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on 1 March 2014
Because I am currently involved in research about pastoral care for female [and male] detainees in Holland I can use this book very well.
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on 2 April 2018
As an MBTI ST, and more to the point STJ, I found this book :-
1) a)badly laid out, because it is ...
b) too full of dense text,
2) a) too full of assumptions of knowledge, meaning that ...
b) things are not properly explained.
It does not help either that the typeface point size is small. If there’s a book to convince people that theology / growing as a Christian / research / exploring is not for them, then this is it.

I will take as my example Chapter 2, which on the current ways of assessing faith development, the chapter I was most interest in, and the chapter I had to go through very slowly while I re-arranged the higgledy-piggledy information into something more coherent (and, dare I say it, logical, structured, and as a list !).

Fowler’s stages of faith are well-known, but when she compares and contrasts this with alternatives, we get a partial list in a long sentence, not two clear, easy to read, columns of the stages side-by-side so we can see the differences. The criticisms are scattered throughout the chapter, hence my notes had to have lots of arrows pointing to other paragraphs on the reverse of the piece of paper where I have had to shove in a whole load of pertinent criticisms that were nowhere near the other lot of pertinent criticisms. This does nothing to defeat the negative stereotype that ‘female logic’ is a contradiction in terms. I gather from some of Slee’s female students that her lecturing style is similarly uncoordinated, waffly, etc and winds them up too, as do her attempts at liturgy (below).

Similarly, when alternatives are introduced, there are too many assumptions that readers will be aware of who people are, what their theories are, and how those theories might work. The descriptions are cursory, eg 1 the description of Erikson’s leaves out the hope, will ... wisdom column, eg 2 the description of Kohlberg makes it more complicated than it is because it’s sentences not a list, as are the comments on them. If this is not wanted in the body text, then that is what appendices are for.

She also can’t count, on p21 she says Piaget distinguished three main phases, and then lists four, and on p29 she says Fowler’s is a six stage theory when there’s actually seven (yes 0 - 6 is seven stages). Some may think this complaint petty, others will think “If you can’t get basic stuff like that right, how can we trust you with the more difficult stuff ?”.

The problems of appalling formatting, only talking to people with her learning style, assumptions, etc run throughout the book, eg Neuger, Cooper-White, and especially Davis have done valuable work looking at how childhood abuse affects people later in life, but this is not expanded on beyond an off-hand reference. Similarly, her critique of theories comes over as just whingeing and the catch-all ‘too male’. Well, who’s being sexist and stereotyping now then ?

There are six major problems in the latter half of the book as Slee tries to develop an alternative.

Problem 1. Slee’s ‘method’, explained in far too many words, consists of the almost embarrassingly negatively stereotypical ‘chit-chat’ over coffee and biscuits, while the women being surveyed waffle and witter on. Slee has transcribed these conversations from the tapes, and homes in on the pauses, which she sees as significant in showing where people had to think to sort themselves out, making the potentially false syllogism that this must mean impending profundity, rather than just muddle-headedness or a plain, ordinary pause.

Problem 2. Transcribing interviews is an accepted method of data collection, but it is also fraught with difficulties which Slee does not acknowledge, eg imperfect memory recollection, saying what you think the interviewer wants to hear, memory being affected by society’s own bigotries (eg WW1 soldiers falsely remembering their ventures as pointless, because that is what they had been repeatedly told they were).

Problem 3. The data is given as blank paragraphs of text. No tables, no pie charts, no graphs, no lists, no visual methods of communication at all. I gather Slee’s lectures are like this and she shows no concern at all for the dyslexics, ‘picture thinkers’, autistics, people who need lists, etc.

Problem 4. Slee is still in the ‘study / dialogue’ stage, and still seems a long way from the ‘action / reflection’ stage (again, you can look those up). I, for one, would much prefer it if she stopped waffling, went away, and came back with a fully fleshed out viable alternative. Slee is too trapped in the academic bubble to be relevant to women in the ‘real world’ of juggling children, career, marriage, relaxation, etc who need practical help *now*. One of her solutions is to allow women to use their experience(s) and imagination to create new liturgy: the irony is that when Slee does this herself, I gather the results are dire: the liturgy does not flow, it goes down intellectual rabbit holes for the sake of it, and the congregation gets bored / confused.

