Centre of the Storm: In Search of an Australian Feminist Spirituality through Performance-Ritual. Phd.


‘Performance-ritual’ is performed ritual.  It extends the 19th-20th century European explorations and expressions of ‘the spiritual’ through performance to include a feminist perspective, re-situating ‘ritual’ as a contextualised, embodied and subjective process.  The present approach to performance-ritual emerges out of a need to re-imagine and express a sense of ‘divinity’ and a religion which ‘fits’ the circumstances of a particular life.  In this case, the exploration of embodied spirituality is that of an ex-Christian woman, of Anglo-Celtic descent, living in Australia at the beginning of the 21st century.

The outward form of the text in which the spiritual search is housed is ‘performance-ritual’, that is, performed ‘ritual’.  This genre has its ‘performance’ roots in the dance pioneers and its ‘ritual’ roots in the Christian church.  The content of this performed text is influenced by an emerging ecofeminist consciousness.  In this way, this thesis has a grassroots inspiration as well as crossing academic areas of performance studies, ritual studies, and feminist spirituality.

The project begins by an examination of 20th century feminist and ecofeminist writing on spirituality, which evokes the subjective, embodied and historically contextualised, with particular focus on body and nature.  Additional concepts of place, holding and letting go are introduced.  It then overviews the emergence of spiritual naturalism in European ‘performance’ at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, especially in relation to women’s dance.  Current academic debates on ritual, which theorise it from an objective, disembodied and decontextualised standpoint are introduced and challenged.

At this point the particular performance-rituals are introduced under the overall heading ‘the spiralling journey of exorcism and ecstasy’.  They include earlier work, such as, Dark Fire, For Eve, Fallen Totems and Leavetaking, as well as work performed specifically for this thesis, Centre of the Storm.  These performance-rituals are analysed, first, from a structrual and functional point of view, as rituals.  Secondly, they are analysed from the standpoint of feminist and ecofeminist spirituality, the spiralling journey of exorcism and ecstasy, highlighting themes of body and nature, and the emerging themes of place, family, holding and letting go.  Centre of the Storm re-situates ‘ritual’ as a subjective, embodied and contextualised performed event. It challenges ritual discourse to incorporate ‘spirit’, and feminist spirituality to incorporate the material world, through ‘place’, ‘family’, and the ritual actions of ‘holding’ and ‘letting go’. 

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