The Ecclesiological Self and the Other: Concepts of Social Identity and Their Implications for Free Churches in Secular Europe

In: Ecclesial Practices
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  • 1 VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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This article suggests that social identity research, especially the concept of self-other differentiation, may shed light on the observable ecclesiological and missional identity crisis of free churches in secular Europe. As free churches find positive value, meaning, and perspective in distinction to particular ‘collective others’, both their ecclesiological self as well as their philosophy of ministry are shaped by these kinds of social psychological procedures. It is thus proposed that the ecclesiological and missiological difficulties of free churches in Europe are at least partly due to the fact that what has historically been the most relevant ‘identity-forming other’ is fading away. While free churches originated within a Christendom context, they now face an increasingly secular environment. This seems to necessitate a mental rearrangement of sorts since it is no longer suitable to determine one’s identity in comparison and opposition to other Christian groups within the sphere of cultural Christianity.

  • 7

    Richard R. Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), e.g., p. 4.

  • 8

    Rupert Brown, Group Processes: Dynamics Within and Between Groups (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), p. 239.

  • 9

    George H. Mead, Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934).

  • 19

    Leon Festinger, ‘A Theory of Social Comparison Processes’, Human Relations 7 (1954), pp. 117–140.

  • 22

    Henri Tajfel, Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 255. For a similar early definition, see, e.g., Henri Tajfel, "La Catégorisation sociale," in Serge Moscovici (ed), Introduction à la psychologie sociale, vol. 1 (Paris: Larousse, 1972), p. 292 (quoted and translated in John C. Turner, ‘Social comparison and social identity: Some prospects for intergroup behaviour’, European Journal of Social Psychology 5 [1975], p. 7).

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  • 23

    Hogg, ‘Social Identity and the Psychology of Groups’, pp. 502–503.

  • 26

    Brewer and Miller, Intergroup Relations, p. 44.

  • 27

    Tajfel and Turner, ‘The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior’, p. 16.

  • 28

    Ibid., pp. 19–20.

  • 29

    Tajfel, ‘La Catégorisation sociale’, pp. 293–295, quoted and translated in Turner, ‘Social comparison and social identity’, pp. 7–8.

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  • 31

    John C. Turner et al., ‘Self and Collective: Cognition and Social Context’, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 20 (1996), p. 454.

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  • 32

    John C. Turner, et al., Rediscovering the Social Group: A Self-Categorization Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), p. 50.

  • 34

     See, e.g., Hogg, ‘Social Identity and the Psychology of Groups’, p. 509.

  • 36

    Tajfel and Turner, ‘The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behavior’, pp. 16–17.

  • 37

    Reicher et al., ‘The Social Identity Approach in Social Psychology’, p. 54.

  • 40

    Festinger, ‘A Theory of Social Comparison Processes’, p. 120.

  • 41

    Ibid., p. 121.

  • 42

    Reicher et al., ‘The Social Identity Approach in Social Psychology’, p. 54.

  • 45

    Paas, ‘The Crisis of Mission in Europe’, p. 30.

  • 46

    Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent – Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis (Oxford: University Press, 2007), p. 56.

  • 49

    Reicher et al., ‘The Social Identity Approach in Social Psychology’, p. 54.

  • 53

    Baumann, ‘Grammars of Identity/Alterity: A Structural Approach’, pp. 20–21.

  • 54

    Ibid., p. 27.

  • 57

    Ibid., pp. 39–40.

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