Evangelical Journeys Reviewed in Sociology of Religion

Evangelical JourneysMy latest book, Evangelical Journeys: Choice and Change in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture (UCD Press, 2011), co-authored by Claire Mitchell, has been reviewed in a leading academic journal, Sociology of Religion (Volume 73, issue 4, Winter 2012).

The review is written by Kevin McElmurry of Indiana University Northwest. I quote selectively from the review below:

In Evangelical Journeys: Choice and Change in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture, Mitchell and Ganiel set for themselves the broad task of connecting recent cultural, social, and political changes in Northern Ireland to the range of ways that individuals actively construct their religious lives. The authors frame their analytical approach by accenting moments of decision (agency) as these play out within a particular pecific historic and geographic context (structure). The context in this instance is the fractious social and political environment of Northern Ireland. They use the concept of journeys to capture these multifaceted interconnections.

Practically speaking, what Mitchell and Ganiel have done is to collect and analyze accounts of personal religious history from 95 individuals who do, or at least did, identify as evangelicals. What emerges from their interview data is not a typology of subgroups among the evangelicals of Northern Ireland, but rather a stylistically differing set of journeys that those in the evangelical subculture have undertaken as they have grown in, withdrawn from, or in varying degrees sought to alter their communities of faith from within. The authors identify five directions that these journeys may take.

… the descriptions are rich, and the analytic notion of journey embedded in context is powerful. Indeed, Mitchell and Ganiel frame their approach as a needed correction to more static accounts of religious identity and experience. Their point that religious identities should be viewed as “works in progress” rather than fixed and immutable identities is well taken. Our discipline’s recent focus on relationality, narratives, and practices represents a move in this direction.

Evangelical Journeys provides readers with several rich accounts of the various ways people draw upon their culture and context to articulate who they were and who they would like to become. This book provides a welcome perspective on evangelicalism in the Irish context. Particularly interesting to many readers will be the strategies people are employing to navigate the deep sectarian divides that continue in Northern Ireland.

Beyond being of general interest to scholars of religion, this book would make an interesting ethnographic exemplar in a graduate or an upper-level undergraduate course, whether the subject of that course is religion or not. The authors take great care to address the potentials and pitfalls of using narrative interviews to access changes over the life course, and they describe the construction of their analytic framework carefully and with grace and candor. To their credit, they also locate their own identities and evangelical journeys in their analysis. These are valuable attributes for any study of cultural form and are worth sharing with students and colleagues.

More on Evangelical Journeys

Click here to access remarks by Glenn Jordan at the launch of the book at East Belfast Mission in 2011.

Click here to access remarks by Dr Patrick Mitchel and the launch of the book at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin in 2012

A review of the book by ‘Alan in Belfast’ on the Slugger O’Toole blog

An interview about the book on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence

A review of the book from the Church of Ireland Gazette

You can order the book on the UCD Press Website

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