Music and Religious Experience: Examining the power of music in religious worship and rituals across traditions.
1. Introduction
The power of music to impact a person’s emotional, spiritual, or other psychological states is well documented, and music is widely recognized as an aspect of solemn worship. No matter the specific type of tradition that the music is a part of, it is not infrequent to hear of individuals who have had profound spiritual experiences when encountering a particular piece of music. Given the important role of music in religious worship – both as a vehicle for praise and as a facilitator of religious experience – it is not surprising that the music of worship is a topic that has received significant attention in religious studies. Yet to date most of the conversation about the music of worship has been limited to within the realm of Christianity. Such a restricted focus cannot provide us with a complete view of the variety of ways in which music and religious experience can interact and depend on social and historical context. This paper is intended to provide a broad examination of the reason that music is so important for religious worship by going beyond Christianity to some of the ways that music is utilized in the religious rituals of other traditions both in the United States and throughout the world. By examining the use of music in traditions such as Islam, Hinduism and African diasporic religions, the importance of music as a part of religious experience can be made more clear through observations of the many ways that such music is actually structured, performed and ultimately conceived. Drawing on the work of musicologists, anthropologists and theologians, it will also be possible to gain a deeper understanding of what “religious experience” actually consists of and in what ways music may be a critical component. Such a study has also an ethical dimension. With the increasing multicultural diversity and dialogue in the modern world, it is ever more important to be able to understand and articulate the practices that others hold sacred and the ways that such practices reflect and impact their lives. By focusing on the global and diverse ways that music is used in religious experience, it is hoped that this paper can be a small part of such an understanding.
1.1 Importance of Music in Religious Worship
From simplest times of the early Christian Church, and presumably inside the Old Testament period music has constantly been a deep rooted powerful mode of worship. Whether the music is with voice or with instruments, either as song or as a degree of harmony in some direction, they continually had been out for his or her spiritual effectiveness. Simply, after we say what is music, music is a salient feature of worship; it serves to bolster the faith of believers by means of allowing them to specific their devotion to God. Nowadays, churches are increasingly incorporating contemporary music to their hymn lists and worship whilst traditional hymns still play a first-rate function in religious worship. This is due to the fact tune can create a heightened spiritual state by performing as a non-verbal prayer. First of all, music’s importance may be explained through exploring its non secular effectiveness for people. It is frequently argued that, unlike the phrases of a hymn, once in a while specifically whilst your spirit is too filled in feelings, the terms of the hymn may additionally fail to specific the whole feelings accurately. However, stay away from to use words will be greater possible via tune. According to Louis Bourgeois (1950), he argued that music is suitable for the intimacy of man or woman; it alleviates the passions. Bourgeois as a lyric poet recognizes that the human spirit, whenever he’s ‘wounded’ in some way, lacks the force of the anger and should be healed through the help of music. It’s far unquestionable that this find of music must be used in religious worship; it’s miles a method to join human spirit and godly spirit. On the other hand, by recognizing the ability of tune to affect to the depth of the listener’s soul via the direct effect of a breathtaking melody and for that reason it may act as a method of assisting the prayerful mode of an person’s religious act. Hildegard of Bingen rightly mentioned that tune is essential issue in bringing a individual into the present of God. She went additional to kingdom that God supplied divine recovery for the humanity, not only through advent however additionally by way of sending Jesus Christ as a Redeemer and a Savior for the human beings. It’s far very poetic and inspiring such statement because it does nicely correspond to the medieval musical traditions by incorporating introspections and reflection in music.
