Researching Female Faith

Qualitative Research Methods

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Nicola Slee, Fran Porter, Anne Phillips
Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology
  • New York, NY: 
    , November
     250 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


What feminist research methodologies are the most efficient for the study of women and girls in Christian faith? Co-editors Nicola Slee, Fran Porter, and Anne Phillips, in Researching Female Faith: Researching Female Faith: Qualitative Research Methods, present effective ways to research female faith through qualitative research methods by developing their feminist methodologies, gathering and analyzing data, and practicing reflexivity. Thirteen feminist contributors from diverse academic and professional backgrounds present their feminist research methodology and methods. The editors and contributors also acknowledge the pedagogical benefit this book offers to new researchers in the field of gender and faith in that it demystifies and illuminates the process of research, “including features of research that are frequently under-examined” (2). Their works are “the first in the field to combine a specific focus on feminist qualitative research methodology with the study of female faith” that will be helpful for those working in the field of practical or pastoral theology (2). This volume fully demonstrates the significance of research as the process of transformation—even for the researcher—considering that research itself can be “an agent of change” (17). 

One of important aspects that the editors point to in their research is defining the difference between research “method” and “methodology” given that these terms are frequently used synonymously and interchangeably (2). Additionally, by sustaining the wider discussions centered on “the emancipatory and liberating aims” of feminist methodologies and methods used over the past two or three decades, they attempt to overcome obsolete and erroneous aspects of existing feminist research methods (5). By focusing on the study the faith lives of women and girls, this volume contributes to the varied and diverse perspectives and approaches to feminist methods, methodologies, and epistemologies (6). Aware of many indeterminate outcomes in the actual process of research, each chapter prepares researchers entering the field of research on the spiritual lives of women and girls. This kind of research is still largely neglected in social scientific research. 

This volume is organized in three parts. Part 1 covers topics on how to develop feminist methodologies in the study of female faith in four chapters by Phillips, Slee, Helen Collins, and Janet Eccles. These chapters unveil that their research focuses on the spiritual lives and faith of girls-becoming-women, poetry as a feminist research methodology, a fresh methodology of “web-weaving” intersecting Mar Cartledge’s practical theology with a charismatic and feminist perspective, and women’s narratives on their religious and spiritual lives and practices that do not fit into pre-existing categories in the sociology of religion. In chapter 1, Phillips focuses on how to research girls and young women’s faith-shaping processes. She enhances participative research through different levels—both adult-led and shared between researcher and participants that lead to genuine self-disclosure, self-reflection and empowerment—as they may exist in gender-biased faith communities (28). In chapter 2, Slees’ engagement with poetry as a means for the study of women’s faith is a groundbreaking qualitative method and provides a platform for the voices and experiences of participants in marginalized groups, settings, or contexts (38). In chapter 3, utilizing her own experiences of mothering and spiritual journey, Collins employs significant metaphors of “weaving” and “web” into a systematic and transferrable methodology that grounds her research within the feminist tradition to highlight the fundamental interconnection of ideas and people (59). In chapter 4, Eccles researches practice, embodiment, and relationship of women in their lived religio-spirituality. She considers womens’ religious and spiritual tendencies, whether or not they belong to the institutional church. This methodology helps the researcher get out of “‘religious’ boxes in terms of belongings, beliefs, and behaviors” (79).   

Part 2, composed of chapters 5 through 8, discusses the use of different kinds of data, and multiple ways of data gathering, specifically including the utilization of multimedia such as video diaries, social media, and NVivo. The authors—Fran Porter, Sarah-Jane Page, Kim Wasey, and Susan Shooter—are concerned with “the minutiae of research practice and wider theoretical—philosophical, sociological and theological—questions” that offer the significance of specific research processes (10). Page and Wasey raise complicated ethical issues including consent, voice and power, arising in visual method research processes for feminist theology. These editors understand that the development of new research methods in these chapters will provide a number of advantages to feminist methodologies for “engaging with marginalized, dispersed and isolated groups in a reflective, transparent, practical and collaborative research process” (11). 

Part 3 presents various aspects of analyzing data. In chapter 9, Kate Massey discusses how to listen to the word “I” from a voice-centered and relational analysis surrounding a mothers’ dual sense of calling, dealing with complex interactions between motherhood, vocation, and spirituality (12). In chapter 10, Alison Woolley argues for data analysis by engaging women’s “silences” in the interview process (13). In chapter 11, Manon Ceridwen James takes a female poet along during her interviews on women’s social and personal identities in the Welsh tradition (13). In the two chapters comprising part 4, Jenny Morgans offers practical tips for reflexivity by utilizing a research journal and the practice of prayer to deal with the complex or confusing processes arising during the research encounter, and Jan Berry draws on the self as the research instrument, seriously considering the dialogical nature of research. 

Researching Female Faith is innovative in terms of its practicality and potential usefulness to feminist researchers wanting to use qualitative methodology and methods to study women’s and girls' faith across traditions. Although the research participants are predominantly members of the Anglican Church and from the United Kingdom, the feminist research methods are applicable to research in any religious or spiritual tradition, as well as for those that are non-religious. The systematic arrangement of research employed in this book will help feminist researchers to better organize and conduct their projects. This book will, I believe, tremendously support feminist scholars wishing to utilize creative and diverse methodology and methods, particularly for research in women in marginalized contexts.

About the Reviewer(s): 

JungJa Joy Yu earned doctorate in Religion (Women's Studies) at Claremont Graduate University.

Date of Review: 
July 18, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Nicola Slee is Director of Research at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, where she oversees the doctoral programme, Professor of Feminist Practical Theology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Visiting Professor at the University of Chester. 

Fran Porter is Research Fellow at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham, where she is involved in supporting and developing research work at the Foundation. 

Anne Phillips is a Researcher, Spiritual Accompanist, Retreat Leader, and, a Church of England priest in a Peak District parish.


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