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Muriel Lester – Christian Pacifist: The value of a b iographical a pproach to social work history. Bradford Beyond B elief Conference 8 th September 2011 Russell Whiting Department of Social Work University of Sussex. Muriel Lester 1883-1968. 1938. Kingsley Hall, Bow.
Muriel Lester – Christian Pacifist:The value of a biographical approach to social work history Bradford Beyond Belief Conference 8th September 2011 Russell Whiting Department of Social Work University of Sussex
Perceptions of Muriel Lester • Pacifist –activist • Puritan -iconoclast • Priest - minister
Christian Pacifist • ABSOLUTE PACIFISM “NO MORITORIUM ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT” Matthew ch5, v44 “Love your enemies” Coloured her social work and everything that she did. How is this different from Gandhian pacifism?
Theological basis “The crux of the matter is that the biblical understanding of life has to do with persons and communities acting in history. The Hindu doctrine of ahimsa is based on the universal oneness of all created beings: the rat, the scorpion and the saint are each bearers of the same immortal soul in successive phases. The biblical perspective affords....a different ontological basis, and its primary focus is radically different because it sees man as a person in whom historical and biological features are bound up with the transcendental to form a unique identity”(Miller, 1964, p. 29-30)
Puritanism “The fear that somebody, somewhere is having a good time and enjoying themselves!” H.L.Mencken Useful to think about it in terms of iconoclasm, doing without. Lester’s life includes some examples. She also clearly connects lifestlye and morality through this kind of puritanism.
The Brethren of the Common Table This was attempt by Lester and colleagues to live with a common purse. Not necessarily linked to communal living – just a monthly check on how they had spent every penny. Lester received an inheritance of £400 a year that she submitted to the common purse.
Priesthood Lester was a strong advocate for women’s ministry. She wrote a widely read pamphlet called “Why Forbid Us?” She took it on herself to be a priest in her community. See excerpt on Christenings. She saw her social work as simultaneously sacramental and as a response to the local community.
Hauerwas on Sacramental Social Work “These rites, baptism and eucharist, are not just ‘religious things’ that Christian people do. They are the essential rituals of our politics. Through them we enact who we are. These liturgies do not motivate us for effective social work, rather the liturgies are our social work. For if the church is rather than has a social ethic, these actions are our most important social witness” (2005, p.384)
Criticisms of Lester Oral history archive record accounts of her being an admirable rather than a lovable character. Doris was loved. She was a harsh critic and a loose cannon – also possibly a sectarian who set up and ran her own little church. Her social work was predominantly early in her career. Later she was a travelling campaigner. Her privileged inheritance never left her – voluntary poverty was a “lark”. She lived in a violent time. Is her Christian Pacifism relevant to social work today? Can it be made relevant?
Dangers of a biographical approach to history • Can lead to hero worship/ hagiography • No one individual can sum up a movement or tradition on their own –other examples needed • People are multifaceted and danger of only presenting a pastiche • Biography means studying limited geographical locations. But possibly not a bad thing.
References Berkman, J. And Cartwright, M (eds)(2005) The Hauerwas Reader. London Duke University Publishers Deats, R. (ed) (1991) Ambassador of Reconciliation: A Muriel Lester Reader. Santa Cruz, New Society Publishers Joshi, S (2009) Gandhian Social Work. Delhi, M and K Publishers Miller, W.R. (1964) Nonviolence: A Christian Interpretation. Norwich. George Unwin Publishers Oldfield, S. (2006) Doers of the Word. Falmer. Sussex Univsity Publishers