Horror as Religious Experience | Jonathan Greenaway
Art Seeking Understanding
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Grant Title:
Gothic Heresy: Religious Knowledge and Experience in Horror Culture
Legal Organization:
University of Chester
Project Dates:
Start Date: 01 October 2020
End Date: 01 September 2022
Grant Amount:
£155,503.43

What if, in horror, we find a cultural form which not only provokes fear and disgust but carries with it some form of religious knowledge? Horror has a rich symbolic vocabulary, much of it drawn from religion and theology. And it is fascinated with issues which are decidedly religious or spiritual. Things like ghosts, hauntings, even possessions are based on religious or spiritual ideas about ourselves and the nature of existence.

Can horror convey religious knowledge and understanding? 

The academic study of Aesthetic Cognitivism has tended to focus its attention on fine art and high culture. And the capacity of these art forms to convey religious knowledge and enhance theological understanding has been extensively studied.

horror and religious experience venn diagram

Horror has not been given the same attention. Yet it is a cultural space where new religious and theological ideas are explored and experienced, outside of any commitment to, or affiliation with, orthodox belief or practice. By embracing and experimenting with heretical and heterodox theological concepts, horror is effectively a fertile testbed for ideas which are structurally and culturally beyond the imagination of religious institutions. 

So can horror have a constructively provocative or disruptive effect on religious or theological knowledge?

Talking to those who engage with horror

This project is based on open-minded dialogue, empathy and respect. Going into the study there is a hypothesis but there are no preconceptions. 

The primary audiences are academic and scholarly, but we want to draw those who engage with horror directly into the conversation. Through a wide scope survey, focus groups and in-depth interviews we want to learn from them how horror in all of its forms works and how it can help us to understand issues of faith, spirituality and theology.

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A uniquely qualified project team

The project lead is Dr. Jonathan Greenaway, a researcher in Theology & Horror/Theology & Religious Studies at the University of Chester. He is a high profile expert in the field of Gothic & Horror stories, with an impressive array of papers and publications to his name. 

His next book, Theology, Horror and Fiction: A Reading of the Gothic Nineteenth Century, will be published in 2021. Dr. Greenaway also has a substantial following as @thelitcritguy on Twitter, and he is founder and editor of The Dark Arts Journal, a peer reviewed journal for early career researchers in Gothic and horror studies.

Dr. Alana Vincent and Dr. Hannah Bacon from the University of Chester will be providing support and oversight as project advisers. Dr. Vincent specializes in the role that secular culture (literature, art, film) plays in promoting positive religious discourse. Dr. Bacon is the acting Head of Theology & Religious Studies, and Associate Professor in Feminist & Contextual Theology.

Project mentors at the University of Chester are Prof Elaine Graham, Grosvenor Research Professor of Practical Theology and Dr. Dawn Llywellyn,  Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies.

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