Date of Award


Document Type

Distinction Paper

Degree Name



Theatre & Dance


Dr. Jessie Glover Boettcher, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Christina Kirk, MFA

Second Committee Member

Jim Bowling, MFA


Organized Religion, Ritual, Dramatic Practice

Subject Categories

Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | Liturgy and Worship | Theatre and Performance Studies | Theatre History


Theatre artists and organized religion both use the same tactics and strategies in order to connect to their audiences. This isn’t a coincidence: Over the course of human history organized religion and performance traditions developed, grew and evolved together. Performance practices grew out of religious traditions and often incorporated elements of spiritual celebration and religious ritual into their practices. In ancient Greece dramatic practices developed as a celebration of the god Dionysus, Sanskrit theatre of Ancient India evolved as a means of communicating Hindu myths to the masses and Noh theatre of ancient Japan started as shamanistic dance traditions. During the Late Renaissance exterior political forces felt the need to censor both religion and theatre because of the widespread influence these institutions had on the public. We see examples of this in the strict Puritan government lead by Oliver Cromwell in England, in Post Moliere France and in the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan. In the twentieth century dramatic theorists and theatre practitioners began to speculate and act on the idea that performance was an inherently spiritual act. Artists like Peter Brook, Gerzy Grotowski and Tadashi Suzuki have all published their thoughts on the innate spiritual quality of the art form. There are even performative threads that can be found in our modern religious ceremonies. I was able to observe a Catholic Mass, a Jewish Shabbat service, a Buddhist Temple service, a Hindu Puja and a Muslim Jum’ah in order to analyze the performative qualities of these common religious ceremonies. The relationship between dramatic practice and organized religion suggests that they both use similar methods to reach their goals and spread their messages. This long and involved history suggests that the relationship between theatre and religion is more important than what 4 we as theatre artists are ready to admit. This relationship suggests that we, as theatre artists, have a spiritual responsibility to our audiences. This responsibility, along with our individual morals and ethics, should guide us in our decisions as artists. We should ensure that the art we are creating serves our audiences and our communities in ways that we can be proud of.