Embodied Prayer: the practice of prayer as Christian theology

Thumbnail Image




Kim, Sangwoo


Wainwright, Geoffrey

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



This dissertation attempts to retrieve the integration of prayer and theology in the life of the church. Prayer is a spiritual and bodily theological activity that forms Christian identity and virtuous character. The bodily dimension of Christian prayer plays an essential role in theological understanding and moral formation. However, the embodiment of prayer has been mostly neglected in modern academic theology. This study highlights the significance of the body at prayer in theological studies and spiritual formation.

Chapter 1 presents Karl Barth’s theology of prayer as a model of the integration of prayer, theology, and Christian life (lex orandi, lex credendi, lex agendi). However, Barth’s attempt to overcome the dichotomy between theory and practice in theology did not pay much attention to embodiment of prayer. Through ritual studies and phenomenology (Marcel Mauss, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Pierre Bourdieu), chapter 2 shows why the bodily dimension of the practice of prayer should be recovered in theology and ministry; then it explains how Christians in the early and medieval church actually prayed with the body, how their bodily actions were understood in their theological paradigms, and how their actions contributed to the formation of Christian character. Chapter 3 narrows the focus to the formation of the heart in the making of Christian character. The practice of prayer has been emphasized not only as an expression of the inner heart of pray-ers but also as a channel of grace that shapes their affections as enduring dispositions of the heart. Furthermore, historically the bodily practice of prayer gave theological authority to the devout Christians who were marginalized in academic theology or ecclesiastical hierarchy, and Chapter 4 presents the lex orandi of praying women who gained their theological knowledge, wisdom, and authority through their exemplary practices of prayer (Catherine of Siena, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, and Teresa of Avila). These historical examples reveal how Christian communities appreciated and celebrated the theological voices from the margins, which developed from theological embodiments in prayer.

This dissertation concludes that academic theology needs to heed these diverse theological voices, which are nurtured through everyday practice, as an integral part of theological studies. Therefore, it calls for a new paradigm for understanding the relationship between theory and practice in theological education. The integration between theory and bodily practice is necessary for both academic theology and spiritual formation. A more holistic understanding of Christian practices will not only enhance the training of scholars and clergy but also give the laity their own theological voices that will enrich academic theology.


Doctor of Theology




Kim, Sangwoo (2016). Embodied Prayer: the practice of prayer as Christian theology. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12926.


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.