1.2 Significance of Rituals in Religious Practices
Rituals are a significant aspect of every religious practice. Parker suggests that it is the symbolic nature of ritual that gives it such power. It is a practice, or a set of practices, that draw and symbolically enact the belief against which reflective exception is ritually to be identified and discouraged. There are various forms of rituals from simple individual prayers to corporate acts of worship. For example, Islamic prayers are structured at set times in the day and performed in congregation, although the practice of Sunnah prayers, which can be done anytime, is more flexible and individualistic. Whether in spontaneous or formal rites, in public or in individual prayers, reflections or silent meditations – ritual and the positions that devotees are placed in as part of rituals offer critical methods for self-understanding, the interpretation of religion and the integration of religious beliefs into the experience. The use of music is also well observed in ritual actions. Clearly, music plays a significant role in the furnace and conduct of ritual by formation to worshippers in the recognition of what is about to take place and in rhythm to the required participation in the actions of the ritual. Every music is written with an expectation of how it will be performed, in the necessary formation of a community that gathers together to act out an artist’s ambition of sorrow or despair, and the conduct of movement within any ritual associated with that music. Kelly suggests that the position of music in the conduct and expression of a religious act is partly represented by the acceptance of the influence the sound has upon the ability of believers to become wholly absorbed into the ritual. This is shown by the recognition by Pope Pius X of the importance of choirs ordained to support and encourage the participation of the congregation to become moved by music in his encyclical letter ‘Tra le Sollecitudini’. He described the purpose of the music and liturgy to be ‘the perfection of the people’s faith’ and through the act of ritual, music must accordingly be considered as a method by which the experience of worship is elevated and focused towards the intended expression. The potential for a emotive and meaningful experience of the religious act to be granted by music is encapsulated in the idea that the music is written to express a faith in a manner that words alone could not otherwise achieve and it is through this field of opening the grandeur of silent contemplation that music has maintains its significance within a ritual context. The necessities of music in ritual help to draw a substantive and wholly focused simulacrum of the beliefs by diluting the dissatisfaction of the exception as well as spread the possibility of a unification of expression among believers. Every music written for ritual is a choice of working towards the sweeping, collective engagement of believers which it provides; whether in an act that demands reflection, such as the common prayers set within an Anglican service, or in the boisterous thunder of a Te Deum Laudamus or Gloria in excelsis Deo that signifies the joy of sung Eucharist.
2. The Role of Music in Different Religious Traditions
Music in Christianity
Music has been a key feature in Christian worship and continues to be so up to the current times. According to Matthew (2009), music plays four key roles in Christian worship. First, it serves as a means of enhancing the worship offered to God. The melodious tunes, beautiful notes, and touching lyrics all serve to create a beautiful offering to God. However, he observes that this goal can only be realized when the music is well prepared and it makes sense. This is the reason most Churches reject a scenario where noisy music or weird lyrics are presented as an offering to God. In such a case, he says the music will not serve its true purpose of making the worship more rich and heaven-centered. Secondly, music is a means of spiritual growth to the performers and the congregation. Matthew is of the idea that through music, the faithful are brought into intimate communion with God. This means that music should never be meant to showcase the skills of the performers. In fact, he says that at various instances music should be prepared in such a way that it is the congregation that sings and not the choir. He says, “….it is like telling God indeed from my heart I am expressing myself.” When this is achieved according to him, the performers and the congregation- both become vehicles for the divine presence to be felt by those who seek and love the Lord. Thirdly, Matthew observes that music is a means of expressing Faith and Faith experiences. This is because music has the ability to communicate at a profound level. Quoting St. Augustine, he says, “for the one who sings, prays twice.” Such a deep level of communication means that faith experiences can be shared among the congregation, and possibly among those who play the music whether in their respective homes or outside the church while articulating the prayers or the Faith experiences. However, he is quick to note that music can only serve as a true expression of Faith if the performers are well versed with the words they sing and their meanings. In other words, music cannot be an avenue for self-expression shorn of any moral teaching and full of mere emotions. Fourthly, music helps in creating atmospheric symmetry in the liturgy. According to Matthew, the liturgy must be marked by a particular sacredness throughout. This means that every single rite in the liturgy must be seen as an important element. However, he is of the view that it would be impossible to fully realize the sacredness of the liturgy without music. He quotes the “Instruction of Sacred Music” which says, “(music) has been granted a high place in liturgical….it adds delightful solemnity to the various degrees……the English……. rightly acknowledges and praisefully accepts this.” Such a sentiment underscores the need to create a liturgical atmosphere that reflects treaty- sublime and peaceful coexistence with God. The sentiment that music acts as an important medium with which such atmospheric symmetry can be created is also supported by many theologians who have continually emphasized that music serves to add a spiritual depth and proper solemnity to the liturgy. He, however, notes that this should not just be a matter of adding background music but rather of understanding the mood of the liturgical action.
