Brzozowski, “Spatiality and the Performance of Belief”

Brzozowski, Grzegorz.  2013.  Spatiality and the Performance of Belief: The Public Square and Collective Mourning for John Paul II.  Journal of Contemporary Religion 28(2): 241-257.

Abstract: The outburst of collective mourning for the death of Pope John Paul II in April 2005 in Piłsudski Square in Warsaw presented an exceptional case of intense religious emotions, expressed through an unprecedented variety of visual forms in a secular public space beyond the limitations of domestic and traditional worship spheres. Using displays of this emotion as a focus, this article considers how complementary theoretical frameworks can generate nuanced accounts of the dynamic intersection of such a space and the performance of belief in late modernity. Drawing on Danièle Hervieu-Léger’s concepts of strategies of religious spatialisation, Jeffrey Alexander’s theory of space as a mise-en-scene for cultural performance, and Erika Fischer-Lichte’s understanding of effects of space in shaping the nature of performance art, I argue that space must be understood as integral to such acts of believing. The meanings and uses of space should be understood as subject to the continuation or disruption of particular chains of memory, the operation of particular institutional strategies and resources, and the ways in which the material environment itself enables or precludes different forms of religious and cultural performance. Space as a condition of performance of belief thus binds together various levels of analysis: from the macro-level of institutional strategies to the micro-dynamics of individual behaviour. These levels of the theoretical framework will be followed along the analysis of stages in the material transformation of the Square. This perspective challenges privatised, propositional accounts of belief, further demonstrating that belief is inseparable from embodied emotion and action, the negotiation of various forms of institutional power, and the affordance of space and material objects.