Berry, Janet Nesta
Transforming rites: the practice of women's ritual making.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This research originates in my own practice of writing feminist liturgy, and creating rituals with and for groups of women. Its purpose is to explore the contemporary practice of women who are designing and enacting their own liturgies, rituals or ceremonies in relation to transition in their lives.
This thesis surveys the development of what has been variously called ‘the women’s liturgical movement’, ‘feminist liturgy’ or ‘feminist spirituality’; before focusing on the process by which women have created their own rituals in relation to significant changes in their lives.
The research draws on qualitative research methods, including participant observation, ethnographic techniques, and reflective practice, to analyse twelve case studies of rituals. It brings this material into dialogue with pastoral theology and social anthropology. It argues that women’s ritualising, or ritual making, is a dynamic, flexible process in contrast to traditional definitions of ritual. It offers a feminist critique of Turner’s theories of liminality and communitas, based on the work of Caroline Walker Bynum. It explores the tension between personal experience and wider social concern, arguing that women’s practice in making ritual is negotiating and re-defining the boundary between private and public.
The process of creating ritual is explored further in relation to ideas of the narrative construction of identity, and performance theory. The thesis develops the argument that women’s activity in creating ritual is a construction of their own identity and agency in resistance to patriarchal tradition; and that their rituals, rather than expressing traditional theology and doctrine, are constructing feminist theology, or, in the case of Goddess rituals, thealogy.
Finally the thesis looks at the implications of the practice of women’s ritual making for pastoral liturgy, practical theology, and Christian feminist theology.
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