Ascending from Dust : The Ring Shout

Date of Award


Document Type

MSU-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


College of the Arts


Theatre and Dance

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Maxine Steinman

Committee Member

Susan Pope

Committee Member

Diann Sichel


As a child, I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina worshiping in a Southern Baptist church. My mother would often take us (my family) to my grandmother’s church in the deep woods of South Carolina for a richer experience, and it was here that I got my first glimpse of the Ring Shout. At the time, this private ritual both overwhelmed and captivated me, and the memories of those religious experiences have stayed with me to this day. It has led me to want to learn more about both my ancestral lineage and the unique practice of the Ring Shout.

My thesis, Ascending from Dust is meant to preserve the sacred practice of this ritual. The dance film captures and recreates the ritualistic worship experience of African Americans’ practice of the Ring Shout and its connection to the modern African American spiritual praise dance known as “catching the Holy Ghost.” Furthermore, Ascending from Dust translates the internal, communal, and non-ego worship experience into a visual film experience that intertwines the past and the present. Ascending from Dust is a culmination of three sections: The first section examines song and meditation; the second section explores modern practices of spirituality through song and dance; and the final section is the traditional Ring Shout. Research for this project, which is detailed in this written thesis, explores the history of the Ring Shout, Plantation dances of the Southern United States more generally, Negro Spirituals, and translations of the Ring Shout into current religious practice. This thesis also unpacks my creative process, reflects on the resulting film, and discusses implications for my future work.


The performance video is restricted to the Montclair State University community but the PDF file of the thesis, which is located at the bottom of the screen, is available to anyone interested in reading it.

File Format


Hawkins, Morgan_Redacted.pdf (411 kB)
PDF file of written thesis

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