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Emotion, Ritual, and the Individual: The Production of Community in Evangelicalism *

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This paper asks about the production of religious community in modern society: How can the success of a strict Evangelical community in a secularized environment be explained? To find an answer to this question, an approach to emotion based on Randall Collins’ interaction ritual chain theory is applied to data from participant observation in an Evangelical church in Switzerland. The weekly service as a highly orchestrated event characterized by a mutual focus and rhythmic entrainment imbues the communal symbols with emotions and plausibility. Through ritual interaction, three potentially disruptive communal tensions are transformed into solidarity: (1) highly transcendent theological concepts are translated into a simplified form which can be ritualized and gain immanence in the ritual actions of the participants; (2) the Evangelical emphasis on the individual and its religious decision on the semantic side are structurally transformed into the confirmation and reproduction of the community; (3) through the collectively shared emotions the potentially disruptive individual tendency towards immediate emotional gratification becomes aligned with the norms of the community.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Religious Studies, University of Zurich,


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