Duke University Divinity School, John Ruth

Durham, North Carolina

To survey the present state of college and seminary instruction on the theology, history, and practice of contemporary praise and worship, and to engage scholars in conversation around recent and emerging scholarship on contemporary worship in order to create a podcast series and a curriculum guide for worship educators and church practitioners.

Academic Discipline:  worship studies

Researcher(s): Lester Ruth, Adam Perez, Glenn Stallsmith, Debbie Wong, Jonathan Ottaway

Project Summary 

This project will survey the present state of college and seminary instruction on the theology, history, and practice of contemporary praise and worship. In response to the survey results, we will interview leaders in the field of research in a podcast format to introduce recent and emerging scholarship on the topic to worship educators and church practitioners. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year?  

  1. What, if any, are the boundaries between the worship practices of mainstream Evangelicals and Pentecostal/Charismatic communities when it comes to musical worship in particular?
  2. How can communities of contemporary praise and worship practice benefit from deeper reflection on the psychological, emotional, neurological, cultural, and other factors that contribute to powerful experiences of music worship?

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations? 

We hope that our project strengthens the worship life of congregations by supporting deeper reflections on practice among leader-practitioners of contemporary praise and worship. Because our project raises awareness of the many intersecting concerns and issues related to contemporary praise and worship, we hope that this unmasking of some of the over-simplifications related to worship brings communities into a deeper understanding of their practice and commitment to strengthening it. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)? 

The greatest challenge related to the project has been the multiple workflows associated with the collaborative nature of the project. Unlike a single-author project, we have relied on the project team to design and execute a product together for the first time that relies on outside contributors and their schedules. In addition to the general challenges related to timing, the acute challenges of working with academics meant that there were clear cycles of availability and unavailability that we could have navigated better for a smoother delivery. 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

This project has thrived due to the collaboration among the research team and the overt collaboration among the podcast guests who have made up the project. Building on diverse collaborations across institutions and communities has strengthened our sense of scholarly community as well as our awareness of the resources available to those who are serving in church communities. Collaborate early and often! 

What products will emerge from your project? 

The primary product of the project is a podcast season consisting of about twelve interviews with leaders in the scholarly field of contemporary praise and worship. In addition, there is a website containing all the podcast episodes, descriptions of the authors and their work, and transcripts of all the episodes. We hope to contribute some additional learning materials to each of the episodes.