The Safe and Sacred Pajama Party: Social Processes in a Religious Youth Ministry for High School Adolescents

Doctoral Dissertation


The Cursillo began as a Roman Catholic renewal movement in the mid-twentieth century. Since then, the Cursillo model of ministry – using lay-persons to recruit new participants for a religiously-focused retreat – has spread to many different groups, both religious and secular, throughout the world. This work is an ethnographic case study of the God Loves Everyone (GLE) group, one ecumenical ministry to high school adolescents following the Cursillo model. Using grounded theory analysis, the early aim of the study was to gain access to the group in order to understand its social processes. Once I gained access I discerned that GLE was a socio-spatial experience with three major themes: 1) Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in action; 2) adolescents producing their own religious culture; and 3) adolescents working on the formation of their religious identities. I spent the next two years conducting ethnographic field work that used these three ideas to produce an understanding of what the GLE experience meant to the teens and the different ways in which it affected their identity projects.

Drawing from the literatures of social psychology, the sociology of religion, and cultural sociology, I found that despite the intentions of GLE’s architects to have it function as a stepping stone in religious and spiritual development, the adolescents used the program as a resource in different ways to work on their identity projects. Some adolescents used GLE as a resource to supplement what they were already doing religiously, while others used the program as a substitute for church services. I also found a third pattern: Some adolescents used GLE to ‘come out of the closet’ and work to integrate their non-heterosexual identity with their pre-existing Christian commitment. I then observed the fallout from the ‘coming out' narratives and how the group, as an ecumenical organization whose leaders hope to see members coalesce around a single identity, came to terms with the lesbian, gay, and bi-sexual youth in their program.

I concluded that ecumenical groups are the epitome of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in action, that groups like this one should be studied objectively, and that under certain conditions some adolescents do care enough about their religious identities to generate conflict in seeking to understand them.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04062012-163623

Author Karen Monique Gregg
Advisor Kevin J. Christiano
Contributor Michael Welch, Committee Member
Contributor Lynette Spillman, Committee Member
Contributor Kevin J. Christiano, Committee Chair
Contributor Andrew J. Weigert, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Defense Date
  • 2012-02-10

Submission Date 2012-04-06
  • United States of America

  • adolescents

  • production of culture

  • spiritual

  • youth ministry

  • retreat

  • moralistic therapeutic deism

  • Cursillo movement

  • space

  • religion

  • definition of the situation

  • ecumenical

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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