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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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3. Understanding Breakfree – Theological and Religious Studies approaches


The previous chapter contained an outline of a service at Breakfree church from a participant’s point of view. This chapter provides an overview of the work of five theorists from the disciplines of theology, religious studies and philosophy. As the outlines of the theories of each are traced, I will have cause to draw in detail on a section of the ethnographic data gathered during fieldwork at Breakfree church. This data consists of reflective descriptions from my participant observation and excerpts from interviews with music team members. In many cases it includes data from both sources. Using the phenomenological method, the theory will then function to illuminate the field data.

The chapter to follow will build upon this foundation inasmuch as it employs a similar process with a very different set of theorists from the socio-cultural disciplines. In this way I will be exploring and illuminating the field data from various perspectives, a strategy which will provide some unique insights into the experiences and practices of the Breakfree music team members and the service itself. In this book, realms are spaces which have a vertical and horizontal dimension. The vertical dimension refers to the interaction between people within the realm and an entity generally referred to as the “divine.” Conversely, the horizontal dimension of the realm describes the human-to-human interactions within these spaces. Beginning with theology and religious studies affords vertical insight into the nature of the Breakfree realm as well as applying insights from the history of...

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