AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

Works of Love: Beauty and Fragility in a Community of Difference

by Rebecca F Spurrier

Institution: Emory University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Theology; Religion; liturgy; disability; difference; beauty; access; theological aesthetics; ecclesiology
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2134942
Full text PDF: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/rgnpf


This dissertation explores the significance of mental difference and disability for Christian community based on a year of ethnographic and theological research at a church in which the majority of those who attend services and weekly day programs live with diagnoses of chronic mental illness. I investigate the relationships that help to identify this diverse group of people as a church rather than a mission to or a program for the mentally ill. I argue that, rather than drawing attention to a set of central practices – a uniform liturgy requiring able-bodied and able-minded participation – this community highlights theological aesthetics by which people with differing abilities belong to one another and transform a common liturgy. Offering an aesthetic frame for differences, I argue that Christian liturgy is not first or primarily the ability to grasp or articulate a set of ideas about God, nor to conform to a set of practices; rather, Christian liturgy relies upon consensual, noncoercive relationships that embody and reflect a sacramental understanding of the beauty and nonviolence of divine love. The liturgy of Holy Family, choreographed with and through mental disability, reveals both the fragility of human connection that is requisite for any worship of God and the persistent beauty of this connection as those who gather find, create, and improvise access to one another and the divine. Bringing together the fields of liturgical studies, disability studies, embodiment, and aesthetics, I explore 'art forms' of improvised access – touch and gesture, silence and imagination, jokes and laughter, and naming – that are essential to shaping a community of difference with and through psychiatric disability. Naming and recognizing these arts illumines both the beauty and the struggle that incorporating difference into a common liturgy entails. Furthermore, I analyze theologies of space and time that make these artistries possible as well as the violence of space and time within a segregated city, where some lives are given more value than others. Introduction - Disabling Liturgy, Desiring Difference: Arts of Becoming Church 1  – Chapter 1 - Gathering: Unfolding a Liturgy of Difference 43  – Chapter 2 - Weaving: Aesthetics of Interdependence 93  – Chapter 3 - Disrupting: Aesthetics of Time and Work 141  – Chapter 4 - Naming: Aesthetics of Healing and Claiming 187  – Chapter 5 - Sending: Aesthetics of Belonging and Dwelling 238  – Conclusion - The Disabled Church: Beauty and the Consent to a Community of Difference 289  – Bibliography 322  – Advisors/Committee Members: Flueckiger, Joyce (Committee Member), Saliers, Don E (Committee Member), White, Andrea C. (Committee Member), Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie (Committee Member), Farley, Wendy (Thesis Advisor).