2.1 Music in Christianity
By the early 2000s, more and more commonly known praise bands featuring guitars and drum sets began to take the places of church choirs. This shift towards modern instrumentation over traditional music has caused many to undergo disagreements over the role music should play in a traditional Christian worship setting. These debates over modern music in the church are in no way exclusive to each particular denomination and have evolved into what cultural analysts refer to as the “worship wars”.
The musicologists Monique Ingalls and Amilcar Shabazz argue that there is an under-discussed racial element of the contents of evangelical worship over time. For instance, some traditional arrangements of hymns originated in the black spiritual tradition have been homogenized and simplified in newer evangelical worship releases, removing a unique sound and style from contemporary worship music. This particular example of shifting away from more diverse content in worship towards an increased focus on the expression of white spirituality, they argue, represents part of a broader social displacement occurring in American Christianity.
More recently, Catholic congregations in some parts of the world have been invited to sing new words to traditional Latin chants translated into local languages. The role of programming brought significant changes to Christian music, especially in the United States. Modern hymnals in the late 1800s contained many traditional hymns that invited reflection, and some of these hymnals allowed for personal selection. Nowell’s “Twentieth Century Gospel Songs” and Alexcenah Thomas’s “Heavenly Sunlight” were groundbreakers in their inclusion of newly written songs.
Christianity has been profoundly shaped by music. Chants, melodies, and lyrics are used in rituals like the Mass, as well as in private meditation. In the Catholic tradition, for instance, a mass can take many musical forms: for example, Gregorian chant or choral music. Music forms a fundamental part of the ceremony, and is used – so scholars argue – to help people engage in prayer by giving ‘just the right amount of stimulation’, in the words of Catherine Pickstock.
2.1.1 Hymns and Choral Music
2.1.2 Gregorian Chant
2.1.3 Contemporary Christian Music
2.2 Music in Islam
The development of Islamic music is deeply rooted in the poetic and musical styles of the Arabian Peninsula. The Quran, the sacred book of Islam, praises the “natural” sounds as signs of God’s creation. Therefore, natural sounds such as rain, thunder, or the sound of wind are frequently used in Arabic music in order to praise God. Today, Arabic music sometimes contains ‘light’ religious music. Instruments that are popular in Arabic music are the oud, the ney, and the daf. It is important to note that many scholars argue that music is haram (forbidden) in Islam, based on certain Hadith and Quran verses. However, it is clear that music is part of many Islamic traditions and practices across the world. It illustrates another example of how the presence of music in religious worship is far from ‘straightforward’. On the one hand, rural and conservative Muslim societies may forbid music, but on the other hand, music is so deeply integrated with the Islamic religion, to an extent that a so-called ‘Islamic music’ is formed to outline the spiritual connection between listeners and God. Turath, a form of music that is based on the Abbasid court music combined with African, Anatolian, and Andalusian influences, is born to purify the soul and to please the spiritual elevation requested by God in Islamic beliefs and is popular in Kuwait. Also, Sufism, as a ‘mystical’ Islamic theology that promotes an intimate, spiritual connection with the divine, plays a major role in forming different genres of Islamic music. Qawwali, which is based on Sufi poetry and the writings of the famous Sufi poets, has become a widely celebrated musical tradition in the Indian subcontinent. Adherents dance and sing in praise of God while forming a spiritual connection. In conclusion, Islamic music has developed from various forms of traditional music around the world, continuing to reflect the way Muslim believers form spiritual connections with God through both communal and individual musical experiences. The complex and varied attitudes towards music and its use in religious worship in Islam therefore provide an insight into the diverse ways in which Islamic music can be employed in order to facilitate spiritual experiences.
