Performing with God: Toward a New Theory of Emotions in Church

By Christopher Donnelly.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: June 3, 2014 $US5.00

For decades, sociology and religion scholars sought to explain emotion in religious rituals, yet neither have sufficiently accounted for the performance of emotion and its relationship with denominational cultures in Christianity. This work rectifies this issue by integrating Arlie Hochschild’s (1983) “feeling rules” and Goffman’s (1959; 1967) “impression management” into a theory of emotional performance in religious services. Based on a year of participant observation in Catholic, Congregationalist, and Evangelical services, I illustrate this theory by describing the subtly shifting feeling rules that constrain congregant emotional expression during services. I also detail the feeling tools clergy use to elicit active emotional expression from their congregations during sermons, either supporting or threatening their fronts as competent preachers. The result is a framework useful across religious settings where participants are unable to openly narrate their emotional states to researchers.

Keywords: Emotion, Ritual, Symbolic Interaction, Social Psychology

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 4, Issue 2, August 2014, pp.21-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: June 3, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 390.323KB)).

Christopher Donnelly

PhD Candidate and Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA