Emory University Candler School of Theology, Khalia J. Williams

Atlanta, Georgia

To explore the theological significance of liturgical dance in Christian worship and to discover and analyze the multiple ways that dance shapes spirituality in worship communities and in individuals.

Project Summary

In my project, I propose to explore the theological significance of liturgical dance in Christian worship. While more widely accepted, dance remains an under-researched and under-valued area of liturgical practice in Christian congregations. Therefore, I intend to explore the value of dance in the spiritual lives of Christian congregations. Through conversations and dance, I plan to examine the narrative of liturgical dance drawn from leaders of worship arts and dance participants to discover how dance shapes spirituality in worship communities and in individuals. I plan to tell this story of dance in worship in a way that offers insight on liturgical dance as a site for various modalities of spirituality and theological expression. 

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

Some of the questions that will guide my project are focused on the ritualization process of liturgical dance. What does the process look like and mean? How does rehearsal time establish a community connection among the dancers and the liturgical space? What is the spiritual, mental, and physical preparation process? How do the dance communities engage scripture in preparation for dance ministry? How does liturgical dance inform the faith of the dancers? What connections with the congregation are made in and after the dancing moments? What considerations and inclusions are made for differently abled bodies? 

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

I envision this project will help congregations deepen their appreciation and awareness of the impact of worship in the life of the congregations. As we uncover the ways liturgical dance shapes spirituality of individuals and congregations, there is opportunity for greater education and value in the connections of theology and the arts. Through a greater understanding of the theological impact and significance of liturgical dance, congregations will be encouraged to develop and strengthen a more creative worship engagement process. I also hope this project cultivates deeper awareness and constructive analytical skills of worship leaders to think more deeply in their participation in and reflection on Christian worship and inspires more inventive approaches to worship leadership that is welcoming, inclusive, and relevant. 

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

My greatest challenging opportunities are primarily the different levels of comfort with in person engagement given the persistent existent of Covid. Some of my communities of interviewees is very open to in person engagement, while I have a few communities who are still very cautious. This presents an opportunity for me to reimagine how I might engage these communities equitably, particularly since the communities that are more cautious are a few communities of color. I want to ensure a diverse representation in my research, so I will be working with the worship and arts leaders to think about safe alternatives for engagement. 

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

I hope to learn about best practices of those who have been awarded this grant in the past. I am also looking forward to learning from the creativity of other grant recipients' projects as I find this type of dialogue helps to broaden the way I may be approaching my own research. I hope to learn what ethnographic methods are being employed and to see if most participants have returned back to normal levels of travel and in person engagement.