Original Research: Historical Thought and Source Interpretation

Exploring the responses of non-churchgoers to a cathedral pre-Christmas son et lumiere

Ursula McKenna, Leslie J. Francis, Andrew Village, Francis Stewart
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 80, No 1 | a9347 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v80i1.9347 | © 2024 Ursula McKenna, Leslie J. Francis, Andrew Village, Francis Stewart | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 August 2023 | Published: 24 May 2024

About the author(s)

Ursula McKenna, The Edward Bailey Centre for the Study of Implicit Religion, Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, United Kingdom; and, Department of New Testament Studies and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Leslie J. Francis, The Edward Bailey Centre for the Study of Implicit Religion, Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, United Kingdom; and, Department of New Testament Studies and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom
Andrew Village, Department of New Testament Studies and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Department of Religion, Theology and Philosophy, School of Humanities, York St John University, York, United Kingdom
Francis Stewart, The Edward Bailey Centre for the Study of Implicit Religion, Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, United Kingdom; and, Department of New Testament Studies and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Department of Sociology, University of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom

Abstract

Two conceptual strands of research within the field of cathedral studies have theorised the capacity of Anglican cathedrals to engage more successfully than parish churches with the wider non-churchgoing community. One strand has explored mobilising cathedral metaphors, and the other strand has explored the notion of implicit religion. Both strands illuminate the power of events and installations to soften the boundaries between common ground and sacred space. Drawing on a quantitative survey among 978 people who attended the pre-Christmas son et lumiere at Liverpool Cathedral during December 2022, the present study analyses the qualitative responses of 123 participants who never attend church services. Three categories of themes emerged from these data, concerning the Cathedral itself, the installation, and discordant experience.

Contribution: Situated within the science of cathedral studies, this article draws on original qualitative data to illuminate the experiences of participants who never attend church services when engaging with the pre-Christmas son et lumiere at a major cathedral. Conceptualised within the framework of implicit religion, these data confirmed how the son et lumiere succeeded in softening boundaries between the sacred and the secular and provided a deeply moving experience. As one participant said, ‘I am not religious, but I had the best experience ever’.


Keywords

cathedral studies; sacred space; common ground; cathedral metaphors; implicit religion; visitor studies

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education

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