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“Heart of the Flame" Rethinking religion and the theatre work of Jerzy Grotowski

Christof, Catharine (2015) “Heart of the Flame" Rethinking religion and the theatre work of Jerzy Grotowski. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.47716) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:47716)

Language: English

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This thesis opens a new interdisciplinary frontier between religion and theatre studies to illuminate what has been seen as the religious or spiritual nature of Jerzy Grotowski’s theatrical work. The thesis corrects the lacunae in both theatre studies and New Age studies by examining the interaction between the two in Grotowski’s work. It argues that through an embodied, materialist approach to religion, developed in the work of Foucault and Vasquez, and a critical reading of the concepts of the New Age, a new understanding of Grotowski and religion can be developed. The central thesis argument is that by following discussions of the embodied and materialist understanding of religion and the New Age it is possible to show how Grotowski’s work articulated spiritual experience within the body; achieving a removal of spirituality from ecclesial authorities and relocating spiritual experience within the body of the performer. The thesis maps the specific dynamics of the relation between the body and the spiritual in ways which previous research on Grotowski has failed to do. It also shows how Grotowski became, in part, a spiritual teacher through his directing work, and contributed to an embodied spirituality of the New Age. The thesis begins with a brief historical mapping of religion and the theatre, not least to contextualize the interdisciplinary discrepancy in studies of Grotowski. It then unfolds a two-pronged analysis of Grotowski’s theatre work from the perspective of studies of religion, embodiment and the New Age. In Part One, I apply the critical thinking of French poststructuralism, linked in particular to the work of Michel Foucault, to Grotowski’s work. This shows how body and spirit are united in Grotowski’s thinking, and facilitates a new opening to the embodied spirituality of the New Age. Part Two then seeks to achieve a repositioning of theatre studies in a new dialogue with religious studies by looking at the later phases of Grotowski’s work through the lens of the New Age movement; detailing specific dynamics of the New Age that are at present not coherently appreciated in Grotowski’s theatre work. This section begins by critically assessing the concept of New Age and maps the active interface between the final four phases of Grotowski’s theatre work and the New Age through four frames: initially through the work of religious studies historian Steven Sutcliffe; then through the combined work of religious studies sociologists Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead; through the work of religious studies esotericist Wouter Hanegraaff; and finally through a lens that explores the embodied spiritual work of G.I. Gurdjieff and the numerous similarities between his work and Grotowski’s. The thesis establishes six key facets of the New Age as they have appeared in Grotowski’s work: a primacy of focus on the self, interests in yoga, ritual, shamanism, channeling and the presence of the ancestors. Such a correlation between the New Age and Grotowski occurs because of the redefinitions of the body and spirit, and the importance of the body as it has been renegotiated in religious scholarship on poststructuralism and the body; through a renegotiation that occurs through the New Age movement; and through the work of religious studies sociologist Manuel Vasquez’s reconstruction of a holistic form of embodied materiality in religion. This inclusion of the body in the context of spiritual experience provides the location through which Grotowski’s theatre work can be framed as spiritual. This thesis provides a new perspective on Grotowski’s work for theatre scholarship, exploring one of its heroes in the light of religious movements of the late twentieth century, and corrects a key lacuna within the field of modern scholarship on religious studies. Grotowski and his work have never been effectively recognized as playing a major part within the New Age movement or new explorations of spirituality. This omission is evident both in terms of the effect that the burgeoning New Age movement has had on his work, as well as in the legacy his work has left on the New Age itself. This study provides a fresh perspective for modern religious studies scholars, identifying a new forum within which to explore the effect of the New Age movement, as well as by expanding the remit of its pioneering New Age leaders. The thesis overall demonstrates how thinking about Grotowski’s work and legacy can be enriched through a new dialogue between religion and theatre studies, and how the centrality of the body becomes the key for understanding this relationship.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Carrette, Jeremy R.
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.47716
Additional information: The author of this thesis has requested that it be held under closed access. We are sorry but we will not be able to give you access or pass on any requests for access. 11/05/2022
Uncontrolled keywords: Theatre Religion Modern Western Theatre New Age Religious Movements History Embodied Spirituality Michel Foucault Steven Sutcliffe Linda Woodhead Paul Heelas Wouter Hanegraaff Gurdjieff Jerzy Grotowski Yoga Shamanism Ritual Ancestors Manuel Vasquez Centrality of the Body Spiritual Theatre 20th Century Pontedera Thomas Richards Mario Biagini
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 18 Mar 2015 01:00 UTC
Last Modified: 11 May 2022 13:22 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Christof, Catharine.

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