Here is the official definition, created in May 2019 by the board of the GEN Network:
Ethnodoxology is the interdisciplinary study of how Christians in every culture engage with God and the world through their own artistic expressions.
Other definitions developed and used during the first 20 years of the term being used:
The term ethnodoxology was coined by Dave Hall, founder of Worship from the Nations, a ministry of Pioneers. Although the term is used by various people with slightly different meanings, you can read Hall’s understanding of the concept here. The earliest appearance of the term in print was a 1997 issue of the journal EM News (Vol. 6, No. 3), by the editor, Brian Schrag.
Perhaps you’re familiar with music, dance, drama, poetry, and visual art as a few examples of artistic expressions. The vast diversity of artistic forms as they are found around the world, however, is far more complex than these categories might lead you to think. Furthermore, recognizing arts within our own culture can be challenging, much less in another culture, where we may not discern forms or boundaries of unfamiliar artistic expressions.
At their core, arts are a special kind of communication. Like all communication systems, the arts are connected to particular times, places, and social contexts. They have their own symbols, grammars, and internal structure. Artistic forms of communication, however, differ from other kinds of communication in several important ways:
The description above is based on Brian Schrag’s Creating Local Arts Together: A Manual to Help Communities Reach Their Kingdom Goals, pp. xviii and 7-9. If you want to hone your skills in identifying forms of artistic communication, you can purchase Schrag’s book or check out a workshop/training program (see #8 below).
Test the theory for yourself. If the arts are a universal language, then the meaning of any work of art should be obvious to you.
Try the three questions in this PowerPoint and see how many you get right! (We have made the presentation downloadable so you can easily share the game with others.) Click to open the game online or download and play the Universal Arts Game PowerPoint.
The bottom line is that the arts are universally present, found in every culture in some form, but their meanings do not communicate universally from culture to culture.
Here are some links to additional articles about this question:
1. Harris, Robin P. 2013. “The Great Misconception: Why Music is Not a Universal Language.” In Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook. Krabill, James R., managing ed.; Frank Fortunato, Robin P. Harris, and Brian Schrag, eds. Pasadena: William Carey Library. Used by permission.
4. Berger, K. (2021, April 28). What makes music universal: Music brings us together to show us how different we are. Nautilus Magazine. https://nautil.us/issue/99/universality/what-makes-music-universal
We recommend the following resources to start:
Books (also available on Kindle):
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"For as the earth brings forth its bud, As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." Isaiah 61:11 (NKJV)