ethical direction for all life domains in a context such as Austin that is characterised by a diversity of life trajectories. The flexibility inherent to the relational approach to ethical life, including the potential to switch between forensic and indeterminate modes of action, is creatively used by participants to respond to this tension.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Intimate relationships as means for ethical self-formation and social change in evangelical churches of Austin, Texas
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1551630
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