Playing church: understanding ritual and religious experience resourced by Gadamer’s concept of play

This article uses Gadamer’s concept of play as a common lens through which both traditional church liturgy and imaginative evangelical practices of engaging with God can be understood. The category of play encompasses processes which exhibit a back-and-forth motion and functions in Gadamer’s aesthetics to describe the relationship between artwork and viewer. Through an aesthetics of play, Gadamer accounts for the presence of truth in art. As I demonstrate in this paper, liturgy displays the playful characteristics of artwork, allowing for a theologically realist interpretation of divine presence. The final part of this paper considers the imaginative evangelical practices described by anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, which I refer to as God-play. I argue that there is an unexpected commonality between God-play and traditional liturgy in the form of a functional similarity between the two and propose that God-play may be regarded as liturgy-like practice that has not been traditionalised. My evaluation is that this is a positive development, which opens the opportunity for divine encounter to those alienated from traditional liturgies. However, caution must be taken to avoid inappropriately trivial imaginings of God, and I conclude by offering suggestions for the church and academy in cautiously welcoming these practices. © 2018, © 2018 International Journal of Philosophy and Theology.

This article uses Gadamer’s concept of play as a common lens through which both traditional church liturgy and imaginative evangelical practices of engaging with God can be understood. The category of play encompasses processes which exhibit a back-and-forth motion and functions in Gadamer’s aesthetics to describe the relationship between artwork and viewer. Through an aesthetics of play, Gadamer accounts for the presence of truth in art. As I demonstrate in this paper, liturgy displays the playful characteristics of artwork, allowing for a theologically realist interpretation of divine presence. The final part of this paper considers the imaginative evangelical practices described by anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, which I refer to as God-play. I argue that there is an unexpected commonality between God-play and traditional liturgy in the form of a functional similarity between the two and propose that God-play may be regarded as liturgy-like practice that has not been traditionalised. My evaluation is that this is a positive development, which opens the opportunity for divine encounter to those alienated from traditional liturgies. However, caution must be taken to avoid inappropriately trivial imaginings of God, and I conclude by offering suggestions for the church and academy in cautiously welcoming these practices. © 2018, © 2018 International Journal of Philosophy and Theology.

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