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Old Paths and New Ways

Negotiating Tradition and Relevance in Liturgy


Robert Lilleaasen

The relationship between tradition and relevance is a core feature in religious practice in general and public worship in particular. On the one hand, worship is a bearer of religious traditions, i.e. traditions are maintained in the practice of public worship, and the worship enables individuals to connect with these traditions. On the other hand, it is a quest for relevance in public worship. In order to maintain existing worshippers and attract new participants, congregations have to consider their ability to connect their core values to the needs and expectations of existing and potential participants. This dual purpose of the worship causes a need for negotiation, and it is this negotiation between tradition and relevance that this book investigates. Old Paths and New Ways is a case study of the negotiation between tradition and the quest for relevance in liturgy.

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Chapter Eight: Traditional Reasoning


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Traditional Reasoning


In this chapter I will investigate how tradition contributes to the practice of worship ritual. The investigation builds on the analyses of the ritual ingredients and outcomes in Chapter 6 and Randall Collins’s Interaction Ritual (IR) theory (2004). The analyses and the presentation will focus on tradition, guided by two questions: What is tradition in the worship assemblies? What purpose does tradition serve in the practice of worship?

In Collins account of the distinction between generic and religious interactional rituals three distinctive features are highlighted. The last two of these, the symbolic content of the rituals and the issue of time in religious rituals, are of particular interest in this part of the study. Concerning the distinctive symbolic content, Collins (2010, 3) argues this is where its distinctiveness is announced. This applies in particular to the symbols “which affirm the existence of a sacred realm.” Moreover, the worship rituals “occur in an on-going chain, with prior IRs creating a heritage of symbols that feed into and provide the focus of attention for the next IR in the chain.” This chain is part of what I will refer to in this chapter as traditions. The final distinctiveness Collins (2010, 3) points out is the way religious rituals are linked “backward to primordial time.” The symbolic content of religious ritual refers back to an ancient historical time; and the rituals have themselves been preserved and celebrated...

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