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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Information Culture and Belief Formation in Religious Congregations
by Freeburg, Darin, Ph.D., Kent State University, 2013, 206; 3618893
Abstract (Summary)

This qualitative study investigated the information culture and beliefs within two United Church of Christ congregations in Northeast Ohio. One congregation was Open and Affirming (ONA), and one congregation was not. ONA refers to a congregation's decision to be listed as a place where LGBT individuals—in particular—are welcomed and accepted. Using a purposive sampling technique, 8 focus groups of 4-8 participants each were asked to discuss content derived from three research question areas: participant beliefs, information that participants used to inform these beliefs, and how this information was used.

Analysis found that both congregations espoused the superiority of their beliefs about inclusivity, thus creating a paradox whereby their inclusivity involved excluding beliefs of exclusion. Because the ONA congregation preferred a personal expression of belief, they were more comfortable with the potential divisions caused by this paradox than the non-ONA congregation, which preferred a communal expression of belief.

Analysis also found that most participants relied heavily and placed great authority in information from internal sources, e.g., prayer, meditation, and emotion. The ONA congregation reflected the presence of more unique information, indicating that they approached the Bible and other common religious information critically and with more freedom to come to different conclusions than fundamentalists and biblical literalists.

Despite these differences in belief expression and information type, the analysis found that both groups showed evidence of Chatman's Small Worlds theory. First, participants showed evidence of unmet information needs. Many lacked confidence in the ability to articulate personal beliefs. Second, participants noted the presence of long-term attendees who determined the relevancy of incoming information. Finally, participants tended to guard against disclosing information about personal problems to other congregants, preferring to anonymously seek out answers.

The research highlights the social nature of belief formation and the impact of religious tradition, pastoral sermons, and external information on these beliefs. It contains important implications for pluralistic communication and the social nature of organizational legitimization. It extends the literature on belief formation and information science by developing mid-range theories about the processes by which individuals in religious communities use information to form beliefs.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wicks, Don A., Coombs, Danielle
Commitee: Cheney, George, Coombs, Danielle, Guillot-Miller, Lynne, Roland, Daniel, Wicks, Don
School: Kent State University
Department: Library and Information Science
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 75/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Religious history, Social research, Communication, LGBTQ studies, Organizational behavior, Information science
Keywords: Group communication, Information behavior, Knowledge management, Organizational culture, Religious belief, Religious congregations, Religious dialogue, Small worlds theory
Publication Number: 3618893
ISBN: 978-1-303-87440-6
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