Imagining the Kingdom
How Worship Works
James K. A. Smith, Baker Academic
This book is ambitious: it seeks to expound, in theory and example, what it terms a “liturgical anthropology” that will provide a fresh understanding of ritual in religious and general contexts.
The author agonises about the paradox of writing a scholarly text about an aesthetic and behavioural subject of ritual, and promises a balanced approach through case studies.
In the end the book is more scholarly than not.
Smith shows enthusiasm and solid knowledge of two key French philosophers: Merleau Ponty and Bourdieu. He is well versed and prolific in developing a theory of ritual from the ideas of perception and aesthetics of the former, and the micro sociology of Bourdieu — this book is a recommended addition to studies in these important authors.
However he adds a peculiar critical commentary on social media and entirely misses the opportunity to apply these seminal thinkers in that crowded ritualised micro world.
Smith probably needs additional authors and concepts to do credit to his grand and deserving thesis. He is not the first to inquire about the anthropological basis of religion in human society and evolution (for example, Pascal Boyer’s 2001 book Religion Explained) and his study invites if anything a longer more comprehensive treatise.
As it is the bold triple titles can promise more than they deliver. This is the second volume of a “Cultural Literacies” series: I have not read the first popular volume, although this one, with its copious and meticulous footnotes, reads a little like an extended footnote to a larger volume, perhaps yet to be written — if so, hopefully it will be.