Candler School of Theology, Antonio Alonso

Atlanta, Georgia

To tell the story of the theological significance of ordinary material objects and the theological convictions they express, in order to encourage deeper attentiveness to the diverse materials through which we worship God.

Researcher(s): Tony Alonso 
Academic Discipline:  Liturgical Theology

Project Summary

In my project, I propose to explore the theological significance of the Second Vatican Council through the prism of the ordinary material objects of Christian worship. Whether in the transformation of communion hosts, new editions of hymnals, or in the shifting meanings of devotional materials like home altars and holy cards, I plan to tell the story of these objects in a way that opens up the complex theological convictions they express to encourage deeper attentiveness among students, pastors, worship leaders, and scholars to the diverse materials through which we worship God. 

What questions about worship and your discipline will be guiding your project?

While liturgical theology has increasingly focused on liturgy not only as a set of texts but also as a set of embodied practices, the material significance of everyday liturgical objects has largely gone unexamined. To the degree that such reflection exists, it largely centers on the central objects of worship: fonts, altars, ambos. By broadening our theological gaze, I am interested in the ways that attention to specific material realities might challenge idealized visions of worship. 

How do you envision this project will strengthen the worship life of congregations?

The primary goal of this project is to spark deeper conversations about the significance of materiality in Christian worship. I want to perform a mode of theological reflection on material objects that embodies curiosity, generosity, and empathy and provide a framework from which to think theologically about materials that points worship leaders beyond a reflexive rejection or embrace of particular objects, and instead awakens their attention to the activity of God in them. 

What do you expect might be your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

I think the three greatest challenges of the project are: 1) narrowing the scope of the project, 2) selecting a set of 6-8 objects; and 3) clarifying the specificity of the objects (e.g., hymnals in general, a specific hymnal from a specific publisher, or a specific hymnal that belongs to a particular person or church). The most significant practical challenge is access to archives which forms a central part of my project plan which has been stifled by ongoing Covid restrictions. 

What do you hope to learn from the Grants Event and other grant recipients?

I am eager to learn from other participants about 1) the ways this project might make contributions across denominational lines and 2) what kinds of object might inspire deeper reflection on Christian worship.