Over the Threshold, Into the World

Over the threshold Kim Skjoldager-Nielsen

How may theatre, ritual, and other staged events facilitate participant experiences of becoming part of that which is larger than the self? Why are these experiences of transcendence important to us? And how do we make sense of them? These are some of the questions that this thesis attempts to answer by giving examples from Sweden, Denmark, and Aotearoa New Zealand.

The thesis develops an apparatus of theory and method for performance analysis, the purpose of which is to analyse potentials for experiences of transcendence. These experiences are contextualised in terms of the metaphysical, the religious, and the spiritual. The theoretical basis is a combination of Erika Fischer-Lichte’s the aesthetics of the performative and Dorthe Jørgensen’s metaphysics of experience. In the development of the theoretical discussion, a variety of experiences is explored in the context of contemporary theatre, ritual, and installation art in Sweden, Denmark, and Aotearoa New Zealand. The dissertation contributes to the methodology of performance analysis as it emphasises experience as research, and to the interdisciplinary research field of performance, religion, and spirituality, as it draws on theatre and performance studies, philosophical aesthetics, philosophy of religion, theology, sociology, and anthropology.

The result is a practical model that allows the analysis of experiences of transcendence as created in the staged event through the complex interplay of material properties of staging and cognitive capacities for experience in the spectator’s or congregant’s process of reception – all of which are conditioned by the event’s contexts.


Table of contents:

Subject and Purpose
Ghosting the Context
The Return of Religion and Spirituality
Making a Claim for Religion and Spirituality in Theatre and Performance studies
Aim, Approach, Assumptions
Over the Threshold, Into the World
Research Questions
Encounters with My Research Material
Disposition of the Thesis
Chapter 1: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations: Charting Research, Terms, Concepts, Theory, and Method
Charting Previous Research
Performance Analysis
Semiotics and Communication
Phenomenology and Performativity
Theatre, Ritual, and Religion
The Expanding Scope of the Field: Performance, Religion, and Spirituality
Individual Studies of Performance, Religion, and Spirituality
Terms, Concepts, and Theory
The Staged Event: An Aesthetics of the Performative
Fischer-Lichte’s Aesthetics of the Performative – Overview and Key Concepts
The Re-enchantment of the World – Reintroducing Religion to the Aesthetics of the Performative
Calibrating the Aesthetics of the Performative for Performance Analysis and Experiences of Transcendence
Dorthe Jørgensen’s Metaphysics of Experience
Calibrating the metaphysics of experience
Religion and Spirituality
A Multi-Dimensional Concept of Religion
A Multi-Dimensional Concept of Spirituality
Developing Analytical Tools
Chapter 2: Foreign Encounters with Oneself Through the Spiritual – Staged Events in Aotearoa New Zealand
185 Empty Chairs
Reflections on 185 Empty Chairs
The Pōwhiri
Preamble to the Analysis
Account of the Pōwhiri Event
Reflections on the Pōwhiri
Chapter 3: Encounters with the Divine In Between Ritual and Theatre – Two Churchplays in the Lund Cathedral
Return to a Native Context
A Cultural Event In Between Theatre and Ritual within the Swedish Church
Jag är den jag är
Reflections on the Spiritual Potential of Jag är den jag är
The Open Church Doors – Some Historical, Theological and Poetological Perspectives on the Swedish Churchplay
The Hartmanian Legacy
Reflections on Hittelfågel as Political Experience
Political Perspectives
Chapter 4: Close Encounters with Biblical Alterity in Hotel Pro Forma’s jesus_c_odd_size
Chapter 5: Presenting the Model for Experiences of Transcendence in the Context of Staged Events
A philosophical perspective on the model
The key concepts
Staged Event
Properties of Staging
Capacities for Experience
Notion of Immanent Transcendence
Experiences of Transcendence: Metaphysical Experience, Spiritual Experience, Religious Experience
How to Use the Model
Research Perspectives
From Children’s Theatre to Experiences of Transcendence of the Second Order


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