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Ecstatic Experience in Pentecostalism and Popular Music

Mark Jennings

Based on two richly described case studies – a Pentecostal worship service and popular music festival – this book draws on sociology, theology and religious studies in order to understand the significance of ecstatic experience in these contexts. Interviews with performers in both settings, together with detailed first person accounts of worship services and live performances, combine to create a picture of the role of music, performance and space in catalysing ecstasy. Drawing on the work of thinkers as diverse as Michel Foucault, Emile Durkheim, Victor Turner and Friedrich Schleiermacher, this book demonstrates that religious and non-religious disciplines, paradigms and understandings can work in a complementary fashion to help us understand the significance of phenomena such as music and ecstatic experience.
Ultimately, the argument put forward in the book is that ecstatic experience takes place in both religious and secular settings and is best understood by both theistic and non-theistic approaches, working together. The ecstatic experience common to both contexts is theorised as ‘proto-religious phenomena’ – the kernel from which religion may develop.
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2. Breakfree Church


It is Sunday morning, and I am standing in the darkened performance hall of the local high school. It is early on the classic Australian sleepin day, but I am not alone. Standing in front of rows of hard plastic chairs, people all around me are bouncing, quivering, shouting, singing, raising their hands and swaying, most with their eyes closed and faces raised upwards. The expressions of those around me are astonishing. They display intense passion and even ecstasy, often with tears or laughter. On a pushed together block stage in front of us, a group of musicians and singers pound out a loud, heavy musical sound that builds and disperses in waves of volume and rhythm. The white screen, stark in this dim environment, displays the words of the current song, but most do not seem to need them. They sing from memory, or do not sing at all, allowing the sound to wash over them as they stand with arms outstretched to heaven. This is worship time at Breakfree Church, a Pentecostal congregation in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia.

The church meets in the performance hall of a local high school. The service proper will begin at 9:30 am, but a committed core of congregants arrive before 8 am to set up the hall. Many of them are the singers and musicians who will be playing later that morning. In the main hall, the stage must be pushed together, and instruments such as drum...

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