Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

“Blessed assurance”: Belief and power among African American Apostolic women
by Casselberry, Judith S., Ph.D., Yale University, 2008, 281; 3317278
Abstract (Summary)

This ethnography is an inquiry into the workings of African American Apostolic spiritual authority and if, when, and how it enables a particular form of female power. The twentieth century genealogy of True Deliverance Church of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., the Queens, New York based congregation in this study, begins with the vast majority of Holiness-Pentecostals at the Los Angeles Azusa Street Revivals in 1906. All Holiness-Pentecostal groups recognize speaking in tongues as a spiritual gift however Apostolic doctrine requires glossolalia as evidence of Spirit baptism—full conversion; other divine gifts such as healing and prophesy may also accompany conversion. Co-existent with a system that privileges spiritual authority is a hierarchical church polity that excludes women. Apostolic tenets prohibit certain "worldly" activities, such as listening to secular music, dancing, and attending movies. Women cannot be ordained, wear pants, make-up, or earrings. In the sanctuary, sleeveless tops, open-toed shoes, bare legs and uncovered heads are forbidden. At the same time women, as the overwhelming majority, keep the church going in concrete ways—teaching Sunday school, ushering, heading auxiliaries, sponsoring services, and fundraising, among other responsibilities.

Women and men alike experience the power of the Holy Ghost however; doctrine is codified most rigorously on women's bodies, positioning them at the center of the discourses of power, submission, and obedience. For Black women, power in the sacred realm articulates in a unique way with how they know themselves as raced and gendered in their specific historical and social contexts; as they invert their relationships with their bodies inside spiritual space. Restraint is abandoned to the will of the Holy Ghost, demonstrating personal access to God/Jesus by way of an intimate embodied relationship thus, exhibiting spiritual leadership. At issue is a redefinition of power that all adherents negotiate and interpret via particular gendered identities. Apostolic women adhere to theology and doctrine that both liberate and constrain their voices and bodies. Identification with Jesus and Apostolic "Oneness" doctrine—the absolute deity of Jesus, further validate women's empowerment through sacrifice and obedience.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Szwed, John F.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 69/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Black studies, Cultural anthropology, Womens studies, African American Studies
Keywords: African-American, Apostolic, Belief, Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Holiness-Pentecostal, Spiritual power, Women
Publication Number: 3317278
ISBN: 978-0-549-65757-6
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