Hidden in Music: Religious Experience and Pop Festivals

By Kommers, Heleen | Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, April 2011 | Go to article overview
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Hidden in Music: Religious Experience and Pop Festivals

Kommers, Heleen, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture


"Music is a way to escape reality ... The vibrations of the music make it spiritual."

--Philippe Herbaut, guitarist in Act Of Gods

"Music: my drug, my pain, my relief, and sometimes my mood. How could music not be more spiritual? ... Living without music is missing out [on] a meaning of our existence."

--Sathor, guitarist in Ars Macabra (1)

In this article I offer in a programmatic way some theoretical and methodological reflections concerning the study of religiosity in popular music. In recent years this subject gained the interest of scholars from widely differing disciplines, ranging from sociology to cultural studies, from theology to musicology. Thus, starting from a background in religious studies and cultural anthropology, I had to get used to a great variety of approaches and conceptualizations, which offered ample opportunity for consideration.

The aim of my research is to identify--mainly among young people--forms of religious experience and expressions and to explore meanings attached by participants to pop music and festivals contextually (that is, as part of cultural formations (2)). The general research question as formulated in the original research proposal written by Martin Hoondert and Leo van der Tuin was: does pop music (and in particular participation in pop festivals) have a transcendental potency, resulting in religiosity? (3) The research implies that the development of core concept definitions like religiosity and related notions (spirituality, worldview and the like) will be elaborated on below.

Pop festivals may be considered as social situations, even rituals, in which young people not only have opportunities par excellence to experience and to live through the multiple dimensions of pop music, but also to enter an atmosphere favourable to the genesis of new ideas. Pop festivals are of particular importance to young people who are, to use a classic expression by Victor Turner from 1964, betwixt and between," and who revel in their anomalous status. (4)" During this intermediate state, people are exceptionally receptive to new impressions. "Youth" may be considered as rite de passage, a phase in life not only characterized by transmission of ideas but also by creativity. Recent literature about pop music, refuting normative approaches like Adorno's, which focused on passivity, emphatically highlights this creativity. To do justice to this aspect, my research requires open-mindedness; it requires an approach which would allow me to discover hidden dimensions" of the world of pop music. In my attempt to be on the alert for new forms of religiosity starting from the pop music scene, insights and perspectives generated by, for instance, the Cultural Dynamics Programme, in particular by those parts focused on "heritage dynamics" may prove useful. (5)

The research will be executed within the institutional framework of the Fontys University of Applied Sciences--Theology. The policy of this educational institution focuses on a combination of theory and practice--the field where scientific research and professional practice meet. Research should pay tribute to development of educational curricula on the one hand and professional innovation on the other. My Ph.D. project is situated in the context of Practical Theology," a discipline forming part of the domain Man and Society" and closely collaborating with the Faculty of the Humanities of Tilburg University. The aim of the project is to contribute to our understanding of the so-called new religiosity": a phenomenon which is prominent in courses like Practical Theology and Religious Studies.

In recent decades, several studies concerning the topic of religiosity in pop music" have been produced, some of them clearly aiming at liturgical, ritual practice. This focus resulted in a debate about the functions pop or rock music could fulfil within liturgy. In this debate of pros" and cons" presented arguments in favour of, or against, introducing popular music (in particular, rock music) in Roman Catholic liturgy.

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Hidden in Music: Religious Experience and Pop Festivals


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