Conference Presentation: Virtual Symphony and Virtual Church: Considering the Importance of Bodily Presence

I had the opportunity to present a presentation titled, “Virtual Symphony and Virtual Church: Considering the Importance of Bodily Presence” at the virtual 2021 Psychology and the Other Conference on September 19, 2021.

Here is my short summary and longer abstract:

Short Summary

This paper weighs in on the question of virtual church, particularly on whether or not liturgy can be done virtually. We will approach our subject from an unusual perspective by looking first to aesthetic experiences, such as watching a virtual symphony, and then relate them to liturgical experiences, such as attending virtual church. Art and liturgy are linked in that they both have the unique ability to facilitate presence, to make something known to us in a new way so that we walk away changed. I argue that what art teaches us about the importance of the body applies to the practice of liturgy and that, while unexpected benefits will surface in virtual settings, nothing replaces the powerful experiences that arise when the body is physically present.

Longer Abstract

No one will deny that there is a substantial difference between meeting in person and meeting virtually. Now, more than ever due to the covid crisis, we have experienced virtual gatherings in almost every sphere of our lives. For religious gatherings, these types of discussions have been of critical importance, sometimes causing great tension and conflict between members of the same communities. This paper weighs in on the question of virtual church, particularly on whether or not liturgy can be done virtually. We will approach our subject from a somewhat unusual perspective by looking first to aesthetic experiences, such as watching a virtual symphony, and then relate them to liturgical experiences, such as attending virtual church. Art and liturgy are linked in that they both have the unique ability to facilitate presence, to make something known to us in a new way so that we walk away changed. I argue that what art teaches us about the significance of the physical closeness of the human applies to the practice of liturgy and that, while unexpected benefits will surface in virtual settings, nothing replaces the powerful experiences that arise when the body is physically present.

Beginning with art, we consider aesthetic experiences such as viewing a photo of a painting or listening to a music recording or attending a virtual symphony. Drawing on Mikel Dufrenne, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gabriel Marcel, we explore how art has a way of pulling us beyond the constraints of space and time in order to experience presence. And yet, the most powerful moments of presence are when the body is at the same place and in the same time as the work of art, such as discovering the original painting at a museum or attending an in person symphony. 

Next, I consider the weight of the body in experiences of presence in liturgical practices, both in person and virtual, guided again by Gabriel Marcel as well as Bruce Ellis Benson, Emmanuel Falque, Christina Gschwandtner and Éric Palazzo. Considering liturgy as both what happens in worship gatherings and in daily life, we will discuss three aspects of liturgy to understand the role of presence in its practices: liturgy as art, liturgy as bodily, and liturgy as communal. We find that liturgy as art draws us into worshipping and into shaping our souls, liturgy engages all five senses of the body and liturgy lives only in communal settings. I will relate this three-part understanding of liturgy to virtual and non-virtual experiences and argue that a full experience of liturgy must include the bodily presence of the self and others.

Applying the insights from aesthetic experiences to liturgical experiences, we discover the importance of bodily presence in all areas of life. This discovery, ultimately, provides further validation to treating humans as undivided wholes, with full integration of mental and physical capacities, and awakens us to the deep experiences of presence that we have available when we are fully engaged.

Summer Update 2021

I made a summer research update last year (see here) and thought I would continue the tradition this year. It helps me see what I have accomplished this past year and what things I have in progress.

Recently Published

Article: “The Carnival of the Mad: Foucault’s Window into the Origin of Psychology,” Foucault Studies 30 (June 2021).

Article: “The Weight of Bodily Presence in Art and Liturgy.” Religions 12, no. 3: 164 (2021): 1-14. Invited article for special issue entitled “Phenomenology and Liturgical Practice.”

Upcoming Publications

Chapter in Edited Book: “The Need for Merleau-Ponty in Foucault’s Account of the Abnormal.” In Normality, Abnormality, and Pathology in Merleau-Ponty, edited by Talia Welsh and Susan Bredlau, SUNY Press. Abstract. All revisions have been finalized and it should be published very soon.

