"Aesthetic effects of liturgical practices" (acronym: WæL)

"Aesthetic effects of liturgical practices" (acronym: WæL) examines the perception and impact of aesthetic practices and objects in the socio-cultural framing of religious performances, with a special focus on the Roman Catholic liturgy.

Aesthetic performance and objects are fundamental in giving liturgical practices their ritual meaning, directed to and affecting all human senses (i.e., visually, auditory, olfactory and through taste). Many of the elements and accomplishments during the celebration of the Eucharist or the liturgies of the day obtain their symbolic character through their inherent aesthetic qualities; for example, the colors of the vestments indicating the respective time in the liturgical year, or a musical arrangement with choir and orchestra signifying some special festivity. However, liturgical performances also attempt to activate or induce certain individual and/or collective psychological effects: feelings of joy, comfort, remorse or gratitude, the rewarding experience of being part of a community, or attitudes towards praying and worshipping.

In theological discussions, official statements, as well as in liturgical practices, there exists a variety of interpretations and understandings about the aesthetic meanings of included signs and symbols, and their anticipated effects. In fact, certain traditional discourses even warn against a too elaborate aesthetic design that could potentially endanger the religious character of a liturgical performance. In addition, since the liturgical reform in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, for the first time there are guidelines formulated, inducing concrete and designated psychological effects in response to several parts of the liturgical event.

So far, empirical research on the actual experience and demonstrable effects of aesthetic liturgical practices, together with a detailed liturgical-theological analysis of prescribed and intended outcomes, is still lacking. This is where WæL comes in. For the first time, relationships between the aesthetic form of liturgical signs and practices and the corresponding individual and communal perception and experience are examined, taking place in the real and authentic context of the church’s praxis. On the basis of theoretical groundwork and connecting to the research domains of religious, cognitive and emotional psychology, meditation research, semiotics, and theater studies, we additionally conduct exploratory surveys, fieldwork, and experimental studies carried out in the laboratory. WæL is therefore a transdisciplinary research project that brings together disciplines including theology, psychology and the humanities.

WæL is a cooperation between the Department of Music of the MPI for Empirical Aesthetics and the Chair of Liturgical Science of the Theological Faculty Trier and the German Liturgical Institute, Trier (Prof. Dr. Klaus Peter Dannecker).

External Research Partner

Dr. Sven Boenneke (Erzbischöfliches Generalvikariat, Paderborn)


Wald-Fuhrmann, M., Boenneke, S., Vroegh, T., & Dannecker, K. P. (2020). “He Who Sings, Prays Twice”? Singing in Roman Catholic Mass Leads to Spiritual and Social Experiences that are Predicted by Religious and Musical Attitudes. Frontiers in Psychology, 11: 570189. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.570189

Wald-Fuhrmann, M., Dannecker, K. P., & Boenneke, S. (Eds.). (2020).Wirkungsästhetik der Liturgie: Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven. Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.

Wald-Fuhrmann, M., Dannecker, K.-P., & Boenneke, S. (2020). Einleitung. In M. Wald-Fuhrmann, K.-P. Dannecker, & S. Boenneke (Eds.), Wirkungsästhetik der Liturgie: Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven (pp. 7-22). Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.

Wald-Fuhrmann, M. (2020). Liturgische Aufführungsbestimmungen zwischen Semiotik und Ästhetik: Ein Durchgang durch die „Allgemeine Einführung in das Römische Meßbuch“. In M. Wald-Fuhrmann, K.-P. Dannecker, & S. Boenneke (Eds.), Wirkungsästhetik der Liturgie: Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven (pp. 143-164). Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.

Wald-Fuhrmann, M. (2020). Positive Aspekt des gemeinschaftlichen Singens: Ein Forschungsüberblick. In M. Wald-Fuhrmann, K.-P. Dannecker, & S. Boenneke (Eds.), Wirkungsästhetik der Liturgie: Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven (pp. 191-214). Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.

Dannecker, Klaus Peter & Wald-Fuhrmann, Melanie (2018). Wirkungsästhetik: Ein neuer Ansatz für eine transdisziplinäre empirische Liturgieforschung. Liturgisches Jahrbuch. Vierteljahreshefte für Fragen des Gottesdienstes 68 (2), 83 - 108.