Problem 5 stems from 3 and 4: I’ll give p112 as an example. Women are, apparently, oppressed into powerlessness, passivity, and conformity. Not all would agree. Then from this dogmatic assertion of the faults of the male, and ignoring the faults of the female, women must awaked from the “unconsciousness of their own pain”: which means *what* precisely to those who don’t speak psychobabble ? This awakening happens when women “embrac[e] and assimilat[e] the impasse”: ditto. The “organic dynamic” is woven with the past and present into “a new fabric”, and one can “rememb[er one]self”: ditto. The patriarchal is “unname[d] and unhinged[d]” to be “immersed in feelings that go along with dyings”. So far so polysyllabically incomprehensible, and not the slightest sign of real-world examples or practical use in plain, clear, simple English.

Problem 6. Hypocrisy. Slee commits most of the errors she attributes to men. In particular it shows either an immense lack of self-awareness, or the incredible ability to stifle one’s conscience, or the ability to hold a paradox in tension, that she criticises men for being imperialistic, dominating, etc yet is very happy for feminists to go out and make sure the world not only suffers from the same hang-ups that feminists do - and not all women agree with feminism - but that the feminist solution(s) must be imposed upon the world.

So, we just swap one totalising ideology for another, eg p112, a refusal to compromise self, or to “defect” to patriarchy (does she mean “defer” ?) means that the woman is forced to choose deviancy. That is not good news to all the grown-ups who like things ordered, predictable, quiet, etc and don’t need their lives becoming unnecessarily, unwantedly stressful because of the so-called ‘improvements’ of a noisy, messy, (immature, jammed in infantile solipsistic self-expression and primeval wants, or adolescent arrogance / identity confusion ?) uncontrollable ‘free spirit’.

So, as an example, the ‘free spirit’ rejects all rules and proceeds to do something weird at a major traffic junction: just how big a potentially fatal pile-up constitutes ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘rejection of oppressive, androcentric patriarchy’, and who’s going to explain to the relatives that someone’s not coming home because the ‘free spirit’ decided the Highway Code was a lot of silly rubbish and should be rejected ? (How many cyclists think that way ? Too many ...) Now, take that principle of rules leading to a reduction in emotional, physical and financial harm and try and work out why things are the way they are, without going for the ‘privileges white, male, straight, posh, property-owning’ option.

Pardon me if my experiences of the ‘aging hippy free spirit’ are not good: ‘peace’ translates as noisy children screaming on, loud music all day long, the endless brain-mangling clatter of wind chimes; ‘respect’ translates as the hippy expects to get nothing but praise while I deserve none and all my life’s achievements are considered unworthy of respect and deference; ‘negotiation’ translates as receiving a haranguing, endless words, and being spoken to as if I’m brain -dead because my public school education, master’s degree, etc don’t count; ‘compromise’ means I, and only I, must give in; ‘manners’ means the feminist free spirit hippy must be treated with kid gloves and get her way.

It’s this failure of feminism to generate nice, pleasant people who are easy to live with, maturely conform because they realise how deviancy causes emotional, financial and physical harm, maturely consider the effects of their actions on others and ‘dial it down a bit’ that’s putting people off, not that the world is under the fascist jack boot of patriarchy. It’s just that we’ve seen the scruffy, rainbow jumper, scruffy back-combed hair, the messy house, the noise, met the over-grown, defensive, self-centred baby, woman-child that results, and we don’t want it.

When my opposite-character-type-from-me wife saw me reading this book, she said she had had to read it for her (mid-life change of career, need a qualification) course, and she too found it boring, badly laid out, didn’t explain things properly, and was man-bashing. It seems that Slee as a lecturer / speaker can also be boring, waffly, and sexist about men.

How women develop and grow their faith is a valid, interesting and necessary topic, but not when it’s researched and presented like this.
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on 24 January 2009
In this well written and compelling book Nicola Slee sets about scientifically documenting the stories of women's faith development by interviewing 30 women. The result is the emergence of patterns in women's faith development which have previously only been seen in glimpses in biographical and poetic expressions; in women's groups or over the kitchen table. It turns out that the principles of feminist theology - notably relationality and authenticity are borne out by Slee's findings, but more compelling is the description of the processes and patterns which uncover and vividly portray phases of alienation (paralysis, impasse), awakening and transformation, among others. Slee's own commitment and attention to detail, her scholarly presentation of the background literature and her extraordinary ability to observe and empathise make this a groundbreaking book which opens up a whole area of rich enquiry for others to develop.
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