Aesthetic Effects of Liturgy (WæL)

The “Aesthetic Effects of Liturgy” project (WæL) addresses the effects and shapes of aesthetic practices, performances and objects in the sociocultural framing of religious ritualization, taking therefore by way of example Roman Catholic church services. Along the existing realities of liturgical celebration and the accompanying joint and personal practices, typical cause-and-effect relationships of liturgy will be highlighted and described for the first time using empirical methods of basic aesthetic research.

Within the unity of ecclesiastical performing, liturgical celebration and prayer thereby encompass societal and individual aspects and interfere in many ways with the integrity of body and soul of those participating. This is why it is advisable to explore that given field of liturgy in the context of the study of cultural variances—which in this project are religious, e.g. liturgical practices—and social formation processes of aesthetic experiencing.

Thus, from these characteristics of liturgy there genuinely follows a transdisciplinary approach to understanding the “aesthetic effects of liturgy”. Hence, relevant research and individual experimental designs from cognitive, emotional and social psychology and neuroscience will be drawn upon, as well as taking into account approaches from semiotics, ritual studies, theatre studies and praxeology. In addition, established transdisciplinary discourses about synchronisation, resonance and embodiment, about attention, focus and absorption, about multimodality and performance will be incorporated.

These will be implemented in thematic areas that relate to each other contrastingly, in terms of Romano Guardini’s doctrine of opposites, in order to be able to grasp that “aesthetic effects of liturgy” with as much depth as empirical possible using the usually given Roman Catholic liturgy. The thematic areas are the following:
    1. Singing and 2. Silence,
    3. Attention, absorption and collection and
    4. Body and liturgy, each considered socially and individually. In addition, there is
    5. Experiencing and liturgical knowledge.
The prerequisite for a fruitful exploration of the subject thematic areas is developing suitable (qualitative and quantitative) research methods and data collection instruments.

The project is a co-operation between the Music Department of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and the chair of liturgical science of the Faculty of Theology in Trier and the German Liturgical Institute Deutsches Liturgisches Institut, German Bishop’s Conference, Trier (Prof. Dr. Klaus Peter Dannecker).
Initial empirical research and field studies have been taking place at the Dompfarrei Frankfurt since the fall of 2017.


S. Boenneke, K.-P. Dannecker, & M. Wald-Fuhrmann (Eds.). Wirkungsästhetik und Liturgie. Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven (Studien zur Pastoralliturgie, Bd. 44). Regensburg: Pustet, im Druck.

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.