Sensing Worship: An Autoethnography of Liturgy and Affect
This dissertation argues that affect is a critical element of worship. One of the reasons people go to church or go to one church instead of another is because of how worship makes them feel. The subjective nature of feeling as well as a long history of mind/body dualism in the church, however, has led to the neglect of affective dimensions of worship. This dissertation seeks to discover how affect impacts the worshiping community, answering the question, “How does worship feel?” Three dimensions of feeling in worship are studied: the embodied, the social, and the non-representational. All three of these are argued to have significant epistemological, theological, and ethical influence within the church’s meaning-making process and orientation toward lived experience beyond worship. Making use of Leon Anderson’s analytic auto-ethnographic approach, the project first describes how individual bodies and attitudes toward emotion shape a congregation and how individual bodies become one body. In affect theory, this is described as an assemblage; theologically speaking, we would say the Body of Christ. Then, drawing from the scholarship of Sarah Ahmed, the dissertation articulates how this group, as a whole, feels—the way emotion circulates within and forms the Body-as-assemblage. Finally, guided by affect theorist Donavan Schaefer, the dissertation shows how this assemblage itself is a force; it has energy and power. Building on the work of liturgical theologian Don Saliers the dissertation argues that energy and power, as non-representational elements of the liturgy, are key to understanding how liturgy forms us ethically and sends us out into the world. In a concluding chapter value judgments are ventured in a chapter on affect as an essential component within “good worship.” This chapter explores how affect plays a critical role for worship leaders, offering perspectives that may be used to enrich our worship experiences.