Journal Article

Bodies in Sync: Interaction Ritual Theory Applied to Sacred Harp Singing<sup>*</sup>

Anne Heider and R. Stephen Warner

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 71, issue 1, pages 76-97
Published in print January 2010 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online February 2010 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI:
Bodies in Sync: Interaction Ritual Theory Applied to Sacred Harp Singing*

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This paper applies “interaction ritual” theory (Collins 2004) to the case of “Sacred Harp” singing in the United States. We first situate the paper in a tradition of theorizing traced to Durkheim's analysis of “collective effervescence,” the key to which is that instead of merely expressing social solidarity, physically intense rituals create it. Drawing on recent ethnographic literature as well as our observant participation, we depict Sacred Harp ritual. The music is sung loudly and with gusto, and singers employ their bodies both to produce the sound and to emphasize its significance. We apply Collins's theory to argue that Sacred Harp ritual produces solidarity in the absence of, or prior to, ideological consensus. Sacred Harp singers include evangelicals, atheists, and Jews, with a significant presence of gays and lesbians. Notwithstanding these differences, Sacred Harp constitutes a far-flung solidary community, an emergent shared identity that cross-cuts other, often conflicting identities. We close with suggestions for further applications of a promising theory.

Keywords: body; emotion; identity; ritual; singing; solidarity

Journal Article.  9194 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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