"A beautifully written ethnography that provides new insight into the functioning of congregations and the meaning of spirituality at the end of the twentieth century. Jody Davie is correct in arguing that churches are abstractions masking the complex ways in which indviduals negotiate what it means to be spiritual and to have community within the smaller groups of which congregations are composed. She is especially adept at teasing out the 'languages of silence' that prevent religious conviction from being shared as openly and as intimately as many might hope it could be shared. Social scientists and religious leaders will find much in this book to stimulate their thinking about the ways in which American religion is changing."—Robert Wuthnow, Princeton UniversityWomen in the Presence is a study of the religious lives of middle-class laywomen. Focusing on the ways in which the members of one Bible study group for women at a suburban Presbyterian church articulate their beliefs and define their communicative boundaries, the book reveals a style of managing privacy, diversity, and fellowship that displays distinct strengths and poignant prohibitions.
Based on eighteen months of participant-observation fieldwork, complemented by extensive individual interviews, Jody Shapiro Davie shows that often the deepest beliefs of group members are voiced only indirectly and that crucial elements of their personal beliefs are not discussed at all among the group. Women in the Presence makes apparent some of the difficulties and complexities of contemporary middle-class religious life in America: the fear of self-revelation that leads to spiritual isolation; denominational efforts not to alienate anyone that result in polite, superficial, and lifeless churches; and the conventions of middle-class culture that repress the individual's desire for sincere and active engagement with the life of the soul.
Approaching a middle-class American church through an anthropologist-folklorist's eyes, Women in the Presence offers a fresh perspective on the pursuit of spirituality by mainstream Protestant women. Unique in its field, this book will be of interest to the general reader and to scholars concerned with congregational studies, women and religion, vernacular religion and belief, and the anthropology of contemporary American religious life.
Jody Shapiro Davie is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Drew University and was Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University.