Music, Education, and Religion: Intersections and Entanglements remedies a long-standing gap in music education scholarship by considering the ways in which music, education, and religion fuse together, overlap, connect, or conflict in theory and in practice. The rationale of this volume lies in the conviction that the various practical, social, cultural, ideological, and political constraints on music teaching and learning also engage with matters of religion, a thematic area that has been absent in scholarly work on music education, even when it comes to works attending to pluralism and diversity. In recognizing both enduring and new diversities in contemporary societies, the chapters in this book embrace a range of perspectives, including religious, contextual, geographic, historical, and theoretical standpoints and writings from the disciplines of music education, philosophy, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, history, and ethnomusicology.
The timeliness of this inquiry arises from developments both within and outside the field of music education scholarship. Contemporary music education in the twentieth century focused by and large on the psychological, cognitive, aesthetic, and individual aspects of music making. The increasing prominence and prestige of instrumental music in the West, the influence of a recording industry that made musical works available in live and recorded media to a wide public, the development of formalist-oriented aesthetic theories, and a general secularization of formal education made it possible to articulate a demarcation between aesthetic musical experiences and the moral or cultural values of musical practices, with some proponents of music education even recommending that teachers consciously exclude “extramusical” understandings of musical material in their classes (e.g., Mark 1989; Reimer 1989, 1991). This separation of “purely” musical considerations from extramusical matters was urged even as some theories highlighted the conceptual and phenomenological similarities between some religious experiences and some aesthetic experiences (e.g., Reimer 1989).
Toward the turn of the millennium, however, scholarly discourses gradually shifted from a focus on purely musical aesthetic artifacts (e.g., Swanwick 1994) to music as a sociocultural practice (e.g., Alperson 1991; Elliott 1995). This shift occurred on a number of fronts. Instead of concentrating on individual listening experiences and a distanced appreciation of music, the emphasis of teaching and learning turned to the diversity of musical practices and music making. Music educators increasingly attended to the multitude of settings outside school music education, such as community music practices in Western and non-Western contexts (Higgins 2012; Veblen et al. 2013). With this renewed consciousness of cultural diversity in music education settings, some music educators urged that music be understood not only as something that people do, but as ways in which people are (Bowman 2004; Elliott 1990)—that is to say, the ways in which people understand, position, and present themselves in the world. This attention to diversity concurred with research in music psychology that focused on ways in which people construct and maintain their (multiple) identities through musical activities (Barrett 2009; MacDonald, Hargreaves, and Miell 2017; North and Hargreaves 2008). Accordingly, many music educators argued that the teaching and learning of music should incorporate students’ own principles, values, and knowledge in musical praxis, as they reflect those in the surrounding society (see Regelski 2006).
This shift aligned with wider changes in learning theories in educational psychology, in which sociocultural views complemented narrower cognitive approaches (e.g., Sawyer 2002). Music learning was no longer theorized through individual cognitive representations of and skills in music of “the other” but through approaches that emphasized individuals’ participation in, and contributions to, musical activities, processes of knowledge creation, and expressions of agency in communities of practice and networks. These developments affecting the field of music education suggest that music cannot be construed as a thing that stands distinct from one’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Neither can music be considered to be an individual endeavor, isolated from social context. With this in mind, it is worth considering the religious dimensions of musical activities (Jorgensen 2003)—activities that also include those that take place in education contexts.
The notion that the religious or spiritual dimensions of music education warrant scholarly attention coincides with broader academic debates on the nature and extent of secularism in modern society. The philosophical heritage of the Enlightenment fueled an oft-made epistemological distinction between religious belief and secular reason (e.g., Taylor 2007), which led many philosophers and scholars to suppose that the rise of modernity, science, and rationality would lead ineluctably to an increasing disbelief in religion. In this way, Nietzsche could declare the death of God, Marx could describe religion as the opiate of the masses, Freud could speak of religion as an illusion, Durkheim could explain religion away in terms of its efficacy as a social institution, and Weber could see the tenets of Protestant religious ideology as fundamentally providing the core of the “spirit of capitalism” (Berger 2008). In line with such assumptions, the intersections of music, education, and religion have been positioned as increasingly irrelevant for contemporary societies—relics “of a bygone era when religion had cultural sway and political power but a factor that would continue to recede as secular forces took over” (Monsma and Soper 2009, viii).
