5. How to Do Things with Rituals, or Disrupting Protestant Lutheran Theology: Converting Refugees and the Eucharist
Gitte Buch-Hansen [+]
University of Copenhagen
The article communicates the findings from fieldwork carried out 2014-17 in the Apostles’ Church, a congregation in the center of Copenhagen belonging to the Church in Denmark. The congregation attracts migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran whose application for asylum the authorities often reject. Conversion from Islam to Christianity represents a typical response to this impasse. The fieldwork sheds light on the way that the presence of migrants affects the Eucharist, the ritual around which the service revolves. The form of the ritual is changed and its traditional, theological, Lutheran interpretation is disrupted. Once a sacrament in which the forgiving of sins was assigned the individual believer, the Eucharist has now become a ritual in which a new and complex identity of the individual participant as well as the community is established: without losing their ethnic identity, participants are incorporated into the communal body of Christ. The article demonstrates how this new identity is able to hold social and ethnic tensions in check. The findings are illuminated by ritual theory and demonstrates how Bell’s and Staal’s focus on, respectively, ritual difference and rules and repetition is able to explain how renewal can take place within an established, conservative practice. The presence of experiences that new participants bring to the ritual makes a difference.