Potent connections, mystery-work and the relational nature of retreat-going

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Retreat-going has mostly been understood through the lens of the self. Retreat-goers abscond from their obligations and relationships, their jobs and family duties, in order to spend time working on themselves, steeped in discourses and practices which prioritize self-discovery and self-mastery. But accounts given by retreat-goers often also emphasize the relationships and connections with others. Recent theoretical developments in the sociology of personal life provide useful tools to describe these relationships. Drawing data from interviews (N = 27) with people who went on retreat, in this article I explore retreat-goers’ relationships via Jennifer Mason’s concept of ‘potent connection’. Specifically, I outline the ways in which uncertainty, surprise and mysteriousness characterize the relationships people made on retreat. Then, noting the importance of coordinated action in retreat-goers’ accounts, I describe how potent connections appear to be collectively produced, rather than just encountered – what I call ‘mystery-work’. This article extends the existing literature on retreats by adding further detail to the relational picture. Additionally, it suggests the generation of intense or ineffable relationships via mystery-work is a dimension of personal life that may be encountered in other contexts and that this is worth further study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalThe Sociological Review
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2021


  • personal life
  • potent connections
  • relationality
  • relationships
  • retreat-going
  • the self


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