Worship and its practices occupy a central place in every religious tradition, from Christianity and Judaism to Buddhism and Hinduism. Understanding aesthetics in religion requires paying attention to the role of the human body and its artistry in devotional acts, such as the use of paintings and sculptures as aids to prayer and meditative practices. Artistic means are employed in communal worshiping traditions; sacred rituals involve artistic expressions such as dance, song, poetry, story, images, and symbolic acts. This article examines artistry and aesthetics in modern and postmodern liturgy and worship practices of the world’s religious traditions. It first looks at scholarly sources that provide evidence on the aesthetic dimensions of liturgy. It then discusses the history of worship, whether communal or individual, in a cultural context, along with the concept of worship as verbal and non-verbal performance. It also considers the “art” of leading a worshiping community and concludes with a discussion of improvisation in religious worship.
Robin M. Wright
This article is an in-depth study of the cosmology and practices of assault sorcerers. While it concentrates mostly on indigenous Amazonian societies, comparisons are drawn from other ethnographic areas of the world. It shows that assault sorcery is an integral part of a nexus of religious knowledge and power, in which primordial spirits of sickness and sorcery are embodied in all manner of assault sorcery. The world of humanity today, according to indigenous cosmogonies examined here, is imbued with violent death through sorcery, the legacy of the primordial world. Prophet movements have often been associated with sorcery among indigenous societies throughout the world. Their principal objectives include the control of assault sorcerers, although the prophets themselves have often succumbed to their violent attacks or even deployed sorcery as a mode of defense against enemies. This world has been corrupted by the incessant violence of sorcerers, which the community elders, shamanic healers, and prophets have all sought to manage and control. What the future holds with the drastic decline of shamanic healers is cause for grave concern among traditional communities.
Maxwell E. Johnson
To study the rites of Christian initiation in the early church is to encounter not one but several liturgical traditions in development. This article seeks to provide an introductory overview of the sources, issues, and problems encountered in the development and interpretation of the rites of Christian initiation within early Christianity. It proceeds in two parts: from the first century to the Council of Nicaea; and from the Council of Nicaea to Augustine of Hippo. Augustine of Hippo serves as a fitting conclusion to this focus since, as a result of his controversies with both Donatism and Pelagianism, a new article in Christian initiation begins and continues throughout the medieval and even Reformation periods of church history.
Daniel K. Falk
Prayer as a service to God by the people is one of the most far reaching of religious practices, forming a central part of the religious practice of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; yet there is still much uncertainty about how this developed within Judaism and why. Scrolls from Qumran provide the most important corpus of evidence to shed light on the critical period during the days of the Second Temple. This article presents a case study for prayer in ancient Judaism. It is organized around the types of questions being asked: questions of definition and classification, textual questions, historical questions, questions concerning context, and questions of ideology and theology. There is a good deal of overlap between these categories, but they are be treated separately for heuristic purposes.
This chapter explores the intertwined themes of pilgrimage and the cult of saints in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, highlighting similarities and differences as well as issues of importance in the study of the tensions and moments of convergence that historically existed between the faiths during the Middle Ages down to the present. Current events have resulted in an existential threat to holy places and long-established customs and traditions throughout the Middle East and, indeed, to the destruction of shrines in Syria and Iraq. To that end this study explores the varieties of holy persons and places that believers of the Abrahamic faiths venerated. While traditional approaches to the cult of saints and pilgrimage and, indeed, other related themes are useful in highlighting certain relationships, a more concise framework that considers the Abrahamic dimensions of both phenomena is needed which is sensitive to the historical context and the ritual aspects.
Anne-Marie (Anjali) Gaston and Tony Gaston
Dance has accompanied religious ceremonies and sacred rites since prehistoric times. Most religions have included dance as part of worship at some period or in some places. However, because of its association with fertility and its celebration of the body, dance has equally been proscribed at times in different religions. Historical data on the use of dance in Christian rites indicate wide fluctuations in acceptance over the centuries. The presentation of dance as part of worship was highly developed in India, where dancers were employed by Hindu temples for many centuries. Such dances were highly formalized and required long training, and were largely the preserve of a specific community (caste) of dancers and dance-associated musicians. In the last century the movement for Sacred Dance has sought to revive and promote religious dances, creating a diversity of hybrid and innovative movement styles. Dance as a form of sacred art continues to evolve and diversify.
Larry D. Bouchard
The history of drama and performance often overlaps with histories of religious practice, belief, experience, and thought. This chapter surveys such histories and gives consideration to religious stories and themes, ritual structures, dramatic forms (including “metatheater,” “epic theatre,” verse drama, naturalism, and avant-garde theater), and to theories of religion and performance. The discussion is framed by the question, “Is drama inherently a way of being religious?” That is, does theatrical drama—by virtue of being a hybrid of narrative, dialogue, and embodied performance before live audiences—inherently create possibilities for religious, social, and ethical meanings and relations? The question’s value lies in its power to catalyze discoveries, not in any definitive answer. The chapter concludes with recent theological and ethical views of how drama can open questions of self-transcendence and otherness.
This chapter discusses three out of the many theologies in Europe addressing the question of globalization: indigenous theologies, and transcendence through developments in ecotheology and monotheism. It suggests that what is needed to hold back the advance of globalization is a solid sense of personhood rooted in cultural identity, but not so narrowly conceptualized as to be devoid of relational potential and respect for the rootedness of others. This is a significant challenge when the populations of the world are in such motion and we are forced to face the questions of: “How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?” How shall we keep our sense of identity when everything is shifting around us? The global market, with its global “things,” can be a neat and easy answer for so many, but in fact it just adds to the sense of our non-being, our uprootedness, making us citizens of everywhere and nowhere—cheap and disposable like the commodities we so often buy. The importance of the person, the history, the belonging so central to authentic personhood can be so easily dislodged under the force of migration, even voluntary.
Guy L. Beck
This chapter discusses the theoretical and practical dimensions of music in Hinduism, including the philosophy of sacred sound (Nāda-Brahman), the aesthetics of rasa (“taste”), the rise of Saṅgīta (music) as a component of pūjā (worship) and early drama, the Sanskrit musical treatises of Bharata and Dattila, the development of rāga (melodic pattern) and tāla (rhythmic cycle) from early scales and Sāma-Gāna (Sama-Veda chant), musical instruments, bhakti (devotion), and various classical and devotional genres of Bhakti-Saṅgīta, including Kriti, Dhrupad, Khyāl, Haveli-Saṅgīta, Samāj-Gāyan, Bhajan, and Nām-Kīrtan, within southern (Carnatic) and northern (Hindustani) traditions. Music is essential to Hindu mythology, where divine beings perform and instruct humans in the gentle art that facilitates both enjoyment (bhukti) and liberation (mukti). Prevalent in sacrifices, temple rites, domestic worship, sectarian movements and films, music is invariably part of Hindu worship in India or the Diaspora.
This chapter discusses initiations and transitions, two phenomena that can be found in all known cultures, both historically and geographically. Initiations and transitions are interlinked types of ritualized behavior, which share the basic common object of marking an event that leads to a new social and psychological state. Thus, when ritualized, they can be studied as rites of passage. Furthermore, the ritualized use of secrecy is frequently encountered in this type of ritual, especially in those that are connected to closed or secret societies, as shown in the case study of the chapter, the Entered Apprentice ritual of Freemasonry. Finally, the notion that the experience of undergoing a ritual of initiation is non-communicable, and how this is related to the use of secrecy, is discussed.