"Hope of the World": the liturgical work and witness of Georgia Harkness
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This dissertation explores the liturgical work and influences of Methodist theologian Georgia Harkness in the broader context of mainline American Christianity and theological liberalism of the twentieth century. Through an examination of Harkness’s writing about worship as well as the resources she produced for worship, the thesis argues that her often overlooked liturgical work was central to her self-understanding as an applied theologian and shaped her theological interests and evolution throughout her career. This study begins by showing the centrality of prayer and worship in the personal and professional biography of Harkness. Through analysis of her many articles and sections of books on prayer and public worship, it leads to an assessment of Harkness’s own growing commitment to the liturgical life of the church and demonstrates how a self-described “evangelical liberal” built on her personalist foundations to help modern Christians reclaim the church’s liturgical tradition within new theological constructs. Further, by examining the prayers, worship services, and hymns that Harkness planned and wrote, the dissertation helps to explain how her theological understanding of worship and prayer was made manifest in the liturgical resources she created. This study also argues that Harkness’s growing commitment to the liturgical life of the church played a key role in her own theological evolution. Through her own immersion in worship and prayer, Harkness’s work became more theological, her theology became more Christocentric, and her ecclesiology deepened and developed a global and ecumenical conscience. As she delved deeper into the liturgical life of the church, she began drawing connections between liturgy, theology, and ethics, which presaged a central topic of modern-day liturgical studies. Finally, the dissertation claims that her work as an applied theologian at the intersection of various disciplines and communities makes her an excellent model for modern-day practical theology. This research and assessment contributes to existing scholarship by reclaiming an often-overlooked part of Georgia Harkness’s legacy. More broadly, it helps dispel the myth that theological liberalism was not interested in worship or devotion and gives a more nuanced understanding of the theological and liturgical landscape of mid-twentieth-century mainline Protestantism.