Because slam was created to unite people, often when slam poets get together, they, sometimes unknowingly, enact behaviors which I will argue 1) can be understood as religious / spiritual and 2) belong in the genre of sacred performance art. Again, my goal is to discuss the role of spirituality in the secular arena of poetry slam and to name the traits that have propelled this art into a space of conscious spiritual awareness. I am not here to argue poetry slam into some conceptual box so that I can convince you that slam is a religion. Rather, I am arguing that one can understand the appeal of poetry slam if they look at it through the lense of religious ritual. In order to delineate my view of poetry slam as a ritual-centered spiritual discipline, first, I am going to give you some history of the sport, then, I will show you how it works through anecdotal evidence and material from interviews I conducted, finally, I will discuss slam in relation to the ritual activities of other traditions by engaging the papers of three scholars in the field of Religious Studies: Dr. Jonathan Z. Smith, Dr. Peter J. Collins, and Dr. Richard Schechner. Further, this paper has a secondary goal, which is to prove that slam venues around the nation are striving to be the communities that we the poets, coaches and organizers feel we do not get enough of from the mainstream (white) American culture that dominates the public and private spheres. The slam scene is brimming with people whose principles, ethics and standards are rooted in a political view which foster inclusivity based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, national origins and age – a worldview often championed, but rarely lived out. However, I argue that it is being truly enacted in the poetry slam. Finally, as slam creates a community of practitioners, it also creates a space from which the dominant culture can be assessed and critiqued. My thesis, then, has the purpose of helping one to understand slam better, but it also


Graham, Mark


Religious Studies


Arts and Humanities


poetry, poetry slam, performance, slam poetry, spoken word, ritual

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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