Journal Article

<i>2008 Association for the Sociology of Religion Presidential Address</i>Encounters in the Heartland: What Studying Rural Churches Taught Me about Working across Differences*

Mary Jo Neitz

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 70, issue 4, pages 343-361
Published in print January 2009 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srp065
2008 Association for the Sociology of Religion Presidential AddressEncounters in the Heartland: What Studying Rural Churches Taught Me about Working across Differences*

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The story of declining rural churches is a powerful one. A story of declining rural churches in declining communities is engaging on both the cognitive and emotional levels and leads the hearer into the powerful narrative of modernization. Yet, it is a story that neglects the migration trends into more rural areas. I argue that narrative of declining rural churches is a story about moral order, an emotional story imbued with a sense of loss for a world inconsistent with the world in which most of us live our lives. I suggest that the persistence of this story is an expression of the ambivalence some people feel about modern life, as they choose new ways of doing things that work for them, but at the same time, imagine a loss of the emotional connection embedded in the old ways. I suggest we move to thinking about these individual rural communities as borderlands in the way that Gloria Anzaldua uses the term, and to describe what happens in communities—when established residents invite newcomers into their churches—as encounters. Furthermore, I show that how the work of ethnographers takes place inside of the borderland, and is part of the process of encounter. Finally, I argue that for all participants, encounters bring with them the possibility of change.

Keywords: borderlands; boundaries; rural churches; ambivalence; differences

Journal Article.  7592 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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