The Labyrinth Ė Ritualisation
as Strategic Practice in Postmodern Times
Mobsby talks to Jonny Baker about his research dissertation for his MA
at Kings College London.
to get hold of it:
You should be able to get it at Kings Library. You can borrow my copy.
The whole dissertation is available to download free from my blog as a
also published the ideas of the dissertation in a less academic format
as a chapter in the book The Rite Stuff edited by Pete Ward published
by BRF. Thatís probably the way it is most accessible.
did you gain from researching & writing this?
I had been involved in youth ministry for about 10 years so the process
of doing the MA was a wonderful way to reflect on some of the practice
and experiences of those 10 years. I found the discipline of writing a
really good way to pull thoughts together. The interest I had specifically
with the dissertation was to explore why the labyrinth and ritual in general
seemed so powerful. The connections between ritual studies (which I had
never heard of before doing the research), postmodern culture, and alternative
worship proved to be a creative combination.
is there in it that has most helped you and would benefit emerging-types?
It is in three sections. The first two are quite technical Ė on labyrinths
and ritual studies. So I doubt they are of much interest! But the third
(chapter 4 actually) is the most interesting I expect. I attempt to describe
the postmodern landscape and then explore why alternative worship (and
the labyrinth in particular) is a strategic response in postmodern times.
I think I make a good case. I use the work of Catherine Bell in particular
who has a notion of ritual as creating a ritualised agent who is able
to employ a set of schemes from ritual back in everyday life. This is
when ritual works well Ė it transforms our lives in practice as we carry
its effects with us. One of the big challenges we face is how faith is
being reshaped in consumer culture and what that means in terms of mission.
This notion of a ritualised agent weaving meaning in everyday life connects
with consumer culture I think. I guess I am suggesting that whilst it
might feel risky, if we could enable people to see and use the resources
of the Christian faith and tradition as a cultural resource it might help
people map meaning routes through the postmodern times we live in and
their everyday lives in practice. I think the instinct we have in churches
about consumption is always focused on the negative and we resist it (which
of course we need to in some sense) but people have been rewired in how
they approach life so we need to engage with that rather than just focus
on the negatives (church always seems good at focusing on nagatives in
culture!). One of the appendices has the text of the labyrinth meditations
in so some people may just want to use those and ignore the academic bit!
do you think are its main findings?
I donít know if I found anything new. It more confirmed and clarified
my hunches. It gave me a language to describe what was happening in ritual
and its connection with everyday life. Actually thatís too vague. Let
me try a more positive answer:
discovered a whole lot about labyrinths in various cultures and ages.
found that ritual studies offers some very helpful ways of thinking
about the role ritual plays in meaning making in cultures. A lot of
this is from an anthropological point of view Ė studying tribal cultures
and so on.
I found Catherine Bellís work to be very helpful in giving a framework
for thinking about the role of ritual
found the descriptions of postmodern culture combined with an understanding
of contextual mission helped me realise why the church is struggling
Ė put bluntly it is wedded to a bygone era. But contextual mission offers
some clues as to how the church could reconnect.
I found that the behaviour/instincts people have are shaped by consumption
and that if we could risk working with rather than against that enabling
people to use religion as a cultural resource we might be surprised
by how relevant it is.
I found that alternative worshipís instincts contain creative and good
strategies for faith in postmodern times.
I found that ritual is transformative (which was the hunch I wanted
questions were you left with as you wrote it up?
I think that I have plenty of questions around alternative worship as
a strategic practice. I love it and it has empowered me in terms of my
faith. But if itís so strategic why donít more people adopt its strategies?
I still believe the insights and discoveries of alternative worship are
really important for the whole church. But I sometimes wonder if Iím just
deluded! Having said that the labyrinth itself has been an amazing resource
that is still being used to help people encounter God and connect with
other reflections do you have now looking back now on it?
I think it still makes a lot of sense six years on which is encouraging.
The one thing I think I would add in terms of the postmodern landscape
is about cultural diversity. I think our context (certainly in London
anyway) is shaped by different ethnic groups, nationalities, cultures
and religions. Part of the challenge for Christian faith in postmodern
times has to include some sense of how to negotiate this plural context.
Jonny is National Youth Coordinator for CMS,
coordinator of worship for Greenbelt
and director of independent record label Proost