Holy Women, Wholly Women: Sharing Ministries of Wholeness through Life Stories and Reciprocal Ethnography

By Elaine J. Lawless | Go to book overview

Preface

Most of my work previous to this book has focused on Pentecostalism, largely as it exists in white congregations in the southernmost reaches of the midland states, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. It was while I was writing a book on women preachers in the Pentecostal faith that I occasionally met a clergywoman from a mainline denomination. I even met a few women rabbis. My interest was sparked. I knew it would be important to compare the lives and ministry of such mainline women with those of Pentecostals, who are much more marginal and less inclined toward the mainstream.

The full story of my field experience can be found in Chapter 1, but suffice it to say here, in the first lines of this book, that this project has developed into, simply, the most rewarding effort of my career. The methodology developed for this work, which I am calling "reciprocal ethnography," served to bring me closer to the women in the study. I am fully aware that our "book work," as it came to be called, has had a deep impact on the women as well and that they appreciate the places our discussions have taken us. I consider the women in this study my friends; acknowledging that has also made it awkward and difficult at times to establish and maintain the appropriate relationship with each of them. Our discussions of things religious and spiritual have sustained me personally. Their honesty, integrity, sense of humor, inquisitiveness, generosity, diligence, and honor continue to restore my faith in humankind to do and be all that it can. Justice, love, vulnerability, acceptance, and the working of the sacred in human lives have come to have new meaning for me, even though I do not consider myself traditionally religious or claim the denominational faith of any of the women represented in this study.

In an attempt to acknowledge that I bring cultural and religious "baggage" to this endeavor, I might note by way of explanation that my childhood roots were in the Southern Baptist tradition; while that early experience certainly has helped me in my study of traditional

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