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Why Dance? Towards a Theory of Religion as Practice and Performance

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This article engages the dancing and writing of the American modern dance pioneer, Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), and the phenomenology of religion and dance authored by the Dutch phenomenologist, theologian, and historian of religion, Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950), in order to argue that "dance" is a valuable resource for developing theories and methods in the study of religion that move beyond belief-centered, text-driven approaches. By setting the work of Duncan and van der Leeuw in the context of the emergence of the field of religious studies, this article not only offers conceptual tools for appreciating dance as a medium of religious experience and expression, it also plots a trajectory for the development of a theory of religion as practice and performance. Such a theory will benefit scholars eager to attend more closely to the role of bodily being in the life of "religion."


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