The Design Is Transformation: The Use of Repetitive Art in Spiritual Formation with West African Women
Doctor of Intercultural Studies
Shaw, R. Daniel
Given the oral culture, family responsibilities, and communal orientation of West African women, literate, individualistic perspectives of classical spiritual formation are often ill-adapted to their spirituality and their lives. As a teacher in the Women's Academy at the Faculté de Théologie Evangélique de l'Alliance Chrétienne in Abidjan, my goal was to identify principles which can be used to develop an appropriate, lifegiving spiritual formation program with my students. Repetitive art, such as singing, dancing, and handcrafts, is a significant aspect of life in West Africa. This dissertation explores possible roles of repetitive art in spiritual formation with students at the Women's Academy.
In this dissertation, transformation is presented as the goal of spiritual formation. Therefore Transformative Learning Theory, which also targets transformation, serves as a theoretical construct for my research. Transformative Learning Theory begins with an individual's frames of reference, and includes four important steps: a disorienting dilemma, critical reflection, reflective discourse and perspective transformation. Correspondingly, important themes in the spirituality of West African women are related to their frames of reference as good starting points for spiritual formation. Of these key themes, my research showed a particularly strong correlation between trauma and spirituality. Other themes included orality, gender, African Traditional Religion, relationships, family and finances. These themes considered in the light of Scripture could result in a disorienting dilemma. Interaction with the Word of God, through Scripture memorization and prayerful meditation responds to this spiritual disorientation, encouraging critical reflection. My research showed that repetitive art was a useful tool in empowering West African women in that process, both through memorizing and singing scripture choruses and meditating on those verses while doing repetitive tasks such as handwork.
In addition to the individual aspect of spiritual formation, community interaction gave the women the opportunity for reflective discourse as they shared their insights received during the week. Doing repetitive art together during these communal times boosted self-confidence, encouraged group bonding, improved concentration and increased motivation, contributing to this ongoing transformational process with West African women.
This dissertation concludes with an overview of implications for my ministry and the wider missiological community.
Mentor: R. Daniel Shaw
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