A History of Theory and Method in the Study of Religion and Dance

Past, Present, and Future


The relationship between religion and dance is as old as humankind. Contemporary methods for studying this relationship date back a century. The difference between these two time frames is significant: scholars are still developing theories and methods capable of illuminating this vast history that take account of their limited place within it. A History of Theory and Method in the Study of Religion and Dance takes on a primary challenge of doing so: overcoming a conceptual dichotomy between “religion” and “dance” forged in the colonial era that justified western Christian hostility towards dance traditions across six continents over six centuries. Beginning with its enlightenment roots, LaMothe narrates a selective history of this dichotomy, revealing its ongoing work in separating dance studies from religious studies. Turning to the Bushmen of the African Kalahari, LaMothe introduces an ecokinetic approach that provides scholars with conceptual resources for mapping the generative interdependence of phenomena that appear as “dance” and/or “religion.”

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Kimerer L. LaMothe, Ph.D., is a philosopher, dancer, and award-winning author. Her five books include Nietzche’s Dancers: Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and the Revaluation of Christian Values (Palgrave 2006) and Why We Dance: A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming (Columbia 2015).
"Through her interdisciplinary approach, LaMothe opens the field in manifold directions. Her work stimulates a need for more research on the complex relationship between dance and religion."
Tatjana K. Schnütgen, University of Regensburg, Reading Religion, May 2019.
A History of Theory and Method in the Study of Religion and Dance
Past, Present, and Future
Kimerer L. LaMothe
 1 Where and How to Begin?
 2 Defining Religion, Excluding Dance: A Prehistory of the Study of Religion
 3 Founding a Field: Max Müller and Lilly Grove
 4 Cracks in the Case for Colonialism
 5 Dancing into the Future: Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis
 6 The Bible Says Do It: W.O.E. Oesterley and the Task for Christian Theology
 7 Better Together: Émile Durkheim and the Sociology of Religion
 8 Religion and/or/is/not Dance: Gerardus van der Leeuw and The Phenomenology of Religion
 9 Branching and Crossing 1: Religious Studies and Dance Studies
 10 Branching and Crossing 2: Art Dance and Sacred Dance
 11 An Ecokinetic Approach: Learning from the Bushmen of the African Kalahari
 12 Shaking for God: The Bodily Act of Becoming Human
 Coda. Moving On: A Call for More
All interested in studying historical occurrences of religion and dance; and in developing theoretical and conceptual resources for such study that disavow the legacy of colonialism and acknowledge the agency of dancing as religion.
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