Accepted Paper:

Was it God that brought us here? Intimacy between lay members of evangelical churches in Austin, Texas  

Author:

Aleksi Knuutila (University College London)

Paper short abstract:

Intimacy defines American evangelicals' experience of god, and intimacy between believers has become the main product of evangelical churches. Based on fieldwork in Austin, Texas, the paper describes the creation and experience of intimacy between lay members, and its religious function.

Paper long abstract:

Intimacy is the defining feature of contemporary American evangelicals' experience of the divine, in what they call a personal relationship with god. At the same time, the creation of intimacy between church-goers has arguably become the primary function of many evangelical churches. The weight of religious practice has shifted from Sunday services to interaction in bible studies and so-called "small groups" during the week. This paper describes the meaning of intimacy between people for evangelical religious practice, and its interplay with conception of a god that is both always present and not of this world. It draws on ethnographic detail focusing on small group meetings, gathered during 14 months of fieldwork in an evangelical intentional community in Austin, Texas. In a manner that resembles a practice of confession between lay members, the groups suspend everyday norms for discussion and prayer in which participants share private shortcomings and moments in which god acted in their lives. Such intimacy creates attachments that make possible the experience and instinctive exercise of the Christian virtues of godly love and charity. Since intimacy comes about in a spontaneous and indeterminate manner, the space of the small groups stands in contrast to the codified functioning of the church institution. As such, the intimate group both reproduces and challenges church culture. It is a site of both transmission of and reflection on doctrine, and it allows for a personalised religious experience, while still maintaining a collective identity of a body of believers.

Panel P073
Religious intimacy: collaboration, collusion and collision in ritual communication