Research Showcase: Gabriella Rutendo Mwedzi

Winner of the 2021 Master’s Dissertation Prize

Gabriella’s dissertation ‘Blinded by Faith: An Investigation into the Attitudes of Black Christian Clergy Members Towards Intimate Partner Violence in England and Wales’ was completed for her MA in Sociology and Social Research.

The dissertation investigates Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), which has been identified as being on the increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies of IPV in England and Wales typically represent the experience of white and mixed communities with no clear picture of IPV within the black community. This is not to say that researchers have aimed to exclude these women from research on IPV, but the closed nature of this community has made recruitment difficult. This study is the first in England to explore the understandings of IPV amongst Clergy in black Pentecostal Christian communities, who, due to the impact of race and religious teachings, are often the first port of call regarding IPV in the lives of black women. Taking an intersectional approach, including an understanding of migration, ethnicity, religiosity and other intersections, Gabriella’s research identifies the ways that Clergy’s transnational biographies shape the ways they understand and respond to claims of IPV.

Clergy members operate as a collective, leaning on each other for support and guidance when dealing with issues; therefore, synchronous online focus groups enabled both data collection and a space for the respondents to openly reflect and share their experiences.  As part of the focus groups, clergy members were presented with hypothetical scenarios of IPV and asked to share their thoughts, rationalisations, and potential responses. Each scenario indicated a different element of IPV including martial rape, coercive control, and economic abuse. It was important to present scenarios that varied in expression of IPV, as certain practices of male headship and female submission encouraged by certain aspects of Christian and African culture have been linked to an increased propensity of IPV. 

When responding to the scenarios presented, clergy members relied on their own experiences, shaped by personal biases, culture, and their own interpretation of scripture to influence their responses.  As a result, their interpretation of IPV and suggestions for how couples should respond were deeply rooted in patriarchy (for instance, male control of finances or right to sexual intercourse). The study found that, based on these responses, the female partner in the hypothetical scenarios would not have received supportive care and would have been placed at further risk of victimisation.

Only two women participated in this study, out of ten respondents. While numerous female clergy members were approached to participate, many were denied permission by their husbands. Further research is needed that involves black female Christians both clergy members and congregants alike to help illuminate the black female voice.

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