The Vulnerable Power of Worship A Study of a Power Approach to Contextualization in Christian Mission

University dissertation from Studia Missionalia Svecana

Abstract: This dissertation deals with the process of contextualizing the Christian discourse with a specific focus on worship and power negotiation. The study is based on literature, interviews and approximately six months of fieldwork in the U.S. in the years 1996,1998, and 2004. I focus on negotiation of power in the light of increasing Christian encounter with different cultural contexts and changing perceptions of mission. My point of departure comes form an understanding of missio Dei which implies the perception of mission as a vulnerable process. I thereby suggest an understanding of incarnation which gives priority to transformative processes in contextualization and which also acknowledges the limited and conditioned character of a Christian discourse. By referring primarily to Pierre Bourdieu's theories of power fields, it will be argued that the shaping of contextual theology is basically a way to challenge authority in the religious field. Understood as such, a process of contextualization is a way for agents in a religious field to negotiate their access to a shared value (God and Gospel), while focusing on contextual relevance as well as Christian identity. Although power negotiation might be seen as an integrated part of any process of contextualization, I here particularly explore how power is negotiated in contextualization in worship, and how this power negotiation challenges the understanding of authority and legitimacy in specific contexts. This is based on the understanding that worship, as a ritual, may be used as a strategy to negotiate power in the religious field. Focusing on the role of the worship leader, this understanding is even further exemplified and demonstrated. In the second and third parts of my dissertation I present and analyze two different worship services. Relating to different contexts they illustrate how ministers negotiate power in an effort to contextualize worship. By mapping the relationships of power, I describe how the ministers engage in the process of contextualization, dealing with different strategies of power negotiation, navigating between contextual relevance and Christian identity. Conclusively I find that in a perspective of worship, contextualization appears as a display of power which contributes to the alteration of authority in specific religious contexts.

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