Friday, October 31, 2014

The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions

There is a Cultures of Authenticity Symposium in Adelaide, 28 November, 2014. Here’s the brief

Authenticity pervades contemporary culture. This symposium provides a unique opportunity to investigate the significance of authenticity in regards to self, culture and society across key areas of social life from ethics, spirituality, work and intimacy to new media, tourism, health and environment.

The invite is to scholars to submit papers assessing the role of authenticity in late-modern life and its real-world applications and consequences. Full papers will be published in the journal M/C. It seemed a good opportunity to take my research on fresh expressions into a wider conversation, so last night I submitted an abstract:

The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions

This paper will explore the formational potential of authenticity in late-modern cultures, with particular attention to unintended consequent complexities as authenticity is appropriated by contemporary religious innovations.

Recently within Western Protestantism a range of new approaches to church and worship has developed. Ethnographic research into these religious communities (called “alternative worship”) shows that authenticity was a generative word, used by these community to define themselves as marginal and thus to justify innovation.

However these acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream. This occurred first as mainstream religious communities sought to implement selected liturgical innovations generated by these “alternative worship” groups. Secondly, an organisation structure (called Fresh Expressions) was formed by appropriating the innovation. However the generative energy was not around marginality but rather on the renewal of existing institutional life.

These complexities can be theorised using the work of Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital (Music Culture)). Her research into culture cultures in the United Kingdom also noted a creative interplay between innovation and authenticity, first in generating innovation and subsequently, complexified as what was marginal gained success in mainstream musical cultures.

This suggests that authenticity plays a complex role in identity formation in a branded world.

Posted by steve at 08:28 AM


  1. As a Baby Boomer I am a little perplexed about Fresh Expressions. The Cultural change in the seventies saw an integration into worship of folk songs (including protest movement),drama and group discussion around drop in centres. The generation was being heard. Messy Church and Fresh Expressions in many way appear to be the similar activities created in that period of the seventies.
    Cafe culture now dominates where people get together but our church models still bring them to us. Iona grew to fame with the educated of Europe because it combined empathetic,honest hospitality with informed interactive discussion and learning with the arts.David Burstein in his book “Fast Future” argues that the the Millennial Generations blend of civic idealism and savvy pragmatism,combined with their seamless ability to navigate the fast paved twenty first century world,will enable them to overcome the short challenges of a deeply divided nation and begin to address our world long term challenges”
    Having visited the HUB in the city a location for creative millennials and to note the interaction sharing and empowerment without labels but authenticity is a model that the church could explore.

    Comment by Ken Burt — October 31, 2014 @ 5:39 pm

  2. Thanks Ken. You wouldn’t be the first boomer to be perplexed by Fresh Expressions.

    The Hub you explored would indeed by a pretty good example of what Fresh expressions want to me – with the people, for the people, by the people,


    Comment by steve — October 31, 2014 @ 10:18 pm

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