Her Preaching Body: A Qualitative Study of Agency, Meaning and Proclamation in Contemporary Female Preachers
McCullough , Amy Peed
RELIGION HER PREACHING BODY: A QUALITATIVE STUDY IN MEANING, AGENCY AND PROCLAMATION IN CONTEMPORARY FEMALE PREACHERS AMY P. MCCULLOUGH Dissertation under the direction of Professor Ted A. Smith While homiletics has long recognized the importance of the preacher’s body, its theories have been dominated by prescriptive advice about best postures, voices and movements. Scholarship has also been governed by an assent to the male preaching body amid an increasingly diverse field of preaching bodies. Consequently, the actual body of the preacher awaits full examination as an essential resource for preaching. This dissertation seeks an exploration of the preacher’s body by beginning with the preacher’s experience of her body as she prepares to and does preach. It assumes a phenomenological foundation based on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in which meaning always emerges from a person’s perceiving, acting body or their “being in the world.” Fourteen contemporary female preachers participated in a qualitative study focused on the decisions they made about their bodies in relation to their preaching. Through interviews and one-on-one observations, the preachers revealed their choices around clothing, accessories, preaching posture, voice and movement. They shared stories of preaching amid pregnancies and with the challenges of a chronic disease. To analyze their choices, the researcher employed a lived body approach. The lived body theory defines embodiment as the complex and evolving interaction of an individual’s materiality, culture and agency. Believing we are our bodies whenever we preach, this study pushed towards uncovering the meaning preachers assigned to and discovered in their embodied preaching decisions. At the outset, this dissertation was concerned with agency. The researcher hoped to gain insight into how women encountered bodily constraints and labored towards bodily freedom. While freedom and constraint were not without value, deeper insights emerged in how a preacher grasped the knowledge within her body and came to understand herself as an embodied being. A preacher’s recognition of the embodied nature of all life, which contains both depth and contradiction, heightened her capacity to view embodiment as a tool for proclamation. The move towards self-conscious and intentional embodiment calls for changes in how homiletics conceives of a fully embodied sermon and how homileticians teach preaching.