Facing Our Flesh: A Theological Analysis of Body Formation in Lent and Easter
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In this dissertation, I develop a theological account of human embodiment by exploring the relationship between the liturgical practices of an Episcopal parish during Lent and Easter and church members’ bodies. My objective was to analyze the normative constructions of saved bodies at work in seasons that call attention to the body while also emphasizing sin, repentance, and salvation. I conducted qualitative research at a church in the American South using ethnographic methods of participant observation and semi-structured interviews, and I analyzed the body postures, gestures, movements, sensory experiences, and corporeal interactions that constituted the community’s liturgical practices as well as members’ personal experiences of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter in 2014. By examining the philosophical, theological, and social layers of how the church inhabited these seasons, I discovered that church members’ participation entailed implicit conceptions of bodies as malleable, as journeys, and as sensorially interactive, which are conceptions that tend to conflict with modern Western ideals of bodies as solid, whole, and independent from one another as well as from their surroundings. Yet rather than seeking to suppress these dimensions of embodiment, the church’s practices made bodily malleability, journeying, and sensory interaction normative for the bodily shape of salvation.