Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Melting the Venusberg: A Feminist Theology of Music

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Melting the Venusberg: A Feminist Theology of Music

Article excerpt

Melting the Venusberg: A Feminist Theology of Music. By Heidi Epstein. New York and London: Continuum, 2005. xi + 204 pp. $85.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

Music is extremely difficult to write about, at least in part because it is perhaps one of the closest experiences to unmediated emotion and sensation that human beings can have. Yet, music has been an important part of the Christian devotional tradition since the New Testament communities, as well as being a cultural phenomenon against which the churches have occasionally voiced strong disapproval. In Melting the Venusberg, Heidi Epstein gives an outline of the suspicions with which theologians throughout Christian history have viewed music, as well as offering a reinterpretation of music through the lens of feminist critique.

Epstein's main argument is that mostly male theologians have disparaged music as a negative influence on Christian men, distracting them from adequate devotion to God and encouraging effeminate behavior and attitudes. She traces this theme from the early church, notably in Augustine, through the centuries in the writings of the medieval and reformation churches, to the contemporary period with writers such as Karl Earth, Hans Küng, and Catherine Pickstock. She notes an extreme distaste of most theologians throughout history for the female voice, and even the appearance of women instrumentalists as seductive forces ready to lead Christian men from their religious duties. Additionally, there is a condemnation of the way women characters are portrayed in opera, which Christian theology has found problematic. In short, music played or sung by women, and the portrayal of women in text-based musical composition such as opera and recital song, is a dangerously sensual experience for men, too close to the earthly and embodied aspects of human life. The purpose of religion is to transcend the bodily realm; women's musicality is a barrier to this.

In the second half of Melting the Venusberg, Epstein offers a reconstructed theology of music which attempts to reintegrate women as musical participants in a more positive light. …

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