«Digital storytelling and collective religious identity in a moderate to progressive youth group Lynn Schofield Clark and Jill Dierberg, University of ...»
The youth director in particular had an especially positive response to the video. He felt the video resonated with most of the youth, and he was eager to share the video with parents, with potential new group members, and with the wider church body. In fact, he screened the video at a district-wide meeting of his church’s denomination. When asked how the video was received, he said enthusiastically, “everyone wants one of these for their church youth group!”(Email correspondence with Gary Knutson, 11/2/10).
Interpretation and Analysis: Fluid Identities and Anchoring Narratives As Jerome Bruner (1990) has pointed out, as humans, we seek to organize our experiences into narrative form so that we can make sense of our lives. We reflect on the narratives we construct as we consider who we are and who we want to be, and this process of reflection in turn influences how we will pursue our own ends. Such reflection can actually encourage us to change our behaviors and our actions, resulting in personal transformations (Davis, 2005; Ochs and Capps, 1996). Moreover, as the process of participating in and creating a digital storytelling project can result in stories that are “fixed” in a certain sense, they allow both the creator and the audience to reflect upon the story and to consider how well it does or does not represent both who they are and who they aspire to be (Davis and Weinshenker, 2011). In this sense, digital stories provide anchoring narratives: narratives of identity that help people to reflect upon a story that held resonance and meaning for them at a particular time and in a particular context. As people view a digital story over time, they can continue to reflect on the extent to which they see continuity or change between that anchoring narrative and the narratives that they use in subsequent settings. Digital storytelling, therefore, provides a means by which individuals or groups are afforded opportunities to not only tell, but to listen to, their own stories. Such listening to the narratives of the self is a key aspect to identity
development, as Holland (1998) and her colleagues have noted:
People tell others who they are, but even more importantly, they tell themselves and they try to act as though they are who they say they are. These selfunderstandings, especially those with strong emotional resonance for the teller,
Yet as Davis and Weinshenker (2011) note with reference to the question of whether or not digital stories are an enactment of identity, “Without the ongoing support of a community, the self-realizations [digital stories] report and the personal transformations they testify to are likely to fade from consciousness without translation into action” (p.
22). Digital storytelling may provide groups with anchoring narratives that contain significant aspirations, therefore, but they only become catalysts to support movement toward those aspirations with the support of a community. In the case of collectively produced digital stories such as the one explored here, the communal nature of the process and its interpretations in various screenings has demonstrated the importance not only of expressing those aspirations, but of revisiting those group narratives among communities that are willing to share the work of enacting them. Digital storytelling therefore can serve as a catalyst for both individual and collective purposeful action.
Although it was not the original intent of this project, the participants’ comments about wanting to screen the video for parents and other members of the congregation revealed a felt need to be seen by those constituents as members of the wider church community, albeit on their own terms. In this sense, it affirmed Frank Rogers’ (2010) Narrative Pedagogies project and the idea that “the narratives of our lives intermingle with the narratives that ground our faith and [participating in storytelling can] inspire people to journey toward hope as empowered agents of healing in our world”(n. pag.). Stories, therefore, can play a key role in helping young people to be integrated into the life of the faith community.
Participating in a digital storytelling project also engaged young people in the important process of articulation, giving young people an opportunity to practice talking about and expressing what it means to them to embrace a religious identity. Such work is important, for “articulacy fosters reality,” as Christian Smith (2005) has written in his argument for greater opportunities to practice such talk. In this case, such articulation occurred relationally rather than individually. Taking on a digital storytelling process required the young participants to work together, to think through commitments, and even to do research on the history of their community and tradition to consider how those relate to their own lives. Digital storytelling – because it provides effective prompts for discussion and an engaging and vivid process for rendering that discussion into tangible public form – served as an opportunity for this kind of relational development of identity.
Conclusion This case study illustrated that digital storytelling can serve as a resource for both the expression of and continued commitment to a collectively held identity. Over a period of six months, young people in Christ Lutheran Church made decisions about which stories to tell about their group, they collected photos and music that they believed would bring those stories to life, and they viewed the digital storytelling product both immediately after its production and in subsequent settings. Through this process, the participants in this digital storytelling project authored their collective identity and took ownership of the aspirational elements it entailed.
The final product itself served as a catalyst that galvanized the group, helping them to identify their desire to be viewed by parents and congregation members as part of a larger church body and providing further encouragement for them to participate in meaningful service activities and to continue to provide a safe space for those who might become a part of their group.
Digital storytelling is not always an enactment of collective identity. If young people feel coerced to tell a story that they don’t believe in, or if they feel left out of a key telling of the collective narrative, digital storytelling can serve to expose tensions rather than enhancing inclusion. In this particular case study, however, the digital storytelling process enabled young people to write themselves, and their community, into being in a way that was fresh and meaningful for them. And in so doing, the process became a means by which young people could employ the tools of digital media for the creation of an enhanced and collective narrative of religious identity.
- Why do you think that several of the young people who had opted not to participate in making their religious group’s video eventually felt some regret about this decision?
- Do you think that communicating your religious commitments through a video format is easier or more difficult than communicating through written or oral form? Why do you think this?
- Over the past two decades, in an increasingly diverse and plural world, the concept of religious identity has shifted How might a collaborative process of narrative construction in digital storytelling assist young people in developing a sense of identity in this religiously plural context?
- How might digital storytelling assist researchers in providing a richer understanding of how religious narratives relate to the everyday lives of differing members of society?
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