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Meaning-Making for Mothers in the North East of England:
an Ethnography of Baptism

FENTON, ALLISON (2017) Meaning-Making for Mothers in the North East of England:
an Ethnography of Baptism.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The purpose of this study has been primarily to explore the meaning of baptism to mothers in the North-East. It also aims to address the situation in which despite a decline in regular congregations the church receives a significant number of requests for baptisms amongst families who rarely return to church attendance after the baptism. To explore these issues the thesis has reviewed the available literature on baptism, and adopted several methods to ‘hear the voices’ of mothers and parish clergy. These include participant observation, interviewing, questionnaires, and reflexivity. Chapter 2 looks at the story of the research, situating it within a history of infant baptism and describing how I did the research. Chapters 3 – 5 summarise and describe the data from focus groups, the questionnaire and from conversations with mothers and with clergy. Chapters 6 – 8 offer an analysis of the data; Chapters 9 – 10 offer a theological interpretation of the data; and Chapter 11 highlights some implications of the research for the Church.

While much has been written on the rite of Baptism from a historical, theological and ecclesiological perspective, there has been little work done on the perceptions of the mothers who participate in the rite. I argue that Baptism is as meaningful for mothers as it is for the clergy as connections are made to the past and to the future, to the gathered community and to God. I explore the christening as an opportunity for mothers to perform motherhood, displaying themselves and their children as ‘respectable’. I interpret this as their ascribing social and familial identity to the child and developing their own family (howsoever constructed) narratives. Theoretically speaking, I argue that, in Rappaport’s terms, the Ultimate Sacred Postulate for these mothers is family, with the child representing renewed hope for the perpetuation of that family.

This thesis exposes the challenge faced by a mission-focussed Church, seeking to halt decline through growing congregations, when faced with women (and, indeed, families) whose sense of belonging and desire for God’s blessing does not lead to regular (or even occasional) commitment to a congregation.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Theology and Ministry
Keywords:Christening, Baptism, Family Narrative, Blessing, Folk-religion, Identity, Materiality, Sacred, Mothers, Performance of motherhood,
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:12 Apr 2017 08:48

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