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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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4. Understanding Breakfree – Socio-Cultural approaches


This chapter will build on the case study of Breakfree church, making use of a number of socio-cultural paradigms. Using the same phenomenological pattern followed in chapter three, I will draw on these paradigms to illuminate specific ethnographic examples from the case study. The important difference is that here the theories and paradigms are mined from socio-cultural thinkers, and so the focus of the discussion will shift from the transcendent and intangible to the empirical and observable, from divine-human interaction to person-to-person relationships. In other words, this chapter is concerned with the horizontal elements of the Breakfree realm, as opposed to the vertical elements surveyed in chapter three above.

Where theology and (to a lesser extent) religious studies tend to begin with the a priori assumption of the existence of the divine, such a stance is not typically assumed in socio-cultural studies. These disciplines have tended to exclude that which is not verifiable by the senses. As will be particularly evident in Durkheim’s work, sociocultural theorists often analyse religion in social, rather, than spiritual, terms. This is reflective of the position described by Peter Berger as “methodological atheism,” in which the appropriate starting point for empirical research into religion is to bracket belief in the divine (1969, 100). Arguably, a more appropriate position for engaging religious experience is actually “methodological ludism,” an approach which eschews bracketing in preference for a playful engagement of two or more ways of classifying reality (Droogers 1996, 53).

Several theorists, most...

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