Posts Tagged ‘music’

July 25th, 2017

How much a spirit cost

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Spirit in the DarkI first connected with the work of Josef Sorett when he published this strong-voiced call to make hip hop a serious subject for the study of religion. Sorett was not the only scholar to do this: Anthony Pinn and Monica Miller blazed early routes into this topical arena (and subsequently co-edited this 2014 collection, where you can find Sorett’s 2009 essay). And Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, whose wonderful work on Islam and hip hop is excerpted here, has already introduced Kendrick Lamar to The Immanent Frame in her discussion of Black Lives Matter.

But Sorett was one of the first scholars to think well about Christianity as hip hop’s insistent drop scene. “At a moment when multiculturalism and religious diversity are being realized,” Sorett wrote in that earlier article, “hip hop reveals that Christianity has maintained its centrality in American popular culture.”

At its sharpest, Sorett is trying to see if Kendrick Lamar’s radical Christianity is the enlivening spirit for rap’s racial aesthetics, or its chronic condition.

July 4th, 2017

America’s music

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Jazz pianoOn December 4, 1987 both chambers of the 100th United States Congress passed a “resolution expressing the sense of Congress respecting the designation of jazz as a rare and valuable national American treasure.” No opposing votes were cast. The Jazz Preservation Act (JPA), as the bill came to be known, defined jazz as “an indigenous American music and art form” rooted in “the African-American experience,” and as “a unifying force, bridging cultural, religious, ethnic, and age differences in our diverse society.”

How do claims of indigeneity made on behalf of jazz, as in the text of the JPA, help to negotiate these competing representations: jazz as black, born of dispossession, and jazz as every American’s birthright? As this forum’s editors suggest, claims of indigeneity are at least implicitly claims about religion and race. Appeals to indigeneity permit race to enter into discussions of national identity and religiosity to appear in secular space. As a figure for race, religion, or both, indigeneity exerts a particular push-pull in relation to the secular.

June 28th, 2017

Spirit in the Dark—An introduction

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Spirit in the DarkI have written elsewhere about a set of contemporary experiences and observations—although now aged by roughly two decades—that provided the first sparks of interest in the questions that led to my first book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics. Travels back and forth between church services, on one hand, and open mics and poetry readings, on the other, during the 1990s provided the initial impetus for my efforts to bring religion and literature in conversation in the form of the longer story that Spirit in the Dark narrates. Admittedly, the religious history of black letters from the 1920s to the early 1970s that I offer is colored by “presentist” concerns.

To state the matter differently, Spirit in the Dark grew out of my desire for a better historical understanding of how things—things religious and things literary—came to be the way they are. So another way to account for (rather than obscure) the play between past and present, the personal and the historical, in Spirit in the Dark is to acknowledge

May 14th, 2015

Madonna’s “Isaac”/Madonna’s Akeda—A lesson for scholars, old and young

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In 2009, and again in 2010, I taught a class on the Akeda (“Binding of Isaac”) in the arts and the humanities (syllabus). The story of the Akeda, from Genesis chapter 22, is one of the central narratives of western culture. For Jews, the Akeda became a central motif of the penitential season, during which the merit of Abraham’s faith and Isaac’s willingness to be sacrificed is invoked to call upon God to forgive the people their sins and to save them in times of persecution and danger. For Christians, who often call this chapter the “Sacrifice of Isaac,” the Akeda became a foreshadowing of the crucifixion in which God sacrificed his only son for the salvation of humankind. For Muslims, the identity of the bound one became, in the post-Qur’anic period, Ishmael, the biblical founder of the Muslim people and religion. For secularists of all types, the Akeda became the embodiment of the conflict between the parental willingness to sacrifice children to various political and other causes, as well as the focus of the Oedipal conflict between father and son.

