Liturgical Studies

The graduate program in liturgical studies exists to advance the study and understanding of the worship life of the Christian Church in its various traditions. The program is inspired by the conviction that liturgy is the key to the church's identity, ethos, and orientation toward God and world. The program integrates three subdisciplines:

  • liturgical history
  • liturgical theology
  • ritual studies

Liturgical history traces the roots and origins of Christian worship practices, the development of liturgical orders, and the diversification of liturgical rites. It studies the progress of rituals, calendars, texts, liturgical laws, devotions, architecture, graphic arts, and music—situating them in reference to cultural communities, historical circumstances, and theological understandings. Historical studies of the liturgy include comparative studies of different worship traditions, Jewish and Christian, Eastern and Western. The studies identify not only what was said and done, but also what was ignored, neglected, avoided, or repressed in the course of time.

“It’s my conviction that the best way to know about how early Christians worshipped — even what they believed — is to try to get as much information as we can about where they lived and what they saw, not just what they wrote and what they read."
— Robin Jensen, the Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology

Liturgical theology reflects upon the meanings which believers, past and present, have associated with their worship traditions. Thus it studies the whole phenomenon of Christian worship, in both its historical manifestations and its contemporary realizations, attempting to articulate its theological content. In so doing, liturgical theology attends to what Christians believe to be happening in their common prayer and sacraments (sacramental theology) and to the ways in which the worship tradition itself interacts within the broader language of Christian faith and practice (historical and systematic theology).

Ritual studies rest on the premise that liturgy is an event, an act posited by faithful believers. Consequently, ritual studies examine the production of human meaning in liturgical celebration, while attending to the social and cultural contexts in which worship takes place. If liturgical history stresses the diachronic development of rites, ritual studies emphasize the synchronic dimension of worship.

The employment of pertinent research in the human sciences (e.g., anthropology, sociology, psychology) allows for study of ritual engagement in personal and social life—a substratum for a detailed perusal of the liturgical act as a phenomenon in which the various "languages" of worship conspire in ritual enactment. Temporal and spatial languages are treated as the symbolic backdrop for worship. Ritual studies also attend to other ritual languages, e.g., the acoustic, verbal (linguistic and mythic), gestural, aesthetic, and symbolic, as well as their interaction, as significant systems of the communication of meaning.

The program in liturgical studies provides all students with a grounding in the tasks and methods of each of these three approaches to the study of the liturgy while allowing them to develop that emphasis which most closely corresponds to their own research interests.

The liturgy program benefits from close association with the other doctoral programs and draws upon the wider resources of the University. These include the departments of history, music, art, sociology, and anthropology, and the work of research institutes such as the Program for Research on Religion, Church, and Society.