Date of Award


Degree Type

Honors College Thesis


Anthropology and Sociology; Foreign Languages and Literature

First Advisor

Rachael Goodman, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

B. Katherine Smith, Ph.D.

Advisor Department

Anthropology and Sociology


Dance, religion, and the presence of taboos have each been recognized as what is known throughout the social sciences as “cultural universals.” For example, though not every individual dances, dance can be found in all societies (Brown, 2004). Furthermore, many cultures use dance as part of religious or ritual worship. The following thesis explores possible answers to these three intertwined questions: “Many cultures across the world have developed dances for the purpose of religious or spiritual rituals and celebrations. Does dance as a form of expression stem from a biological, spiritual, or cultural need? Why do cultures turn to dance to express themselves and their religion? How do dance and religion react to the emergence and evolution of cultural taboos?” It will do so by analyzing a distinct religious culture, Christianity in the United States of America. Dance is deeply rooted in Christianity, and the cultural views and usage of dance have evolved together, though not always complimentarily. The hypothesis before conducting research was that the human need for dance cannot be limited to a single cause – cultural, spiritual, or biological. Rather, each factor plays an important role. Additionally, the inevitable evolution of culture will cause changes in the relationship between religion and dance, will be evidenced by taboos, and will continue through the course of time as it is a complex and ongoing process. Research concluded that dance has persisted despite taboos in the American church by evolving alongside culture. Literature and interviews confirm that dance fulfills biological, spiritual, and cultural needs by providing imaginative intelligence, transcendent connection, and cross-cultural communication.