January 16th, 2015

How to make someone famous for the wrong reason

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Shahin Najafi - Unplugged Concert in Toronto | Image via Flickr user Reza VaziriShahin Najafi never set out to be a rapper, much less “Salman Rushdie of Rap,” but in early 2012, global notoriety was thrust upon the exiled Iranian singer after an ayatollah issued a fatwa against his single, “Naghi.” No doubt the young songwriter aimed to provoke—the track’s cover art depicts the dome of a well-known Shiite shrine re-imagined as a woman’s breast with a rainbow flag flying from the summit—but his satirical rhymes took aim at much more than Islam or conservative clerics. Nevertheless, Najafi became both victim and beneficiary of “catastrophic celebrity.”

How do you create “catastrophic celebrity”? First, find an artist whose work outrages some representative of a religious tradition, landing the artist in dire circumstances. Next, export the story of the outrage and the resulting drama out of its original cultural context, and count on others to disseminate the story without discovering or exploring this context. Several things result, the combination of which creates catastrophic celebrity.

February 1st, 2012

“On Being” Buddhistipalian with Rosanne Cash

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January 5, 2012’s episode of “On Being with Krista Tippet” is a conversation with Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash, a singer-songwriter and author in her own right.

July 20th, 2011

The rise and fall of Christian rock

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Meghan O’Gieblyn, writing for Guernica, forays into the history of CCM, or Christian contemporary music, which also happens to be that of her own adolescence, tracing the gradual displacement of the more overtly gospel elements of Christian pop, rock, and rap, as the Christian music industry, in its growing drive for “relevance,” felt the squeeze of secular music, especially under the pincers the more profitable and marketing-savvy MTV. More than the fate of explicitly Christian popular music, this course, O’Gieblyn suggests, reflects the simultaneous devolution of a distinctly evangelical way of being in the world, which, stuck as it is between oppositional self-cloistering and secularizing dissipation, seems to O’Gieblyn to have tended toward to the latter.

July 20th, 2011

Cults video throwsback to Jim Jones

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Indie band Cults has released the official video for “Go Outside,” which brings the fascinating and tragic story of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown back into the public field of view.

June 24th, 2011

Is there anybody out there? (Pink Floyd and Charles Taylor)

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In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Hartmut Rosa hears the echoes of Pink Floyd in the work of Charles Taylor.

April 11th, 2011

Translating music into politics in Haiti

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In Foreign Policy, Elizabeth McAlister—a member of the SSRC Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Lifewrites on recent electoral victory of Haitian pop star Michel Martelly and how music shapes politics in Haiti.

February 13th, 2011

Competitive theism at the Grammys

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In anticipation of the Grammy Awards tonight, Neill Strauss asks, “Why do so many musical superstars think that their careers are part of a divine plan?”

December 13th, 2010

Crosswise logic

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My previous post sought to humble the principle of non-contradiction, and thus the logic of consistency it defines, finding it inadequate for thinking the temporal world in which we live and breathe and have our being. Parmenides first articulated this principle, calling “equally deaf and blind” those who would not think consistently according to it, those “hordes without judgment, for whom both to be and not to be are judged the same and not the same, and the path of all is crosswise (palintropos).” Without compromise, he recognized the conflict between his principle and our world of change and diversity. Consistently, he rejected time and the logic needed to understand it. His target here was Heraclitus, who claimed that “a thing agrees in disagreement with itself; it is a crosswise harmony (palintropos harmoniē), like that of the bow and the lyre.” This post aims to explain his earlier, contradictory, but nonetheless more accurate logic.

July 28th, 2010

What does it mean to be cool and Christian?

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Thomas Turner, author of the blog Everyday Liturgy, interviews Brett McCracken on his new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Focusing mainly on the role of music in popular Christian youth culture, the interview also covers the driving question behind McCracken’s book: can, or perhaps should, Christianity be “on trend”?

November 5th, 2009

Rock and theology

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At the Rock and Theology blog, scholars explore “the relationship between ’secular’ rock and ’sacred’ theology, and related matters of faith and culture today.” As part of a larger project on this topic, Tom Beaudoin takes to the blog to reflect on interconnections between culture, music and theology.