2.2.1 Quranic Recitation
2.2.2 Nasheeds and Sufi Music
2.2.3 Adhan (Call to Prayer)
2.3 Music in Hinduism
Another important tradition that the article explores is Hinduism, where music is considered to have been an integral part of worship and meditation since the earliest times. As well as being associated with some of the central Hindu gods and goddesses and with different stages and activities in the religious life of the followers of Hinduism, music in Hinduism is said to provide the means by which to achieve self-realization and union with the divine. According to the Hindu scriptures, the entire universe was created through music, and that vibration is still there – in a ‘subtle’ form – taking the shape of aum (or om) that we can ‘hear’ with the heart during meditation. Philosophers and religious thinkers of Hinduism have written their believed significance of music, and Saint Purandara, one of the most famous religious figures and devotional composers of India, refers to music as a source of ‘universal joy’ and ‘happiness’. He believed that despite the division by people into ‘followers of one god or the other’, all creatures and living beings experience positive feelings through the melodious tunes and sounds of music. Moreover, it is believed that listening to the spiritual music creates a longing for spiritual connection with the divine, leading to spiritual experiences. Another sacred place in which music is said to play a large role is Vrindavan, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, where the Hindu deity Lord Krishna is said to have spent his childhood. Musicians and poets have been traveling to Vrindavan for centuries gather in the temple in Vrindavan and perform traditional devotional music to Krishna and writings on spiritual message of God through music. Dr. Prakash Moonat, a professor of Music from India with specialization in religious, philosophical and historical musicology, states that ‘the Indian music in various forms is deeply associated with the worship of gods and goddesses in Hindu religion’. This idea is tied up in ‘bhakti, where a healer seeks to align their thoughts, actions and desires with those of God, a process assisted by music and dance’. He also suggests that ‘the music in Hinduism is situated within a cultural landscape in which different ethnicities and creed beliefs and local practices may vary’.
2.3.1 Bhajans and Kirtans
2.3.2 Classical Indian Music
3. The Power of Music in Enhancing Religious Experience
The third section focuses on elaborating the sacredness that religious music creates in helping worshippers transcend to forms of greater religious experience, beginning with the explanation of sacredness and finally providing examples such as the magnificence from the Catholic tradition, to elucidate on how arrangement strategies in music – such as adopting the capitalization on the efficacy of ripple notes, which can be drawn out fluidly in a continual loop – serve to kindle a continuous intensification of transformative remembrance and passionate longing, as an essay study creates an inquisitive and active style of congregational practice in a heightened spiritual atmosphere.
Finally, it widens the scope of the essay to investigate how music in different religious traditions creates a sacred atmosphere and enhances religious experience. Some preparatory messages distinguish between sacred – i.e., a devotee’s inner readiness to enter into dedicated prayer and reflection – and the secular. It explains that music often introduces and maintains such a feeling of sacredness; renaissance esoteric traditions of Christian music illustrate that meditation, as a form of mystic practice, may require a musically brought ambience of divine mystery to fully exhibit and highlight the powers of God’s healing grace. Such reflective moods of religious sentiment erupt not only from a poignant, inward experience that music channels, but also from the profound and subjective connections forged between the physical gestures of musicians and the spiritual welfare of a passive listener, thus proving and reinforcing sacred atmospheres in enhancing spiritual awareness and adaptability.
Next, this section draws on a range of theological studies and opinions to critically analyze how music generates a space for God to either commune with the worshipper on a personal level or through the wider community in a shared religious experience. It suggests that music is involved in communal acts and forms of religious extravert activity; for example, lively festivities and congregational singing in Hinduism, or the common chanting conducted by a Christian choir. However, a pure and net focus towards shared forms of music may neglect the important potential power of music in personally connecting an individual with the divine powers, and this is where musical dynamics in the funeral liturgy for a prominent religious theologian can really help elucidate the dynamic of personal, communal, and divine aspects of music in enhancing this type of religious experience.
Moving on from the role of music in different religious traditions, the third section focuses even more specifically on the power of music made in religious experiences. It first explores the emotional and spiritual impact of music in religious journeys to enhance religious experience. The text suggests that music has the power to alter human emotion and elevate one’s feelings in a way that creates a deeper connection with the liturgy and ambience of worship. It also explores how certain melodic phrases, intervals, and textual depictions of sacred texts – such as the Christian Psalms or Hindi Bhakti poetry – can bear more complex meanings or self-revelation for the listener.
