"Being a Christian is like playing duplicate bridge": Presbyterian women and the articulation of belief

Jody Ann Davie, University of Pennsylvania


Folk religion includes those unofficial beliefs that individuals within a congregation discover for, and share among, themselves, in contrast with the official doctrine of their church. Yet the communicative style of a church community may be so ambiguous or so concerned with privacy as to render any variation of personal belief within the group invisible. Under such circumstances, how might it be possible for individual spiritual understandings to enter the channels of communication that make them "folk"? This study of one ongoing Bible study group for women at a predominantly white, middle-class, Presbyterian church in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States is based on eighteen months of participant-observation fieldwork, complemented by extensive individual interviews. The group's non-confrontative structure and its affirmation of provisionality in the spiritual process create a context in which participants are able to meet some of their felt needs for intimacy and communication concerning their spirituality, without making themselves intolerably vulnerable to ridicule, doubt, or conflict. The interview process discloses that some crucial formative elements of the personal beliefs of group members, including dramatic supernatural experiences, are not articulated in the group context, although, unknown to one another, five-sixths of the group members have had them. These experiences undergird or reinforce personal beliefs, which in turn are given voice indirectly within the group. This study locates specific non-doctrinal trends in religious language, beliefs, and attitudes toward belief articulated by the members of the group, demonstrating that these individuals do influence one another's beliefs, subtly but deeply, through the group process. Perhaps even more significantly, by giving particular attention to the importance of gender, respect, and trust to the fieldworker-informant relationship, it reveals how the members of the group work both with and against the male group leader and one another to define their articulative limits and to express, explore, and share their beliefs creatively within those limits.

Subject Area

Folklore|Religion|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Davie, Jody Ann, ""Being a Christian is like playing duplicate bridge": Presbyterian women and the articulation of belief" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9308554.