Dr Leon van Ommen

Project Title: Autism and Liturgy: Reframing Liturgy and Theology through the Lens of Autism

Public worship is a core activity of faith communities. The significant rise in autism diagnoses indicates the strong likelihood that most churches include autistic members. However, autistic members report that often the worship practices are exclusive, not taking into account that, often, autistic people experience and understand the world around them differently from others. The problem for faith communities and for Liturgical Theology – the theological discipline that studies worship – is twofold. On the one hand, the challenges the autistic experience brings with it (e.g. through sensory overload) are not sufficiently taken into account, leading to exclusion. On the other hand, the liturgical-theological discourse is impoverished when the unique, autistic contribution to liturgy and worship and the frames of reference by which these are interpreted, are neglected.

This project seeks to develop a novel interpretation of liturgy, by mapping the worship experiences and theological interpretations of people with autism. Central to this project is participant observation of worship services and interviews with people with autism, caregivers and/or family members, church leaders and disability advisers. This will take place in a church in Singapore which is centred on those living with autism, and in various churches and participants in churches in Scotland, that do not necessarily focus on autism. Thus this project seeks to reframe liturgical theology through the lens of autism.

This research is significant in at least two ways. First, it foregrounds the voices and experiences of a fast-growing, but often exluded, group in society. Second, studying liturgy and worship through to the lens of autism has huge potential to gain new insights in this core practice of Christian communities, which is also a fundamental aspect of theology in general.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Theology & Religious Studies

University: University of Aberdeen

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