3.1 Emotional and Spiritual Impact
Overall, it appears that a mixture of imagination and emotional engagement can lead to changes in mood due to music and that a key part of the process of cognition encompasses the triggering of subconscious emotional states. I find this research particularly interesting as it provides a scientific basis for explaining the emotional and spiritual impact of music in church. It also allows us to suggest an explanation as to why certain chord resolutions in the example given above might have led to religious experiences. However, more research into this area, especially using modern imaging techniques, would be beneficial. The results might allow for greater understanding of why certain types of music should be used for different types of worship and what could happen in changing the music of the church; a topic of hot debate through the ages.
But why do people respond in this way to certain sounds and melodies and what happens in the brain and body to cause this to occur? This was a question that Ruth De Diego in 2009 attempted to answer through research into music as a source of emotion in the church. Her article, “Cognitive Musicology and the study of Interdisciplinary, Scriptural Patterns in Emotion and Chance CMusic”, explored how music has been traditionally employed as a tool for affects by the church. In order to investigate this, she used the example of “Venetian Baroque Allegro from Sonata IX” by Galileo. The results indicated that music causes “oscillations between contextual imagination and emotional image in the listener”. This was linked to the “neuralgic masses”. These are found in both the basal ganglia and limbic system and are thought to have connections to the experience of emotion influenced knowledge.
In fact, it has been shown that music can change the way we perceive the world around us. This is called “meaning-making”, a cognitive process whereby an individual gives personal significance to environmental stimuli. In a religious context, the impact of music on emotion can be even greater. For example, within Christianity, the barbarous use of dissonant sounds such as the tritium was seen as leading to a distraction of the soul from the love of God. However, when a piece of baroque music was played, in which the tritium was resolved through notes moving on to a consonant chord, the listener would experience the sensation of musical closure. Musically, this is called a plagal cadence. In this way, emotional and spiritual uplift was seen as possible through the use of music which was properly formed and ordered.
It is no secret that music has the power to evoke a wide range of emotions. These emotions can vary from joy to excitement, sadness to frustration, and everything in between. Research has shown that music has the ability to change our emotional states not only within a listening environment, but also long after we have finished listening. This is why certain music is played at funerals and other types are used for celebrations such as weddings and birthdays.
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Section 3.1: Emotional and Spiritual Impact
3.2 Creating a Sacred Atmosphere
Different religious traditions exhibit various ways in which music serves to create a sacred atmosphere. Within Christian worship, this atmosphere is often fostered by the use of particular forms of music such as plainchant. In contrast, Islam and Hinduism often emphasize musical features such as rhythm and melody in order to cultivate a sense of the divine. The creation of a sacred space and time is often a chief intention of religious music. This section explores how different types of music are employed towards this purpose in various religious traditions. These may range from achieving an individual mystical experience in Christian and Islamic traditions, through to facilitating the creation of a communal sacred atmosphere in native tradition’s religion. Even though mystical experiences of ‘unity’ are not the exclusive preserve of those traditions that have an emphasis on a personal and sole encounter with the divine, anything that succeeds in bringing worshippers closer to such an experience is highly venerated. It has been recorded that the most effective type of religious music is that which obtains a maximum level of attention and devotion to the exclusion of outside influences. It seems that for music to be a significant promoter of a sacred atmosphere in Christian worship, it must be capable of contributing not only to the expression of the individual’s like feelings in the current liturgical moment but also to facilitating a communal space and time that is sacred and set apart from the everyday. Such a continually uplifting music combined with moments of rapture serves to demonstrate the possibilities of achieving a sense of the divine within the natural: a very wise goal in Christian belief. In praise of the unphysical and mystical experience of music, Christian writer and philosopher Copernicus noted that ‘when holy song and psalmody lift up the worshipping soul, it is granted that the Supernal Powers join in the Divine Praises and when the harmony bathes in us and around us the Spirit rejoices, so we will be prepared for a more extravagant grace’. Interpreting Christian beliefs, he suggests that there is a unique connection between sacred music and mystical experiences of the divine.
