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Sacred Divorce

Sacred Divorce: Religion, Therapeutic Culture, and Ending Life Partnerships

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    Sacred Divorce
    Book Description:

    Even in our world of redefined life partnerships and living arrangements, most marriages begin through sacred ritual connected to a religious tradition. But if marriage rituals affirm deeply held religious and secular values in the presence of clergy, family, and community, where does divorce, which severs so many of these sacred bonds, fit in? Sociologist Kathleen Jenkins takes up this question in a work that offers both a broad, analytical perspective and a uniquely intimate view of the role of religion in ending marriages.For more than five years, Jenkins observed religious support groups and workshops for the divorced and interviewed religious practitioners in the midst of divorces, along with clergy members who advised them. Her findings appear here in the form of eloquent and revealing stories about individuals managing emotions in ways that make divorce a meaningful, even sacred process. Clergy from mainline Protestant denominations to Baptist churches, Jewish congregations, Unitarian fellowships, and Catholic parishes talk about the concealed nature of divorce in their congregations.Sacred Divorcedescribes their cautious attempts to overcome such barriers, and to assemble meaningful symbols and practices for members by becoming compassionate listeners, delivering careful sermons, refitting existing practices like Catholic annulments and Jewish divorce documents (gets), and constructing new rituals.With attention to religious, ethnic, and class variations, covering age groups from early thirties to mid-sixties and separations of only a few months to up to twenty years,Sacred Divorceoffers remarkable insight into individual and cultural responses to divorce and the social emotions and spiritual strategies that the clergy and the faithful employ to find meaning in the breach. At once a sociological document, an ethnographic analysis, and testament of personal experience,Sacred Divorceprovides guidance, strategies and answers to readers looking for answers and those looking to heal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6348-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. 1-21)

    The majority of marriages in the United States begin through religious ceremony (Whyte 1990, 165).¹ Marriage rituals affirm, in the presence of clergy, family, friends, and community, deeply held religious and secular values associated with life partnership. But what about divorce? How might religious traditions and congregations be important as people end these relationships? We likely expect the work of divorce to take place in courtrooms and psychologists’ offices, less often in churches. Nonetheless, the United States is home to over 300,000 congregations; researchers have found that a majority of citizens say they believe in God or a Universal Spirit;...

    (pp. 22-43)

    When we think of divorce and grief, we may imagine a deeply psychological and private experience, yet grief is a core social emotion; social interactions and cultural expectations deeply influence our beliefs, practices, and experiences of loss.¹ All people do not experience ending life partnerships in the same way, or search for religious strategies to make divorce meaningful. Still, every divorce has the potential for some type and level of social shame. When marriages end, people may feel embarrassed, guilty, a sense of failure or rejection or disgrace, caution, fear, excitement—a range of emotions related to the social relationships...

    (pp. 44-74)

    Formal creators, thereligious architectsof the sacred divorce strategies I explored, are the lay leaders, pastoral counselors, and clergy who produced divorce programs, small groups, and published books or online resources. As they constructed sacred approaches, they employed and enriched a dominant cultural strategy,divorce work. Divorce work draws from larger therapeutic cultural scripts¹ that communicate that emotions must be confronted, expressed, controlled, and explored in an appropriate manner and context so that potentially dangerous feelings can be transformed into self-growth and used to foster what these scripts would term healthy family relationships. These emotion-work rules and guidelines hold...

    (pp. 75-106)

    Several respondents left congregations as they experienced changes in family, but most stayed active in familiar or new congregational spaces even though silence around divorce and the potential for social shame flourished. Some stayed even in the face of intense social stigma. A few supposed what it might have been like in congregations if their spouse had died instead of exiting the relationship; they would have had a clear role as widow or widower, members of their congregations would be bringing them casseroles and cards, and at home, they imagined, there would be more control in their parenting and estranged...

    (pp. 107-141)

    All of the rabbis, priests, and pastors that I interviewed emphasized the concealed nature of divorce in their congregations. Because a number of congregants came from other parishes, churches, or synagogues, the clergy often remained in the dark about previous marriages; intimate family details lay hidden as people traveled from one congregation to another. Some clergy connected their lack of knowledge of divorce to high numbers of women attending services without their husbands; if no visible change occurred in presentation of self in the congregation, how would clergy learn of a relationship’s end? In Catholic and Jewish cases, a member’s...

    (pp. 142-167)

    Nancy Ammerman (2007, 2014) and Meredith McGuire (2008) call attention to the significance of a lived religious lens that captures the subjective and bodily experiences of religion and spirituality as they occur in everyday life. My respondents took collective meanings outside of their congregations and into their everyday lives as they managed divorce. Their religious tools held efficient emotional force: “Spirit of Life” accompanied Sandy as she sang alone at her potter’s wheel, and the love ballads that Jeff first felt in the pews of his home church were stored inside, stirring a closeness with divine energy as he rode...

    (pp. 168-194)

    The majority of my respondents found emotional tools in congregational worlds. These local assemblies were essential spaces for tailoring their middle-class lived religious quilts that radiated the warmth of therapeutic principle and religious emotion. In their stories, the emotional energy activated in congregations worked to legitimate their choices related to family and divorce experience. Congregations were settings for individual performances of doing sacred divorce work, with props and costumes that signaled serious moral effort and connection to spiritual authority.¹ My respondents’ persistence in engaging congregations, even though many felt uncomfortable silences and social shame, speaks to the precious emotional energy...

    (pp. 195-206)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 207-214)
    (pp. 215-228)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 229-236)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-238)