Elizabeth Molina-Markham, University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • What one piece of writing was most inspirational to you as an LSI researcher?

One of the pieces that has had a strong influence on my own research thus far has been Bauman’s (1983) Let Your Words Be Few, Symbolism of speaking and silence among seventeenth-century Quakers.  I first learned of this work during my first semester as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, while serving as a TA for Professor Donal Carbaugh.  During one class early in the semester, Professor Carbaugh introduced communication studies of silence to the undergraduates, citing the research of Basso and Braithwaite and mentioning research on the silent worship of Quakers.  Having gone to an undergraduate school founded by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, (Haverford College) I was immediately intrigued.  Later, reading Bauman’s analysis of the communicative practices of early Friends from the perspective of the ethnography of communication inspired my own dissertation work, an ethnography of the communication of a present-day Quaker meeting.  In the process of writing my dissertation, I went back to this text many times, each time impressed by the subtlety of Bauman’’s analysis of the symbolic vocabulary and cultural communicative forms of Friends, which I came to appreciate more and more as my own involvement in the community deepened. Although many differences exist between the practices of the speech communities of early and modern Friends, there are still numerous connections and Bauman’s work is an invaluable comparative resource.

  • What question you are currently trying to explore? How?

I am still expanding upon my work among Quakers, posing questions about the role of silence in decision making and also about processes of identity construction and group formation.  For example, I ask, through what communicative processes is community among Friends created and reinforced? In particular, I am interested recently in narrative practices and in the connection between the cultural assumptions underlying the silent listening practiced during meeting for worship and the telling of “spiritual journeys” by meeting members in other contexts.  In analyzing recordings of the telling of “spiritual journeys,” I pose questions regarding the culturally shaped meaningfulness of this sharing for community members in terms of what it means to practice Quakerism and be a Quaker.