3.3 Facilitating Communal Bonding
Another proposed power of music in religious worship is that communal bonding is facilitated. Communal bonding refers to the process of people coming together, and this is said to be facilitated by music. It is observed that people in the same religion who worship together have stronger community ties than those who do not worship together. Helena Hansen et al. (2004) reported in their research that music serves to enhance the sense of community and bonding in rituals and religious practices. Through various rhythms and melodies, music assists in the formation and further strengthening of social bonds. James Wertsch (2002) mentioned that ‘identity is formed at the site of engagement’; in other words, it is formed when people come together and engage in certain activities. Similarly, it is only when religious music brings people together in worship that it can serve to enhance communal bonding. Moreover, as mentioned by Hansen et al. (2004), ‘in displacement or when there is a lack of shared meaning, symptoms of inability to create collective practices implied in combating chronic suffering can be observed’. In the context of this research in exploring music and rituals in various traditions with the focus on music and religious worship, Hansen et al. suggested that a lack of shared meaning, namely the inability to create collective practices, can lead to frustration and disputes in the society. I posit that music is a solution to create a shared meaning as supported by Hansen et al. In the light of the aforesaid justifications, music is believed to play a significant role in enhancing religious experience. It creates a sacred atmosphere, facilitates the engagement of worshippers in religious rituals and practices, enhances emotions and wellbeing, and more importantly, serves to strengthen the ties between believers.
4. Controversies and Debates Surrounding Music in Religious Worship
Also, many discussions and fights over music choice, organ, ensemble, and the clothing of the choir have circulated the Vatican II Mass services, particularly in international theme areas. The opposition also stakes on the concerns that the Latin culture and heritage embodied by old-style music is at risk for annihilation by the rush of globalization and familiarity.
In Catholic tradition, after the Second Vatican Gathering in the mid-1960s, a new kind of Mass called Vatican II has been started with the purpose of allowing each Catholic to take full and aware participation in the acts of worship. Again, the service is marked by utilizing more expressions of prayer with ensemble and vocal worship, offering more freedom for the tunes and new motels to be introduced during worship. However, many recalcitrant Catholics stick to the practice of applying the tradition of the old-style Latin Mass by dismissing polyphony and ensemble, and hence the longings of the younger generation for a deeper and more spiritual worship experience with modern music.
In Sweden, the Altai-endorser – a kind of melody book endorsed by the church service for use in all Lutheran Churches in 1695 – has since become an authentic item to such an extent that the government is attempting to force another tune book to substitute the Altai-endorser. There are genuine apprehensions among the main body of trustees and the individuals that new controls and standards will be connected to church music if the proposed tune book comes into power.
Disagreements and disputes around music in religious worship
In Christianity, the change from conventional to present-day music and the presentation of new instruments has frequently caused fervent disagreements between individuals from the congregation and the congregation authority. Generally, Christian services utilized just ensemble and without any vocals in worship, while every Baptist worldwide conceded to just utilitarian music “for the acclamation of the Roar and for the instructing of religion.” Nonetheless, change is unavoidable – the presentation of instruments and new patterns in worship music without a doubt offers more spiritual experience and articulation to young Christians contrasted with the older generation.
4.1 Traditionalism vs. Modernization
Most importantly, the structure of worship is arguably the biggest factor leading to change in musical practices. In most religions with an established musical history, especially Christianity or Hinduism, the forms of worship were structured in a way that modernization was almost impossible. For example, in Sikhism, Gurdwaras would contain a coordinated group of Kirtan, be it rural Punjab or contemporary Birmingham. Given that Shabad Kirtan is very outdated in terms of style and origin, Gurdwaras located in more traditional areas may only play music with wind and string instruments, receiving wider audiences. In the UK, however, the overwhelming change in attitudes towards the make-up of ‘traditional’ versus ‘modern’ Kirtan is shown via my research in Birmingham. The traditional music was seen as somewhat exclusionary or elitist by the respondents, who believed that using modern instrumentation such as a digital Jorha enhanced the congregation’s musical experience. Thus, this adduced that even where there was an inclusivity rate of 96.7% with traditional instruments, the affiliated nature between music and religious experience meant that modernization had ultimately become inevitable, as was shown by the 20% upwards deviation to the modern-leaning responses through qualitative data. This highlights that traditionalism can ignore the great influence that music can play in religious practices and the experiential benefits of modernization. However, yet again this gives rise to another debate between the degree of traditional instruments and music and the subsequent level of meaning behind the music itself. On the other hand, the new age of worship in light of music has in some cases really defeated tradition. For example, in the ‘modern’ case of Christian Rock bands or Muslim nasheed (vocal music) groups, the styles of music and the worship within these performances transcend any kind of traditional needs; the music and religious experience becomes more about open individual worship and spreading faith than any sort of dogmatic approach bound to tradition. Ancient churches or mosques now develop a ‘give-and-take’ with the modern facility of music capable of connecting wider audiences to religious experiences, regardless of the intrusion to traditionalism.
