Tongues of fire: Catholic charismatic women negotiating gender and power
This study focuses on Catholic Charismatic women in Los Angeles and online in cyberspace, looking at how these women use inspired speech, narrative, and the Internet to negotiate the paradoxes contained within their understanding of spiritual power, the limits of their gender roles, and the intersection of the sacred and the quotidian contained in their beliefs and practices. Using data from participant observation and interviews conducted over a four year period, I concentrate on the religious lives of several key informants as a way to understand how their praxis relates to their lives as Charismatics and more particularly as women. I argue that the behaviors and beliefs of the Charismatic women I have observed during the course of my fieldwork show they are drawn to the same sort of embodied spirituality as women in other more specifically feminist or woman-centered religions, such as those described by Susan Starr Sered, Carol P. Christ, and others. The online email group in my study are transforming the sensual aspects of Charismatic worship into virtual online practices. Women in this cyber prayer group engage in the same behaviors as their “real life” sisters, testifying, prophesying, and even speaking in tongues. Whether online or in physical prayer groups, Charismatic women use divinely inspired speech such as speaking in tongues or prophecy to give themselves a voice. Paradoxically, by doing so they make themselves both visible and invisible, empowering themselves through speaking unintelligibly or as a mere mouthpiece of God. Using personal narratives of divine intervention in their daily lives, they bring women's life experiences to the center of their worship, claiming a place within the tradition of sacred stories for the details of their own lives. By narrating testimonies, women sacralize their everyday experiences. Despite the prevalence within the rhetoric of the movement of “male headship,” women take power, perform priestly functions, bring the sacred into the physical, and create their own working theology through narrative.
0453: Womens studies