Rhythm Research Class

Module 1, Class 1: Rhythm, Religion, and Self-Care

This semester, I am teaching a “Research Tutorial,” a class that helps me further my own research while giving students a chance to learn research skills through an apprenticeship model. I have chosen to structure the course around modules that the students themselves design and execute. Today the modules began.

I am collecting my thoughts on the salient points of the modules here as a way to process which dimensions of the modules will be useful for my own research and in the hopes that some of my students’ research may be helpful to others as well.

The first module considers the role of rhythm in our relationship to God. Today, the students focused on:

The Rhythms of the Body, their Role in Self-care, and the Impact of Self-care on Worship

The students defined self-care as “respecting ourselves enough to recognize and meet the needs of the physical rhythms of our bodies.” Rhythms that need to be maintained for adequate self-care include eating at regular intervals, getting enough sleep, and having regular periods of rest. The consensus seemed to be that following natural rhythms like day/night, seasons etc. is good, while our technological disruption of these rhythms with electric light, coffee, or just are busy schedules are bad. The idea behind this is that embodiment involves a connection between the rhythms of the body and rhythms in creation.

Moreover, the students suggested that this is not merely a connection between the rhythms of the body and the rhythms of creation, but a connection to God as well, through the rhythms of creation. Rather than receiving the rhythms in which we live and act as gifts, we construct our own rhythms through technology. As such, ignoring natural rhythms threatens our connection with God as creatures who receive their patterns of life as gift. So the connection is that in heeding natural rhythms, we both care for ourselves as well as become attentive to God as receptive creatures. Likewise, being present with and attentive to God and others requires that we are not distracted by a disruption in rhythms of sleep, eating, or rest.


I have two main trains of thoughts on this topic, which are somewhat in tension.

First, I think this may be another helpful way into the relationship between religion and environmentalism. There have been objections to light, air, and noise pollution but I haven’t yet seen anything on rhythm pollution: the idea that the natural rhythms are being overrun and obscured by those generated by humanity. As with all the other forms of pollution, this has negative consequences for the environment (consider cycles of production for example) and for quality of human life. Moreover, the connection between religion and rhythm is a strong association such that one of the effects of rhythm pollution may be loss of a feeling of dependence on the divine (the essence of religion, according to Schleiermacher).

Second though, I am always slightly skeptical when I hear about unproblematic, Romantic assumptions about the goodness of natural rhythms and the badness of technological rhythms. It seems to me that it is part of the nature of humanity to modify and use the rhythms present in creation. If you believe Bunn’s idea that the wave-form is a carrier vehicle, this is arguably one of the functions of rhythm. Indeed, the rhythms of many religions themselves are not a straightforward adherence to natural rhythms, but adaptations and modifications of those rhythms for the purpose of worship. The use of radio-waves for transporting messages across distances and of light-waves in electric lights for modifying our experience of time could be thought of as variations on the same theme. So, it seems to me, that we are presented with the issue of which technologically-generated rhythms are helpful in which contexts and in what ways, and at what point do they become pollutants, which is a much more complicated issue than good natural, rhythms vs. bad, artificial ones.

I will take up some of these questions in my own, final module on the role of rhythm in our relationship to the world. Meanwhile, next class: What is liturgy and why does it matter?

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