Dr Léon van Ommen: Autism and Liturgy

REF 2021

1st in the UK

Divinity at the University of Aberdeen was ranked 1st in the UK for overall quality of research

Dr Léon van Ommen: Autism and Liturgy

In 2020-2021 - and hopefully for many years beyond - I will study liturgy through the lens of autism. I have been awarded a Research Incentive Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the following project. 

The project develops a novel interpretation of liturgy, by mapping the worship experiences and theological interpretations of people with autism. Often people with autism experience and understand the world around them different from others. However, this experience has hardly been taken into account in liturgical studies, either with regard to the challenges this experience brings with it (e.g. through sensory overload) or its unique contribution to liturgy and worship (e.g. redefining the importance of certain liturgical elements, such as ‘sharing the peace’ by shaking hands). Therefore, this project is significant in at least two ways. First, it acknowledges the voices and experiences of a fast-growing group in society. Second, studying liturgy and worship through to the lens of autism has huge potential to gain new insights in this core practice of Christian communities, which is also a fundamental aspect of theology in general.

The core of this project is participant observation of worship services and interviews with people with autism, caregivers and/or family members, church leaders and disability advisers. This will take place at two sites. The first is a church in Singapore which is centred on those with autism. This church will be studied as a best practice example. The second site is various churches and participants in churches in Scotland. Here the experience is studied in churches that do not necessarily focus on autism, which will be the setting for most people with autism. Thus this project seeks to reframe liturgical theology through the lens of autism.