5. How to Do Things with Rituals, or: Disrupting Protestant Lutheran Theology, Converting Refugees and their Appropriation of the Eucharist

Ritual and Democracy - Protests, Publics and Performances - Sarah M. Pike

Gitte Buch-Hansen [+-]
University of Copenhagen
Gitte Buch-Hansen is Associate Professor in Biblical Studies, the Faculty of Theology, Copenhagen University. 2013-2016, she participated in the project Reassembling Democracy: Ritual as Cultural Resource. Since 2014, she has been engaged in fieldwork among migrants in Copenhagen who, as part of their application for asylum, have converted from Islam to Christianity. Her research focuses on the way that conversion affects the applicants’ life stories and how the presence of refugees influences the Church in Denmark and its congregations. In addition, she brings her work among contemporary migrants back to the formative phase of Christianity where it sheds light on previously unnoticed aspects with regard to migration and conversion. She has published several articles in this field – e.g. “Listening to the Voices: Refugees as co-Authors of Practical Theology” (with Marlene Ringgaard Lorensen), Practical Theology 11.1 (2018) and “Converting Refugees and The(ir) Gospel: Exegetical Reflections on Refugees’ Encounter with Denmark and with the Lutheran Church” in Rewriting and Reception in and of the Bible (2017).


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.

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Buch-Hansen, Gitte. 5. How to Do Things with Rituals, or: Disrupting Protestant Lutheran Theology, Converting Refugees and their Appropriation of the Eucharist. Ritual and Democracy - Protests, Publics and Performances. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2020. ISBN 9781781799758. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=39692. Date accessed: 16 Jul 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.39692. Oct 2020

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