Identity construction of Roman Catholic religious sisters in the church in Nigeria.
This study was designed against the background of the vital need for a comprehensive research on religious sisters in Africa and Nigeria in particular to address the problems and challenges of identity construction by them within the context of religious community life. It is an interpretative qualitative research study which used an interdisciplinary theoretical approach, drawing on theology of religious life and dialogical self theory to argue that the sisters‘ performance of identity is a context-bound activity. Interview data was drawn from 18 participants from two religious congregations (Daughters of Divine Love and Society of the Holy Child Jesus) in Nigeria in order to understand the meaning sisters give to their intersubjective exchange and the impact it makes on their development and performance of personal/religious identity. The results showed that the sisters used a multiplicity of I-positions to construct identity. This multiplicity of I-positions arises from self-positioning and self as positioned by others (including superiors/formators, senior/older sisters, priests) which are laden with conflicts and dilemmas of identity construction. The major dilemma of identity construction that the participants encountered is based on the discrepancy between the ideal and the lived reality of religious life. The participants presented the ideal as a call to do God‘s will in direct imitation of Christ, but the lived reality offers a mixed experience. On the one hand the participants indicated that relationships within the religious community, Church and wider Nigerian society are supportive, facilitating their development and performance of Christ-like identity. But on the other hand the findings reveal that the participants‘ performance of identity has been hindered by power relations and dominance (including gender related issues) which are prevalent in religious communities, the Church and wider Nigerian society, leading the participants to present their performance of identity as a struggle for survival. Thus their construction of identity is a constant negotiation process, in which they are engaged in appropriation and rejection of positions as they struggle to construct unity-in-multiplicity. To this effect the study recommends that leaders of religious life review their leadership style in order to adopt a more inclusive approach which gives every sister the opportunity to speak and be heard, thus create a more conducive environment for sisters‘ identity construction.