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.
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.
Axel Michaels and William S. Sax
This chapter reviews prominent theories of ‘performance’ and ‘performativity’ and compares them to theories of ritual. It begins with important theories of performativity in language, and moves on to discussions of the relation between performativity in theatre and in ritual. This chapter argues shows how a focus on performativity in religion and ritual emphasizes embodiment over cognition, situated communication over linguistic structure, and contextual meaning over propositional content. This chapter considers the example of Indian popular theatre and its relation to Indian theology. It also reviews important theories of performativity associated with Austin, Goffman, Schechner, Tambiah, and Turner, arguing that a performative approach to religion and ritual sees them as emergent, contingent, creative, dynamic, embodied, open-ended, and above all context-dependent.