"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Getting to and Joining a Church

There's a silly tract that periodically gets recycled among Eastern Christians alleging that men prefer Eastern Orthodoxy because it is more "manly" and "demanding" in its liturgical and ascetical culture. It is, of course, the typical product of the fevered imagination one finds in American converts to Orthodoxy, an extremely un-self-aware group of people so well analyzed in D. Oliver Herbel's book as well as in Amy Slagle's.

Among its several flaws is its lack of serious scholarly study of a statistically respectable population surveyed according to scientific methods (to say nothing of the fact it ignores the attendance and activity rates of men in Europe, which tell a very different story). Those flaws do not look to mar the forthcoming study of the sociologist Sally K. Gallagher, Getting to Church: Exploring Narratives of Gender and Joining (Oxford UP, 2017), 240pp.

What makes this book so unique is the fact that it pays special and sustained attention to an Eastern Orthodox parish in this country. Orthodoxy in North America is so numerically small that it is often given only very cursory treatment if it shows up on sociological radar screens at all. So this book is especially to be welcomed, and I'm greatly looking forward to reading it.

About this book we are told:
Why do people go to church? What about a congregation attracts new members? What is it that draws women and men differently into diverse types of congregations? Getting to Church assesses the deeply personal and gendered narratives around how women and men move toward identifying with three very different Christian congregations one Orthodox, one conservative, and one mainline. Drawing on extensive research and ranging across layers of congregational history, leadership, architecture, new member process, programs, and service ministries, Sally Gallagher explores trajectories of joining, as well as membership loss and change over a seven-year period. By following both those who join a community and those who explore but choose not to, Gallagher avoids the methodological limitations of other studies and assesses the degree to which the spaces, people, programs, and doctrines within distinctive traditions draw women and men toward affiliation and involvement. Getting to Church demonstrates that women are attracted to specific doctrines and ideas, opportunities for individual reflection, experience and expanded personal agency; while men find in these congregations a sense of community within which they experience greater connection with other men, appreciate beauty, and yield to something greater than themselves. Drawing on extensive field work, personal interviews, and focus groups, Getting to Church challenges extant theories of gender and religious involvement.

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