An examination of contemporary unchurched spirituality in theory and dance

Plan Author

Alex Bobella, 2015

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Contact Improvisation
  • Course: Contemplative Learning and the Study of Mysticism
  • Tutorial: Contemporary Spiritual Movement
  • Tutorial: Choreography Plan Seminar

Plan Description

An exploration of the definitions, manifestations, and possibilities of spirituality in daily life.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

Candice Salyers, Smith College


Although we can hardly say that the many individuals who craft their own religion or spiritual beliefs compose a community, they are loosely categorized as “unchurched.” This Plan of Concentration is an attempt to understand contemporary unchurched spirituality in America and Europe. Part One deals with what unchurched spirituality is and what factors affect its continued growth, including an argument that spirituality is an intrinsic piece of human life which we can never wholly dispose of and a broad survey some of the theological beliefs an unchurched individual may hold. Part Two shifts to the importance of movement in spiritual belief, delving into the work of contemporary artist/choreographer Deborah Hay and my own experience with contact improvisation. Part Three is a performance component, including a movement workshop designed to show Deborah Hay’s pedagogical style and an hour-long solo performance guided by a written score.


Contemporary scholars of religion, atheism, and spirituality are not remiss in placing great emphasis on Nietzsche’s famous 1882 declaration that “God is dead.” The phrase, often misinterpreted, speaks of a progressing human culture in which religion is no longer necessary; “God is dead” does not mean to eradicate spiritual belief entirely, it rather indicates that human intellect and sovereignty over nature has usurped God’s power. By replacing faith with science and rationality, humanity is capable of improving the world in a way previously thought impossible. Through the throes of modernity, according to Nietzsche, God has become obsolete. Divinity is no longer necessary. Human becomes God.

God’s eulogy was premature, however. Current statistics indicate that even in the Western world in which Nietzsche wrote, which has been heavily influenced by his thinking, religious adherence has increased at a much faster rate than atheism. However insistent he may have been that humanity does not need comfort from an abstract deity, religion shows little sign of dissipation.

Hay is not so much a choreographer as she is “an artist-philosopher” struggling to make meaning and sense in a tumultuous world with her body as her medium. Tied to her exploration of the world is an exploration of dance as an art form: she is testing the meaning and limits of performance in relation to her perception. By seeking meaning in her life and world – and in the medium she uses to interact with her world – Hay is actively hoping to achieve a peak experience in which her role becomes clear. She intends to interface and communicate with the world, something she calls dialoguing with it, but she does not seek or manufacture dialogue. By not seeking dialogue but believing that it is constantly present and possible to interface with, one of the tenants of Hay’s movement practice, Hay expresses an understanding that what she is dialoguing with may not exist. She is acknowledging the skeptic in her, and the limitations of the skepticism. Dance is a method by which to simultaneously transcend and celebrate these limitations.