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Becoming Evangelical: Ritual Process and Religious Formation in a Christian Youth Group

Barward-Symmons, Rob (2020) Becoming Evangelical: Ritual Process and Religious Formation in a Christian Youth Group. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.87266) (KAR id:87266)


An expectation of the transformation of the religious self, whether that is in the form of conversion from non-believer to believer or from 'inherited' childhood faith to the 'individualised' faith of adulthood, is central to evangelical Christianity. This thesis, based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in an evangelical youth group in London, investigates the practices utilised within church contexts to bring about this transformation and how these are experienced and interpreted by the young people themselves. Drawing on theories of ritual from the work of Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner, the thesis argues that this period of formation can be understood as one of sustained liminality. This liminality, enabled through spatial and structural separation from adult evangelicalism, fosters a subject that is fundamentally communal in orientation and comfortably uncertain as evangelical young people explore and question the nature of faith alongside their peers. While the structures and practices of the group differ considerably from those seen in the adult context in the same church - and from mainstream adult evangelical services in general - through interviews with the young people this thesis demonstrates that these are not merely incidental parts of their group activity but are highly formative in their faith and their expectations of collective religiosity. Examining also the experiences of those who have since left the group, the thesis argues that the absence of a ceremonial marker for the end of this rite of passage - with the young people leaving the group at the age of 18 in line with their academic year-group - risks leaving young evangelical adults in a state of prolonged liminality. This thesis therefore argues not only that we take seriously the nature and existence of young people within the study of evangelicalism beyond their place as 'future adults', but also questions the readiness of mainstream adult evangelical spaces to accommodate these liminal religious subjects. This research therefore contributes to the wider study of evangelicalism as well as debates within the field of religion and youth, offering important ethnographic insights into evangelical adolescence, but also conversations in sociology of youth outside of religion by proposing a model of understanding and applying rites of passage outside of traditional contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Lynch, Gordon
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.87266
Uncontrolled keywords: Sociology of Religion, Evangelicalism, Christian Youth Work, Sociology of Adolescence, Ritual Theory, Religious Formation, Ethnography
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2021 16:10 UTC
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2022 13:08 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Barward-Symmons, Rob.

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