Thursday, March 19, 2015

Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and “Fresh Expressions”

My journal article – The Complexity of Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and Its Appropriation as “Fresh Expressions” – has now been published in Media and Culture. Because it’s not only a publication that is peer reviewed, but also online, it is available for free – here.

In the article, I begin with an introduction to three thinkers who analyse the place of authenticity in contemporary culture. They are Charles Taylor (The Ethics of Authenticity), Philip Vanini (in Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture) and Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital).

I then explore the rise of alternative worship and Fresh Expressions under three heading:

  • Generation of Authenticity-as-Originality
  • Mainstream Appropriation
  • Consequent Complexification

This generates what I think is the guts of my argument -

Both “alternative worship” and Fresh Expressions are religious innovations. But Fresh Expressions defined itself in a way that conflated the space. It meant that the boundary marking so essential to “alternative worship” was lost. Some gained from this. Others struggled with a loss of imaginative and cultural creativity, a softening of authenticity-as-originality.

More importantly, the discourse around Fresh Expressions also introduced authenticity-as-sincerity as a value that could be used to contest authenticity-as-originality. Whether intended or not, this also challenged the ethic of authenticity already created by these “alternative worship” communities. Their authenticity-as-originality was already a practicing of an ethic of authenticity. They were already sharing a “horizon of significance” with humanity, entering into “dialogical relations with others” that were a contemporary expression of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (Taylor The Ethics of Authenticity, 52, 48) …. The value of authenticity has been found to exist in a complex relationship with the ethics of authenticity within one domain of contemporary religious innovation.

A colleague who read it last night called the article “brilliant.” A practitioner responded that it made sense of a ministry context they were part of. So that’s very encouraging.

I’ve blogged about some more of the journey to publication here. But in essence, during Presbytery and Synod last year, I pulled together a paper proposal from a part of my PhD thesis that I’d always wanted to develop further. The abstract was accepted, which forced me to write a 1500 word paper for TASA (The Australian Sociological Australian). The feedback was very positive and that gave me enough momentum to turn the spoken words into written words. The peer reviewers used words like “insightful … well-researched … innovative … an original use of Charles Taylor’s” and it was accepted with minor editorial comments.

It is the first publication resulting from my fresh expressions 10 years on research project and I hope becomes a spring board to complete the book (just write Steve). Or in the words of one peer-reviewer – “I get the impression that this is part of a wider study, and, if so, it is one that I look forward to reading.”

Posted by steve at 06:18 PM

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