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Mimetic youth ministry: an autoethnographic girardian analysis of the subculture of youth ministry

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posted on 2023-08-30, 18:56 authored by Timothy S. Leeson
In this thesis, I researched the ways in which mimetic desire and rivalry present themselves in the field of Christian youth ministry, using anthropologic frameworks from René Girard. The research is born out of a sense of frustration in my own practice as a youth minister, specifically around issues of professional identity. I wanted to discover what a less rivalrous model of youth ministry might look like. The research is autoethnographic. In it, I reflect on my first-hand experience as a practitioner, particularly on my experiences of mimetic rivalry. The main source of data is a reflective journal which I kept for a year. In the journal, I wrote about my desires and anxieties in two key areas of my work: a weekly youth group, and as visiting chaplain to the adolescent ward of a mental health hospital. The thesis tells the story of how the desire to be liked led to rivalry between myself and other leaders, and ultimately to an incident of scapegoating. I discovered four significant ways in which rivalry is manifested in my work: the drive to maintain high numbers of young people by entertaining them, the desire to be liked, resentment of other leaders and volunteers, and a desire rooted in anxiety to control people and situations. I related these experiences to the wider field of youth ministry using literature and theological reflection. Relating these experiences to the wider field, my thesis is that (a) youth ministry is “hypermimetic” in that its lack of professional identity leads practitioners to be easily swayed by the conflicting desires around them, (b) that the youth work principle of empowerment actually feels disempowering to those in charge – the youth ministers – and (c) that the blurred boundaries in the field nurture, rather than ease, tensions and rivalries. I conclude by suggesting that youth ministry would benefit from moving away from its familiar models and practices in order to create new communities in partnership with young people, as modelled by James Alison’s interpretation of St Peter in the early Christian church.



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