Talk, dynamics and theological practice of Bible-study groups : a qualitative empirical investigation
Todd, Andrew John
This thesis maps a qualitative empirical investigation of the talk, dynamics and theological practice of Bible-study groups. Chapter 2 locates this in the field of practical theology, demonstrating only a rather tenuous link between practical theological reflection on biblical interpretation and the practice of churches. This clarifies the aim of the thesis: to investigate the practice of Bible-study groups, as a contribution to the practical theology of biblical interpretation. Chapters 3 and 4 consider the methodology of the investigation (including in operation), bringing together interests from ethnography and discourse analysis, in relation to a wider frame of action research. Chapters 5 to 7 of the thesis account for the field work of the research, carried out through meetings with the three Bible-study groups, recording of data, transcription, coding and further analysis. Analytical concerns include the speech-exchange patterns of group meetings and the linguistic resources employed, in order to investigate how interpretative activity is achieved in the interaction between group participants. A particular interest is in the way different voices interrupt each other, and re-contextualise the conversation but also contribute to dialogue, especially between authoritative interpretations and critical questions from participants' experience. Comparisons are drawn with discourse in medical contexts and of scientists. Chapters 8 and 9 offer a comparative study of the three groups: of group dynamics and of the dynamics of interpretative dialogue. They also provide a rich picture of the practice of Bible-study, which includes sensual, ritual, relational and theological dimensions, key to which is the critical recruitment of texts and other voices, in order to interpret the relationship between God, group participants and others. God is experienced as incarnate in this interaction but also transcends the dialogue. Chapter 10 concludes the thesis, identifying questions for further research and offering suggestions designed to enhance Bible-study practice.