Weirding the Megachurch: Bodily Dis/Orientation and Belief
This interdisciplinary, practice based project (supported by a CHASE/ AHRC scholarship) examines the embodied experience of the congregant within the visual, material and narrative conditions of the Evangelical megachurch (defined as 2,000+ congregants in weekly attendance) through two interwoven strands.
Taking bodily orientation as key to belief formation, I examine how a body is dis/oriented within the megachurch by the Evangelical narrative, and how material (site: architecture, scale, staging), visual (spectacle: screen, performance, crowd) and fabulatory (voice: chorus, antiphony, atmosphere) conditions intensify belief in this narrative. This analysis draws on narratology, philosophy and sociological and anthropological research into the megachurch. This is combined with auto ethnographic writing based on both my own bodily experiences in 7 years of attending a megachurch and 20 years involvement in Evangelicalism and visits to UK and US megachurches.
Drawing on this research, I write and stage site based readings of fiction, creating a form of tacit knowledge of the contingency of belief on a bodily entanglement with the visual, material and fabulatory conditions through which narrative is communicated and experienced. This writing draws on the specific site of North America’s largest megachurch, Lakewood in Houston, Texas. Underpinning this is a new materialist complication of dualistic categories, blurring religious/ secular, conservative/ progressive, immaterial/ material binaries. Informed by Fisher’s conception of the ‘Weird’ (2016) within cli-fi and speculative fiction (Ballard; Vandermeer; Lem; Atwood), the writing combines fiction, autobiography and research to foreground the megachurch as a sentient and agentic body. I utilize watery metaphor of drought, humidity and flood and its flow through living matter as a means to open a dialogic space for diverse audiences and weirds the homogenous space of the megachurch. This, ultimately produces new, situated knowledge (Haraway, 1988) contributing to contemporary art as well as visual and material cultures in which organized religion are underrepresented areas.