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Title: Learning to Practice, Becoming Spiritual: Spiritual Disciplines as Projects of the Self
Authors: Johnston, Erin F
Advisors: Wuthnow, Robert
Contributors: Sociology Department
Subjects: Sociology
Social psychology
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: As traditional sources of identity lose their formative power, our lifestyle and sense of self are increasingly considered individual constructions. No longer ascribed at birth, we must choose who we want to be and how we want to live. In recent decades, however, there has been a proliferation of self-constituting organizations, each offering programs and techniques for self-development and personal transformation. How do these organizations and the resources they offer enable and constrain the development of members’ identity and self-understanding? This dissertation investigates the process of spiritual self-formation within two communities of practice: an Integral Yoga studio and a Catholic spiritual center. Drawing on more than two years of fieldwork, forty-five in-depth interviews, and participatory immersion, I examine both the what’s and how’s of spiritual formation. On the one hand, I reveal the “toolkit” of symbolic and practical resources made available in these communities for the construction of new spiritual selves. On the other hand, I describe how self-construction unfolds, walking the reader through the lived experience of apprenticeship in these communities, and highlighting the problems and issues that can arise in the development of new selves and forms of subjectivity. Chapter 1 introduces the cases, methods and theoretical framework. In Chapter 2, I describe the basic structure and rhetorical conventions underlying official accounts of the “journey” of spiritual formation, and argue that this shared narrative template shapes how practitioners understand themselves in the present as well as who and what they desire to become. Chapter 3 brings together diverse literatures on corporeality and embodiment to examine the constitutive role of bodily techniques and practices in the formation of spiritual selves. Chapter 4 draws attention to the frequency and salience of perceived failures in the process of formation, and analyzes how texts and teachers account for these experiences in ways that promote persistence. Chapter 5 examines how these communities balance practitioners’ desire for individuality and flexibility with the need to transmit shared rules and standards of excellence in practice. Chapter 6 summarizes the main findings and broader contributions, addresses limitations and suggests avenues for future research. Together, these findings contribute to our understanding of how culture works, revealing the means through which organizations shape individual identity and self-understanding.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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