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Title: Belonging in a safe place : searching for a home in Christian community after childhood sexual abuse
Author: Lynch, Elizabeth
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis presents an exploration of the possibility of women's past experiences of childhood sexual abuse having the status of belonging in Christian communities. This is the result of the observation that in literature and in practice, these experiences are regarded and treated in a way that distances and alienates them from the core values and practices of these places. The thesis is both critical and constructive in exploring how past experiences of childhood sexual abuse can be understood and articulated in ways that facilitate their exclusion from or their belonging in Christian communities. Prioritising the perspectives of women who have been sexually abused as children, and recognising the vulnerability of these perspectives when placed alongside more dominant views, I situate the study among feminist theologies that allow the topic to be explored in such a way that allocates a place of significance to voices and perspectives that are not heard or respected in other locations. Having outlined the roots of the questions I am asking, I set out the features of my location and approach and discuss my choice and interpretation of sources (chapter one). Following a critique and rejection of the dominant discourse of psychiatry as a vocabulary in which the significance of childhood sexual abuse is commonly understood (chapter two), I allow space for a detailed reading of three autobiographical accounts of experiences of childhood sexual abuse (chapter three). From here I develop two theologically significant ideas emerging from these accounts, to show the possibility of articulating and understanding these experiences in terms that belong in Christian communities (chapter four). I then turn to look at how the issue of childhood sexual abuse has been treated in Christian communities (chapter five), exploring the long silences of churches on this subject, and explaining how this impedes the extent to which women who have been sexually abused might be able to belong in these communities. I argue for the importance of hearing these women's voices alongside those of others so that they can belong in Christian communities alongside those who are more commonly heard. From this perspective of considering how these experiences belong in Christian community, I turn to look at the way that the question of forgiveness is understood and approached in relation to childhood sexual abuse (chapter six). I argue that although speaking of forgiveness is in theory a way of speaking about childhood sexual abuse that connects this experience with a theological concept that is meaningful in Christian communities, unless the specifics of the language of forgiveness are carefully and thoughtfully presented, in fact speaking of forgiveness may result in further alienation rather than belonging. I conclude (chapter seven) by suggesting that currently it is problematic to suppose that the formally structured churches are places in which experiences of childhood sexual abuse could safely belong. Finally, I point to the real possibility of these experiences finding a home in Christian community outside formal churches; that in spite of the churches' failures and slow responses, it is possible for women's past experiences of childhood sexual abuse to belong safely in Christian community.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Christian communities ; Adult child sexual abuse victims