Libby Greene ’10 recently presented the work she completed on her honors project, an Ethnography of the Hispanic Pentecostal Church, at the annual meeting of the Society for the Social Scientific Study of Religion. The conference, held this past October in Baltimore, welcomed hundreds of speakers. Greene was one of only five undergraduate students invited to speak.
Greene first found the Geneva Hispanic Church of God, where she conducted the ethnography, while doing fieldwork for the course “What is Christianity?” with Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter. For the class, students were asked to do ethnographies, or cultural studies that seek to answer questions about a community’s way of life, of several of the local churches – the Geneva Hispanic Church of God was one of the churches Greene visited.
“When I decided to do my honors project, I knew I wanted to do participant observation. I was interested in how they – as a community – maintain unity over time, how they preserve their culture in Geneva,” recalls Greene, who completed her honors under the guidance of Salter. “I remembered the church and thought it would be a great place to do it; I knew when they met and when they worshipped.”
Greene had just returned from a semester abroad in the Dominican Republic and had been learning Spanish since the second grade, so the transition into a congregation of Spanish speakers was an easy one. “I was a member of the church for eight months,” explains Greene. “I went to service every week, bible studies – I was even invited to baby showers. I really got to know the people of the church.”
When presenting at the conference, Greene found her greatest challenge was condensing all that she had experienced into a 20-minute presentation. However, her work for last spring’s Senior Symposium prepared her for the task. In order to best convey how the community functions as a family unit to preserve their culture, Greene provided what she calls a “quintessential example.”
“There was a young woman, a high school student, who wanted to play basketball; however, it conflicted with bible study,” explains Greene. “The people in the church were not happy with her missing all of the faith functions. In response, the church decided to give her more leadership. Instead of punishing her, they uplifted her, empowered her.”
“Instead of rebellion, she stepped up and filled the leadership role, giving up basketball,” continues Greene. “She did it with maturity and grace well beyond her years.”
Greene’s presentation of her ethnography concentrated on this struggle, one that is seen in all aspects of life in Hispanic Pentecostal churches. “They really see this as part of an on-going struggle between the secular world and their faith,” Greene posits. “This young woman was such a key part of community that she had to make a sacrifice. It is one’s task to maintain the community. They feel they have to stay together because it is God’s calling.”
The experience was not only one of learning, but a way to bring together all that Greene had explored while on campus. “We put a lot of emphasis on interdisciplinary at HWS. My honors project brought together the theme of interdisciplinary study just beautifully and it acted as the capstone experience of my undergraduate career,” says Greene.
“I incorporated my Spanish into my study, there was an element of Women’s Studies because I worked mostly with women, and of course, Religious Studies. It was very organically, everything blended perfectly and nothing was forced. It fused all of my interests perfectly.”
However, the academics of the project and the prestige of the presentation were not the only positives to be taken from Greene’s time at the Church of God. “When I come back to visit campus, I’m going to have this whole other community to visit – a whole other family,” remarks Greene. “Even though it took me three years to do so, I truly got to meet Geneva.”