Liminality, communitas and student evangelical groups : a critique of the group theories of Victor Turner and Mary Douglas
This thesis critiques aspects of the work of Mary Douglas and Victor Turner. It develops previous criticisms and pursues them in greater depth, questioning the degree to which these respective models are universal. It is a mainly anthropological study of the relationship between a university and the largest evangelical group operative at that university. It draws upon participant observation fieldwork with Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, Aberdeen University Christian Union and Navigators Studenten Leiden. This thesis examines the degree of liminality at each university and compares this to the degree of liminality and communitas observed in the university's evangelical group, Firstly it criticises Turner's understanding of liminality and communitas. It argues that liminality can, in fact, be highly structured and that communitas is not necessarily an absence or near-absence of structure. It suggests that the more liminal a situation is the more communitas there will be on one level but the more structure there will be on another. In making this argument, the thesis argues that university is a Rite of Passage and liminal phase. It demonstrates that the more liminal the university, the more structured the evangelical group will be, the tighter the group's boundaries will be and the more differentiated the group will be. But, at the same time, the mores structured the evangelical groups are, the greater communitas it finds in their ritual activity. Oxford is found to be the most liminal university and Leiden the least. Thus it criticises the underlying assumptions of Douglas' "Grid/Group" Model as well as Turner's. In order to examine the degree of structure and differentiation in the group, the thesis looks at members' use of language, their religious beliefs, life-style beliefs, the nature of their meetings, the significance of conversation and the clothes they wear. In order to assess the degree of communitas at the meetings, the thesis examines the degree of communitas caused by prayers, hymns, public speakers, Bible Studies and Testimony.