Liturgical biography as liturgical theology: co-constructing theology at Hillsong Church, New York City
Cowan, Nelson Robert
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In the field of liturgical theology, there is a common understanding that the prescriptive theological claims of theologians do not often match the descriptive, lived reality of worshippers. Put differently, there is a gap between the “primary” theological activity of worship and the formal “secondary” theology of the academic liturgical theologian. Within this interstice lie the liturgical-theological articulations of “ordinary,” non-specialist worshippers. This project argues that liturgical theology has not focused upon the human subject to a sufficient standard and proposes the method of liturgical biography as a descriptive and analytically rich avenue to construct liturgical theologies. Liturgical biography utilizes longitudinal oral interviews and personal journal entries, supported by ethnographic fieldwork, to describe the lived reality of the “ordinary” primary theologian (the worshipper) engaging in worship and liturgical-theological reflection. In addition to a methodological proposal, this project offers and analyzes the liturgical biographies of two worshippers who attend the New York City campus of Hillsong Church, a global Pentecostal megachurch-turned-denomination. Chapter One discusses the theoretical underpinning to liturgical biography, incorporating the concept of the rhizome developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Liturgical biography is needed because worship is too rhizomatically complex for the universalizing and prescriptive claims of liturgical theology. Chapter Two provides a working history and liturgical theology of Hillsong Church rendered from Hillsong’s primary sources (i.e., books, sermons, song lyrics, blogs). Chapters Three and Four examine the personal histories and liturgical-theological claims of these two “primary theologians” who attend Hillsong New York City, whose claims are then placed in conversation with liturgical-theological interlocutors and other allied fields of discourse. These chapters are “co-constructed” insofar as the primary theologians’ voices take the lead, but the researcher employs the thematization and organization of the materials. Their liturgical theologies demonstrate the “gap” between primary and secondary theology, elucidate the rhizomatic complexity of worship, and offer unique contributions to liturgical theology, especially by giving voice to the underrepresented perspectives of Pentecostals and Evangelicals. Chapter Five concludes the project by arguing in favor of liturgical biography as a viable method for liturgical theology and further theorizes its ecumenical import.
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