My Book! Madness in Experience and History: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Foucault’s Archaeology. Forthcoming December 2021 with Routledge. Part of the Psychology and the Other Book Series. The full manuscript has been submitted and it is currently in the production phase. This summer, I will be doing the final edits and compiling the index.

Currently Working On

Article: No title yet. Something on Foucault’s unreason (déraison) and Victor Hugo’s display of madness in Les Miserables.

Joint Book Project with Dr. Mark Allen. Tentative title: Art and the Flourishing of the Ordinary. Our goals for the summer are to write a joint abstract and start contacting some publishers. Related to Mark’s dissertation on art and philosophy and my master’s thesis on existential aesthetics.

Joint Article with Dr. Mary Schwarz. Tentative title: “Reclaiming our Lost Identity with Marcel: A Response to Suicide and Other Acts of Self-Harm.” Planning on submitting this to the journal Marcel Studies.

Future Work

Article. No title yet. Something on disability as a way of accessing the world but also a mode of suffering in the world.

Future Big Project. Something on the phenomenology of suffering and pain.

Faculty Position!

I am happy to announce that I have accepted a position as assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Mary. We will be moving to North Dakota later this summer and I will start the position this Fall 2021.

The University of Mary is a well-rounded Catholic school with a hospitable and welcoming community. I am so looking forward to joining them this fall!

Watch this short video to learn more about the University of Mary.

Book Contract!

I am excited to announce that I officially have a book contract with Routledge! The title of my book is: Madness in Experience and History: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Foucault’s Archaeology. It will be published in the Psychology and the Other Series.

All edits are due in April 2021 and it should be published by December 2021.

Here is the tentative back-of-the-book blurb:

“Madness in Experience and History: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology and Foucault’s Archaeology brings together experience and history to show their impact on madness or mental illness. Drawing on the writings of two 20thcentury French philosophers, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Foucault, the author pairs a phenomenological approach with an archaeological approach to present a new perspective on mental illness as an experience that arises out of common behavioral patterns and shared historical structures. Many today feel frustrated with the medical model because of its deficiencies in explaining mental illness. In response, this book argues that we must integrate human experiences of mental disorders with the history of mental disorders to give a fuller account of mental health and to extend holistic care. In addition to providing a more comprehensive look at mental health, it also offers a fresh take on discovering value in diverse human experiences.”

Publications and Works in Progress

With my semester of teaching completed, I have now begun work on several projects for the summer. To keep myself on task, I am taking an inventory of what I have published, what I am working on and what plans I have for the future.

Already Published and in Print

Article: “At the Opening of Madness: An Exploration of the Nonrational with Merleau- Ponty, Foucault and Kierkegaard.” Journal of Speculative Philosophy 33, no. 3 (2019): 475-488.

Article: “Situating Melancholy in Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety.” Philosophy & Theology Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2014): 39-64.

Accepted for publication (as of today!)

Chapter in Edited Book: “The Need for Merleau-Ponty in Foucault’s Account of the Abnormal.” In Normality, Abnormality, and Pathology in Merleau-Ponty, edited by Talia Welsh and Susan Bredlau, SUNY Press. Abstract.

Currently Working On

Article: “The Carnival of the Mad: Foucault’s Window into the Origin of Psychology.” I will be submitting this soon to the journal Foucault Studies. Abstract.

Book Proposal: Madness in Merleau-Ponty and Foucault: Integrating Human Experience in History. I am working on the proposal and editing the first chapter to submit to the Psychology and the Other Book Series at Routledge. The first chapter title is: The Case for Unity: The Need for Experience and History in Understanding Madness. Related to my Dissertation Abstract.

Article: No title yet. Something on phenomenology and liturgy in relation to the presence of humans in community. This will be submitted to the journal Religions.

Future Plans

Article: The Need for Foucault in Merleau-Ponty’s Account of the Abnormal.

Article: No title yet. Something on the relation between Foucault’s unreason (déraison) and Victor Hugo’s display of madness in Les Miserables.