Liturgical hermeneutics : interpreting liturgical rites in performance
This thesis applies the resources of philosophical hermeneutics, especially as represented in the work of Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer, to the project of interpreting liturgy as simultaneously text and performance. The result is a new field, defined as liturgical hermeneutics. The research breaks away from attempts to find objective meaning in liturgy. Through readings of Church of England forms of the eucharist, baptism and burial it argues that meaning happens when worshippers appropriate the promise of the Kingdom of God which liturgical rites propose. Such acts of appropriation occur when worshippers find themselves in a threshold position with respect to the Kingdom. From here, they can make their own the promises enshrined in the biblical tradition and transmitted through liturgical action, by an act of faith. The result is a reconfiguration of the worshipper's subjectivity, or a new mode-of-being-in- the-world, conditioned by his or her claim to citizenship of the Kingdom. The notion of liturgy as a practice raises the questions of intentionality and repeatability in ritual. I have pursued these topics with reference, initially, to J.L. Austin’s theory of speech acts. The deficiencies in Austin's theory, especially as treated by Jacques Derrida, can be shown to address particular instances in liturgy. In the end, it has proved more profitable to use Derrida's own discussion of the written performative in order to demonstrate the way in which liturgical proposals are taken up by their recipients. The techniques of analysis applied in the thesis show that liturgy shares the conventions of secular language. The last chapter extends this recognition to demonstrate that liturgy also has an investment in other concerns of secular life. With special reference to the discourses of ethics and politics, it proposes that liturgy itself is capable of standing as a paradigm for secular cultural practices.