Liturgical Practices in Digital Worlds

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Teresa Berger
Liturgy, Worship and Society Series
  • New York, NY: 
    , August
     146 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Expanding on a line of inquiry raised in an article four years ago, liturgical scholar Teresa Berger “probes liturgical practices that are digitally mediated” in this recent addition to a series dedicated to investigating worship in an ever-changing society (x). Yet unlike earlier treatments that attempt to bring technology and liturgy into dialogue, Berger does not provide a how-to for constructing worship experience online or using technology in brick-and-mortar church buildings; rather, she constructs a method for analyzing existing practices through the lenses of liturgical studies and digital media theory. With this book, Berger provides a model of engagement with a multitude of practices that can no longer be ignored.

Berger divides her book into six chapters. The first chapter deals with the overarching methodological questions that play out in the remaining five. She uses the metaphor of “migration” to describe how practices have moved or are moving to the digital realm, which requires the scholar to attend to the cultural nuances of the new “spaces” in which liturgy is practiced. Such digitally-based practices are authentic connections with God because worship is always mediated. Here Berger expands the concept of “means” of grace to include digital means.

In the subsequent chapters, Berger pairs specific examples of digitally-mediated liturgical practices with specific theological and ritual concerns. The second chapter explores the concept of presence and embodiment, in which Berger argues that virtual/real is a false dichotomy and critiques some current assumptions about “active participation.” In the third chapter Berger focuses the reader’s attention on the Divine Initiative in worship, allowing for an expansive understanding of ecclesial community. Berger attends to the “stuff” of worship in the fourth and fifth chapters, the former with materiality and hypermedia, and the latter with sacramentality. In the sixth chapter Berger identifies five key features of digitally-mediated worship and summarizes the main arguments of the book. She invites the reader to not dismiss these liturgical practices in serious scholarship but rather to expand the object of study.

Berger writes from a Roman Catholic perspective, something she acknowledges at the very beginning. Thus she draws primarily on Catholic theology and digital resources. She correctly notes that some of her theological (and historical) arguments would not work for other Christian traditions, some of which I marked in my copy of the book. At the same time, Berger’s positioning serves almost as an invitation for others to develop alternative approaches that align with particular traditions.

As someone who resides in both worlds described in the book (I have a PhD in liturgical studies, and I oversee digital learning at my institution), I found Berger’s call for scholars to be serious about digitally-mediated worship compelling and timely. As she notes with examples throughout the book, these practices are already happening, some for at least a decade or more. Her critical engagement with research on digital communities demonstrates her knowledge of the subject matter. The bibliography of both scholarly works and digital sources is also a valuable resource.

Although she describes her own experiences with digital liturgical practices, she remains relatively neutral in judging the validity or efficacy of such practices. This approach strengthens the work, for instead of critiquing the practices, she provides a roadmap with which to study them. Yet she does not ignore such critiques; she brings them into the discussion.

I recommend this book to fellow liturgical scholars and anyone interested in the trajectory of Christian worship in the twenty-first century. Berger’s insights can easily extend to those tasked with spiritual and leadership formation in the digital environment.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Kyle Schiefelbein-Guerrero is Director of Digital Learning and Lecturer in Theology and Educational Technology at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

Date of Review: 
January 8, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Teresa Berger is professor of liturgical studies and the Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Catholic Theology at Yale University. She holds appointments at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and Yale Divinity School and has been a visiting professor at the Universities of Mainz, Münster, Berlin, and Uppsala. She has written and edited a number of books on liturgical studies, helped produce a video documentary entitled Worship in Women’s Hands (2007), and also writes regularly for the liturgy blog Pray Tell.


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