Gender, Faith, and Storytelling: An Ethnography of the Charismatic Internet

TitleGender, Faith, and Storytelling: An Ethnography of the Charismatic Internet
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsStewart, A
Academic DepartmentDepartment of Anthropology
UniversityUniversity of Sussex
Thesis TypeDoctoral Thesis
Keywordsanthropological studies, Computer, Contemporary Religious Community, cyberspace, declarations of faith, digital cultures, domestic settings, Evangelic, Faith, GENDER

Although early predictions that an emerging ‘cyberspace’ could exist in separation from
offline life have been largely discarded, anthropological studies of the internet have
continued to find notions of ‘virtual reality’ relevant as individuals use these
technologies to fulfil the “pledges they have already made” (Boellstorff, 2008; Miller &
Slater, 2001: 19) about their own selfhood and their place in the world. There are
parallels between this concept of ‘virtual reality’ and the on-going spiritual labour of
Charismatic Christians in the UK, who seek in the context of a secularising nation to
maintain a sense of presence in the “coming Kingdom” of God. The everyday
production of this expanded spiritual context depends to a large extend on verbal genres
that are highly gendered. For women, declarations of faith are often tied to domestic
settings, personal narratives, and the unspoken testimony of daily life (e.g. Lawless,
1988; Griffith, 1997). The technologies of the internet, whose emerging genres
challenge boundaries between personal and social, public and private, can cast a greater
illumination on this inward-focused labour. This doctoral thesis is based on
ethnographic research in four Charismatic Evangelical congregations and examination
of the online practices of churchgoers. I have found that the use of the internet by
Charismatic Christian women fits with wider religious preoccupations and patterns of ritual practice. Words posted through Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other online
platforms come to resemble in their form as well as their content Christian narratives of
a life with meaning.