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Bringing women into a broad space: Spritual direction with women from conservative religious contexts

Roberton, Bethwyn (2013) Bringing women into a broad space: Spritual direction with women from conservative religious contexts. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The disadvantage that women experience in patriarchal religious communities is well documented and it affects the self-validation of their personal spiritual experiences. The patriarchal domination of women’s spirituality in conservative contexts has disempowered women’s faith-experience through limiting their ways of knowing God to those that involve a masculinised paradigm. Such limitations stifle the validation of women’s self-actuated faith. This thesis has undertaken a study with Australian women who have experienced a conservative religious background and has explored the benefits they have found in accessing spiritual direction. A framework for feminine spirituality has then been developed out of the research.

For women, speaking about personal experience is limited by the style of language and conceptualisation in conservatism, and by the sanctioned mode of being female and the roles deemed suitable for women in the congregation. Limitations from the collective shadow of a conservative faith-group prevent women speaking openly about their authentic spiritual experiences. Conversation, this thesis will assert, is a feminine mode of validation and the quality of the conversation space is an important aspect of validation. Using a feminist narrative research methodology, an investigation into the benefits of engaging in one-to-one conversations with a spiritual director has been designed to look at the potential outcomes for women, particularly with regard to validating a personal feminine spirituality.

The biblical metaphor of a “broad space” has been used as a framework for raising awareness about aspects of the spiritual direction conversation space that limit and aid the exploration of authentic spiritual experience. Issues considered in this thesis include the limitations of conservative shadow effects, inherited female role models, the process of spiritual direction and the personality attributes of the spiritual director. Narrative selections of interview transcripts are used verbatim to indicate the influence of these attributes on the personal faith journey of the women participants. It will be shown that their comments help clarify how shadow constraints and cultural subtexts interfere with the potential for deep personal self-validation by a directee. A summary section then looks at the reported benefits of engaging in spiritual direction. Finally, a rationale has been developed for speaking about feminine spirituality as it was revealed in the women’s narratives.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Ault, Nancy
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