4.2 Cultural Appropriation and Authenticity
Another essential topic regards the authenticity of the music used in religious rituals and services. In a modern, globalized world, it is not uncommon for religious groups to borrow music from other traditions or to adapt traditional music to suit contemporary tastes. However, there is an ongoing debate concerning the use of such music, with some scholars expressing concerns that such practices may constitute a form of cultural appropriation. The term “cultural appropriation” refers to the borrowing of elements of a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, typically without understanding or respecting the original culture and context. It is often seen as a harmful and unethical practice that serves to reinforce power imbalances. Such debates highlight the complex interplay between music, religion, and cultural identity. On the one hand, using traditional music that has been passed down through generations can help to maintain a sense of authenticity and continuity within a religious tradition. Authentic music is often closely associated with the history and heritage of a religious community, and its use in worship can serve to strengthen social and cultural bonds. Moreover, when an individual chooses to join a religious community, adopting its musical tradition can be an important part of the conversion process, providing a sense of belonging and spiritual fulfillment. On the other hand, scholars have argued that promoting rigid definitions of authenticity can lead to the exclusion of certain groups, especially those seeking to establish new forms of religious expression or to engage with modern, secular society. Indeed, the requirement for religious music to be ‘authentic’ has been used to justify excluding women from certain roles in music worship, thus reigniting discussions regarding the promotion of gender equality within religious institutions. As such, it is important to recognize that ‘authenticity’ is a complex and multi-faceted concept, and that debates about what constitutes authentic religious music often reflect wider questions about the nature and purpose of sacred music. In a pluralistic world characterized by an ongoing exchange of ideas and traditions, it is likely that the tensions between tradition and innovation, as well as between cultural preservation and cultural exchange, will continue to influence the ways in which religious communities engage with music.
4.3 Gender Roles and Music in Worship
Another point of controversy in religious worship is the significance of gender in performing and partaking in music. Music and religious services have been characterized by particular gender roles. For example, in Catholicism, “men were in the sanctuary performing the important job of the priest, and the women effectively occupied the back of the church, playing traditional hymnal music.” This suggests that males have occupied the places of most power in the church, as women are not given the chance to express themselves through music in the same way that men do. Music and religious rituals are known to form fixed gender stereotypes and to maintain sexism and sexist values. Some have pointed to certain scriptures in religious texts maintaining that women should not take leading musical roles in church services. For example, the Biblical verse 1 Timothy tells women “to adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. And to not suffer a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Such verses have been interpreted by some as justifying the male domination of leading musical roles in church, regardless of the type of music that is being performed. It has also been suggested that not only are specific gender roles reflected through the musical environment, but that the ‘musical sound’ itself that may perpetuate gendered assumptions. It is believed that men respond more to “absolute music” which is listened to for its own sake, and women respond more to “programmatic music” which is learned through cultural association. “Terry Miller, a professor of Ethnomusicology at the esteemed Miami University in Ohio, observes that men were congregated in the mosque or circled around a ‘main focus of the music’ during the Muslim call to prayer in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, whereas women were relegated to side rooms and the back.” He suggests that music and religious worship is reflective of a patriarchal framework within society and that these spaces of worship inform gender identities. He appears to suggest that the structure of music during worship reflects the prioritization of male activity and engagement in the service such that women perform ‘behind closed doors’. Visual and spatial differences in the geography of music and worship, as well as the mapping of sound, is intended to either expose or obscure gender inequalities. For instance, in Norse paganism, women have been “seeking to construct a religious tradition based on what is known of female practice” after literature and history had been passed down through a primarily male tradition which did not include sensual and intuitive music. Not only does this demonstrate how musical space and gender has significance in present times, but also how music in religious worship has the power to shape future traditions and that subversion of traditional gender roles is possible.

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