A Book Review: Worship as Community Drama, by Pierre Hegy

(NB: I have agreed to act as a reviewer for the Speakeasy website (thespeakeasy.com). Hence, I received the book I am reviewing free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the US Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes within this book review are taken from:

Hegy, Pierrre. (2019) Worship as Community Drama. Eugene OR, USA: Wipf and Stock.

In this book, Pierre Hegy, a retired professor of Sociology at Adelphi University on Long Island, New York, USA, does a comparative case study of how worship comes to life in different Christian communities. The communities chosen are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, but a Pentecostal church with many marks of being or becoming a ‘megachurch’, is provided for purposes of contrast. While he refers to a number of different theories and models for worship and faith development, which can sometimes be confusing, his main referent is an adaptation of the social interaction model of sociologist Randall Collins as developed in his work Interaction Ritual Chains.

While it is good to have a model to refer to for a comparative case study, I find his adaptation of Collins’ model problematic. In a description of Collins’ model (Wellman et al 2014: 652f.), there are four conditions in ritual interaction which can help to generate four outcomes. They are indicated in the table below:

Conditions in Ritual InteractionOutcomes from Ritual Interaction
– The assembly of participants
– Barriers excluding outsiders
– A mutual focus of attention

– A shared emotional mood

– Emotional energy
– Membership feelings/group
– Symbols that represent the group
– Feelings of morality (idenitfying
with the group and its symbols,
being willing to defend them against

Hegy adapts the model using the following designations, as presented by him (Hegy 2019: 17-22)

Processes of Ritual Action for
a Church Worship Context:
Interaction Outcomes for a
Church Worship Context:
– Basic information
– Description of the ritual
– Attitudes and emotions
– Closeness to others and to God
– What we learned: Leadership
and Growth
– Patterns of Relationship
– Moral Consensus
– Spiritual and Emotional

I have found it difficult, in spite of Hegy’s explanations, to find the parallels between Collins’ original model and Hegy’s adaptation. For one thing, I am unable to see how ‘basic information’, from Hegy’s ‘description’ corresponds to ‘the assembly of participants’ in Collins’ original conditions. For another, I do not see how one can measure an extremely subjective variable like ‘closeness to God’ in any meaningful way from observation. This is a basic error in methodical design, even from a qualitative viewpoint, and needs to be made more precise. As if these were not enough, I am confused about what the first element of Hegy’s analysis, ‘What We Learned: Leadership and Growth’, corresponds to in Collins’ original list of outcomes. The result? I believe it becomes reasonably clear throughout the remainder of this volume. Hegy’s model is, in and of itself, insufficient to provide adequate description and analysis of the dynamics of interaction in the churches and worship contexts about which he writes.

There is, without a doubt, a fascinating array of contexts: TV masses on Catholic television networks; pontifical masses from St Peter’s Basilica, and celebrations from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; four differing Catholic parishes in the US, of which one relies on lay leadership, and another has transformed its worship life by adapting and using elements from the African-American worship experience; and the archdiocese of Kinshasa in the Republic of Congo, which alone has an official, Vatican-approved, adaptation of the Roman Missal to incorporate African traditions, popularly known as the ‘Zairean Rite’. Hegy has certainly gathered sufficient ‘raw data’ to clearly describe elements of the worship experiences in these contexts, and makes some cogent comments concerning emerging issues in these contexts. However, when he needs to supplement his model with the survey work of the Willow Creek church; the dimensions of religiosity identified by Stark and Glock in their work American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment; James Fowler’s work in Stages of Faith; and finally, the contrast between the work of Aidan Kavanagh and the pronouncements of Pope Pius XII, it is clear that Hegy’s adaptation of Collins’ Interaction Ritual Model is clearly insufficient for the kind of analysis he believes he is doing.

In fact, the title of the book itself set up certain expectations in my mind of what it was going to be about, which were unfulfilled. Worship as Community Drama suggested that this would be a discussion of how the worship of a community could be an expression of drama, both the drama of Gospel played out in Word and Table, and of how the community’s situation in life (sitz-im-Leben) both could inform and be transformed by the liturgical experience. There are hints of this analysis in Hegy’s work, but only hints.

This is a pity, because it is obvious to me that he has gathered an impressive amount of data which would provide for good scholarly work. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if Pierre Hegy had taken a grounded theory approach (akin to Glaser and Strauss 1967) to his data. He could look at common patterns in his data which would lead to the emergence of categories, first substantive and then formal; he has a sufficient range of communities to satisfy the need for site spreading and to engage in constant comparison; following the development of a theory, the literature relating to ritual interaction, liturgical theology, and faith development would have informed his work, and he would know where his theoretical model would fit in sociology and theology.

As it is, this is a book which has interesting descriptions of the dimensions of Christian worship in different contexts, but is hampered by an ill-fitting theoretical model which itself is an inadequate adaptation of another theoretical model, and which needs to be supplemented by other models, because it is simply not up to the task for which the author wants to use it. As I’ve suggested, perhaps a researcher could start with the gathering of data and develop a theory from there. Now that would be interesting!

Works Cited

Glaser, B and Strauss, A (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory. New Brunswick NJ, USA/London: AldineTransaction.

Hegy, Pierrre. (2019) Worship as Community Drama. Eugene OR, USA: Wipf and Stock.

Wellman, J K, Jr., Corcoran, K E, and Stockly-Meyerdirk, K (2014, September). “God Is Like a Drug. . .”: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains
in American Megachurches. Sociological Forum 29/3: 650-672.


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