Performing Ethics: Ritual practice and performance in the ethical lives of two Australian religious communities

Author: Tim Kurylowicz

Kurylowicz, Tim, 2014 Performing Ethics: Ritual practice and performance in the ethical lives of two Australian religious communities, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Performing Ethics investigates the ritual practices and performances of two religious communities. It examines ritual action as it shapes their ethical values and frameworks, individually and collectively. The thesis analyses ethnographic fieldwork at the Hillsong Conference in 2009, and with a monastic group, the Urban Neighbours of Hope, in 2010. Despite contrasts in the scale and aesthetic of their rituals, these communities both express the same Protestant Evangelical tradition and worldview, and operate nearby one another in the western suburbs of Sydney. Each upholds a cohesive ethical vision of the world through their ritual practices and performances, and their members embody these throughout their everyday lives. Performing Ethics is grounded in the discipline of performance studies. The thesis analyses discrete ritual events rather than the 'scripts' upon which they are based (whether a liturgy, or a traditional 'way' of doing things). It also employs dramatic concepts - particularly the notions of rehearsal and improvisation - to organise the theoretical approaches to ritual from the social sciences, the humanities and from the religious traditions themselves, upon which it draws. This thesis discusses the roles that rituals play in rehearsing patterns of action and intention, which are subsequently deployed in the real world. Ritual practices provide opportunities for participants to familiarise their bodies with sequences of action; ritual events create a world in which the presentation of an identity can be rehearsed. Through their strategic deployment, ritual codes meter time and indicate moral boundaries. They mediate the passage of transgressors out of the community (through exclusion from participation and by dictating identity), and back into the community (through schemes of repentance and reintegration). Rituals invite mimetic reproduction of axiomatic knowledges about the cosmos. The Hillsong conference performs for its mammoth crowd a representation of a grand cosmic, historical and theological narrative. The conference's core rituals enable the crowd to embody this order, which rearticulates traditional Christian tropes and ethical imperatives within a Hillsong-centric vision. In the Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH), members privately rehearse a moral identity based on a concept of 'downward mobility.' This enables them to enact their missiological vision in the public spaces of the depressed neighbourhoods they seek to empower. Hillsong and the Urban Neighbours of Hope showcase a singular tradition, contextualising its core practices to address local concerns. These two communities create space for improvisation as times change and as new situations emerge. Both groups adapt their ritual performances and practices with the intention of producing wished-for social outcomes. The possibilities for ritual's deployment in an instrumental capacity, and the ramifications of democratised ritual experiences, are considered. Performing Ethics applies recent thinking on ritual adaptation to scenarios local and contemporary. It synthesises recent theological writings on ethics and ritual change with the predominant approaches of the secular sciences. It finds in performance theory a locus for engagement with religious and secular explorations of the relationship between rituals and ethics.

Keywords: Ritual,Performance,Hillsong,Urban Neighbours of Hope,New Monasticism,Practice,Drama,Religious Ritual,Evangelicalism,Australia

Subject: Drama

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2014
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Jonathan Bollen