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Title: Between Resistance and Accommodation: Evangelical Christian Therapists Engaging the Secular World
Authors: Li, Kathryn
Advisors: Wuthnow, Robert
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: Evangelicalism
Role Conflict
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Living in a secularized society, how do religious practitioners navigate role and identity conflicts involving their faith? In this dissertation, I explore this question by studying Christian therapists, evangelical Christian counselors and psychologists who practice a form of counseling that is distinct from that practiced by mainstream counselors, one that is based on their faith. Drawing on data from 70 semi-structured interviews of Christian therapists, I examine how, in their self-narratives and encounters with the mental health professions, clients, and churches, Christian therapists balance, integrate, and choose between conflicting values and approaches. With few exceptions, the existing literature on evangelicals overwhelmingly focuses on evangelicals’ resistance and accommodation to the secular, but in this dissertation, I show that evangelicals also draw on strategies that offer a compromise between the two extremes. In one strategy, “reframing,” Christian therapists reflect critically on their faith. Unlike accommodation which involves making changes to appease the secular world, reframing portrays reflecting on and questioning one’s theologies as part of an overall effort to clarify and strengthen one’s religious understandings and commitments. Reframing provides Christian therapists flexibility in confronting a complex, pluralistic world: they can maintain that a singular “truth” exists, but there are multiple paths they can take to reach their final goals. Additionally, they have the freedom to amend their religious understandings as they encounter secular sources of knowledge. Another strategy, “reconfiguring one’s faith,” involves foregrounding certain components of one’s religion while de-emphasizing and downplaying others. Reconfiguring happens in places where Christian therapists’ religious expression is limited, such as in the workplace or in accredited schools. In these settings, Christian therapists emphasize the aspects of Christian theology that are compatible with professional rules and norms, an approach that enables them to remain authentic to their faith without having to overstep the bounds of their professional roles. Reconfiguring also occurs in religious contexts: in churches, Christian therapists encourage lay evangelicals to prioritize the cultivating of relationships over traditional evangelical concepts like salvation and the afterlife. By helping lay evangelicals to develop new understandings of faith, Christian therapists contribute to the re-shaping and transformation of evangelical culture.
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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