In Concert and Alone: Divorce and Congregational Experience

Kathleen E. Jenkins, William & Mary


Sociologists have paid little attention to the experience of divorce in religious congregations. Numerous quantitative studies suggest that religion can provide health and wellness during such life disruptions, but we know little about the social and individual processes that might foster these benefits. I address this gap in the literature drawing from data collected in a four-year ethnographic study of divorce and ending life partnerships across six religious traditions. I analyze the experiences of 41 individuals who ended life partnerships while active in their congregations. Despite intense points of communal connection through ritual, respondents named largely private strategies for settling heightened emotion, physical and psychological pain, and creating a new self. Permeating their communal experiences was a marked sense of aloneness, resulting from individual shame and congregational silence, as well as their understanding of divorce-work as ultimately private self-work.