Spiritualities of the Displaced: An Ethnographic Study of the Lived Faith of Homeless Persons

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Fulkerson, Mary McClintock

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My dissertation is a project of practical theology that starts with the problem of homelessnesss. It seeks to better understand the lived faith of homeless persons by listening to the voices of the extreme poor. It asserts that one common feature of homelessness is loss, particularly the loss of being accepted as fully human. This plays out in stigmatization and shame, whereby homeless persons are treated and can come to perceive themselves as transgressors matter out of place. Using an ethnographic method and a situational analysis of social worlds, I participated in and observed three homeless social worlds at a downtown church in Nashville: a midweek worship service, a street paper, and a weekly support group. I also used a photo-elicitation process to discover how the homeless found sacred spaces and held onto sacred things as they lived on the streets. Because it is important to understand the larger historic and socioeconomic forces and material realities impacting the lived faith of the homeless, I also describe the making of the places of Nashville, the church, and the three social worlds. Besides participation-observation fieldnotes, my data primarily came from interviews with 40 homeless and formerly homeless persons as well as the leaders of each social world. I conclude with a theological reading and evaluation of the church's homeless social worlds according to my own theological normative claims of the homeless person being beloved and nourishing a sense of his or her agency. Using Rowan Williams and Sandra Schneiders, I work toward an adequate definition of spirituality that allows for attention to the radically different lives of homeless persons who typically remain invisible to most Christians and academic theology, and I make a case for spirituality as a viable analytical concept in practical theology and as a discipline in theological education.


Doctor of Theology




Curtis, Cynthia Ann (2013). Spiritualities of the Displaced: An Ethnographic Study of the Lived Faith of Homeless Persons. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/9464.


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