Up-staging God: from immanence to transcendence. How a hermeneutic of performance illuminates tensions in Christian theology and tragic encounters between God and humanity

Taylor, Christopher Vincent (2017) Up-staging God: from immanence to transcendence. How a hermeneutic of performance illuminates tensions in Christian theology and tragic encounters between God and humanity. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3285291


This thesis will argue that by applying a hermeneutic of performance to biblical narratives, religious dramatic texts and Anglican liturgies we are able to encounter the divine as an immanent and transcendent presence in theatrical performance. Performance, and theatricality, create realities beyond our quotidian experience and provide a context for such encounters. To explore these encounters I consider biblical texts, where God is present and active in a narrative, dramatic texts where God is a character on stage and Christian liturgies where God is active as first person of the trinity, passive as object of worship, or supremely in the Eucharist, present as Jesus. All will be examined through the twin lenses of performance as an end and theatricality as the means to such an end.

Theatrical performance is conditional upon multiple dynamics of action and reaction, feedback and response between both actors and audience which constantly modulate its process. Although capable of repetition, a performance remains unique and possessed of its own truth – however interpreted, Hamlet remains Hamlet. In performance actors become characters, each working with audiences to create and participate in different realities. This is the single most important application of theatricality. In performance, all characters and audience are of equal value and within the framework of a performance can shape and change what happens. ‘Upstaging’ of any character, by any character is always possible. This means that outcomes may be expected but can never be guaranteed.

God viewed as a character must be subject to the same constraints as other characters. This raises theological problems. In the biblical narrative of Moses, God is upstaged by Aaron casting the Golden Calf, and by Moses’ post hoc rejection of divine forgiveness. Once God appears on stage his divinity is at risk by being, or perceived as being a human playing at being God, so finite and idolatrous. In liturgical texts God is the object of worship, but when worship includes elements of performance and theatricality, God, Jesus and congregations are all potential performers raising the theological spectre of authentic ‘liturgical celebration’ becoming theatrical ‘imaginative representation’.

However, the different realities afforded by performance and theatricality allow mutual liminalities as God and humanity cross thresholds into each others’ presence sharing and shaping events. In all the texts examined there are events where transgression and conflict render them susceptible to becoming tragedies. As a character in their performance God’s impassibility is threatened and he must bear responsibility for their outcomes with their apparent loss of redemptive hope.

As God becomes a character in human stories (Moses, cycle plays) his immanence affects their outcomes, but as humans become characters in divine stories (the Eucharist) they enter moments of transcendence. In their mutuality, realities created by performance and theatricality offer transformative experiences of truth and redemptive hope unique in themselves but unitive in their repetition.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Theology, performance, theatre and theatricality, tragedy and Christology, worship and liturgy, hermeneutics, liminality, transcendence, Moses, Aeschylus, Passion Plays.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BV Practical Theology
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jasper, Professor David
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Mr Christopher Taylor
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8333
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Oct 2017 09:24
Last Modified: 05 Sep 2019 09:01
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/8333

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