How does worship work? How exactly does liturgical formation shape people? And how does the Spirit marshal the dynamics of such transformation? In this volume, James K. A. Smith expands and deepens the analysis of cultural liturgies and Christian worship he developed in his acclaimed Desiring the Kingdom. Drawing on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bourdieu, this volume helps readers understand and appreciate the bodily basis of habit formation and how liturgical formation—both secular and Christian—affects one’s fundamental orientation to the world. Worship “works” by leveraging one’s body to transform his or her imagination, and it does this through stories understood on a register that is closer to body than mind. This has critical implications for thinking about the nature of Christian formation and the role of the arts in Christian mission.
Students of philosophy, liturgical studies, and theology will welcome this work—as will scholars, pastors, worship leaders, and Christian educators. Imagining the Kingdom includes analyses of popular films, novels, and other cultural phenomena, such as file, mobile technologies, social media, and more.
“The argument of Desiring the Kingdom is not that we need less than worldview, but more: Christian education will only be fully an education to the extent that it is also a formation of our habits. And such formation happens not only, or even primarily, by equipping the intellect but through the repetitive formation of embodied, communal practices. And the ‘core’ of those formative practices is centered in the practices of Christian worship.” (Page 10)
“Andrew now realizes that the end of worship is a sending, that the blessing at the conclusion of worship is also a commissioning, and that the ‘end’ of worship, in terms of its telos and goal, is bound up with what they’ll do next: head out the door into the world.” (Page 2)
“Our being-in-the-world is between instinct and intellect” (Page 43)
“But what if we are actors before we are thinkers? What if our action is driven and generated less by what we think and more by what we love? And what if those loves are formed on a register that hums along largely below the radar of consciousness—but are nonetheless acquired products of formation and not mere aspects of ‘hardwiring’?” (Pages 32–33)
“Such an account of the formative power of both ‘secular liturgies’ and intentional Christian worship has a certain urgency precisely because it assumes that so much of our orientation to—and action in—the world is governed by preconscious habits and patterns of behavior, and those habits are formed by environments of practice.” (Page 9)
This book is a thought-provoking, generative reflection on the imagination-shaping power of Christian worship practices. Smith describes and demonstrates how practices, perceptions, emotions, and thought interact and how together they can be shaped in cruciform ways. What an ideal book for crossing boundaries among academic disciplines and between the academy and the church.
—John D. Witvliet, professor of worship, theology, and congregational and ministry studies, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Imagining the Kingdom is a fit successor to Jamie Smith’s remarkable Desiring the Kingdom. The new book is, like its predecessor, learned but lively, provocative but warmhearted, a manifesto and a guide. Smith takes Christians deeper into the artistic, imaginative, and practical resources on which we must draw if we wish to renew not only our minds but also our whole beings in Christ.
—Alan Jacobs, Clyde S. Kilby Chair Professor of English, Wheaton College
In this wonderfully rich and engagingly readable book of ‘liturgical anthropology,’ Smith makes a persuasive case for the thesis that human beings are best understood as worshiping animals. It has important implications at once for practical theology’s reflection on religious formation, liturgy, and pedagogy and for philosophical theorizing about just what religion is. And it develops as an engaging and lively conversation among an astonishing mix of people: imagine Calvin, Proust, Merleau-Ponty, Augustine, Wendell Berry, Bourdieu, and David Foster Wallace all in the same room really talking to each other about being human and how to think about it!
—David Kelsey, Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology Emeritus, Yale Divinity School
Jamie Smith shows us that the Gospel does not primarily happen between our ears but in all the movements of the body by which we are formed and in turn form the world. I know of no more thorough and sophisticated account of how secular liturgies form and deform us and how Christian liturgies can help. Though sophisticated, Smith’s book is also a delight. Its pages are filled with great poetry and insights from films, novels, and everyday life. Smith shows how we encounter God with our whole selves and how God carries us even when we don’t know what is going on.
—William T. Cavanaugh, senior research professor, DePaul University
It is heartening to set one’s eyes on Jamie Smith’s bold and creative endeavor to awaken Christians, Protestants in particular, to the centrality of worship in even, nay especially, our moral lives. Smith’s acute insight into the false and lying stories and liturgies generated by the dominant powers of our economy makes his case for a reclamation of worship within the churches compelling; for this thoughtful book is rightly concerned with a restoration of the Christian imagination rooted in habits of virtue.
—Vigen Guroian, professor of religious studies, University of Virginia
Arguing that we are guided primarily by imagination, which is primed through the conduit of the body, Smith maintains that the structure of church liturgies matter deeply in providing a counterweight to the liturgies of self-centeredness promoted in the larger culture. . . . Smith uses literature, poetry, philosophy, and film to make a compelling case that it would behoove churches and seminaries to attend more closely to imagination and aesthetics rather than doctrine as central to developing an other-oriented Christian desire.
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