However, predictions of the death of religion have proved to be greatly exaggerated. The notion of secularism itself and the binaries it presupposes (for example, religious thought vs. secular reason and public vs. private spheres) and the presumed univocality of religious belief have been subject to considerable scrutiny (Berger 2008; Habermas 2008; Taylor 2007). In addition, the new millennium has witnessed a resurgence of religious fervor and identity. This is most visibly expressed through expressions of religious fundamentalism, such as the rise of evangelical Protestantism in Western countries, expressions of Islamic fundamentalism in the Muslim world, new religious pluralisms in post-Soviet societies, the rise of fundamentalist Judaic sects in Israel, and the increasing influence of the Catholic Church in the global south. These developments have had far-reaching effects on the mechanisms of state, social institutions (not the least educational and legal institutions), international affairs, and personal, social, and political life. Such a resurgence of religiosity has led some to conclude that we live in a postsecular age. Postsecularism has not been discussed as “the end of the secular” (Lee 2017, 8), but rather an acknowledgment that demarcations between the religious, the spiritual, and the secular are entangled and unclear (Ratti 2013).
It is in this context that an investigation into the myriad connections between music, education, and religion is called for. Music, Education, and Religion: Intersections and Entanglements interrogates the ways in which the rituals and practices of music education are constructed and complicated by the forces of religion and belief. These are matters of great importance to the field of music education, affecting basic issues such as the legitimation of particular repertoires and practices of music in the curriculum; the kinds of perspectives, knowledge, values, and social relations that music education ought to foster; and even the matter of the inclusion and exclusion of students in the world of music education (Bowman 2007; Kallio 2015). If music is seen as a part and product of students’ and teachers’ lives, then the tensions, conflicts, and values that so often accompany matters of faith and religion must not be overlooked or dismissed.
Overview of the Book
Part 1: Tensions and Negotiations
Part 1 contains three chapters that describe and analyze the tensions that arise at the nexus of music, education, and religion, requiring negotiation by educators and students alike. It opens with Estelle R. Jorgensen’s exploration of the benefits and challenges of teaching music as one of the humanities. She poses a justification for music educators and scholars to engage religions in realizing the intellectual, sensual, inspirational, imaginative, spiritual, and human experiences of music. She therefore emphasizes the importance of not only student, but also teacher, agency; a strong liberal arts component of teacher education; and a more distanced, critical approach to curriculum content. Engaging with music education policy and politics, Jorgensen outlines her hopes for a critical, creative, contextual, and constructivist approach to the teaching and learning of music in schools that can attend to the particularities, divergences, and nuances at the nexus of music, education, and religion.
Addressing the philosophical complexities of achieving what Jorgensen proposes, Philip Alperson’s chapter explores some of the fundamental concepts and issues at the intersection of music, education, and religion. Beginning with a consideration of common understandings of the basic terms music, education, and religion, Alperson offers a survey of life-enhancing goods and life-diminishing harms that can attend to and complicate practices in religion, education, and music. Alperson argues that these goods and harms can carry different weights, can be thought of as primary and secondary to the practice in question, and can be achieved wittingly or unwittingly. He then applies this conceptual framework to the question of the place of religious material (and the notion of spirituality in particular) in the classroom, concluding that the recommendation to bring religious material into the music education classroom is fraught with a variety of conceptual and practical challenges.
In directing teachers to make space for multiple musical doings and beings in schools, as Jorgensen suggests, while also attending to the ethical and political complexity of doing so, as Alperson cautions, Westerlund, Kallio, and Partti’s chapter focuses the discussion on the affordances made for and limitations placed on student agency and subjectivities in supposedly secular school music lessons. Particularly taking into consideration the increasing diversity of many student populations, they argue that a consensus of social values, moral frameworks, and worldviews—even if the consensus is one of neutrality—results in processes of (non)religious coercion or exclusion in the democratic school’s music classroom. The chapter thus attends to the normative frames of religion or secularity in schools as an ethical and political matter.
Part 1 thus establishes that if, as Jorgensen implores, music education is to retain its artistic soul, it can never be a neutral undertaking. The intersection of music, education, and religion is not always harmonious, and while it gives rise to new possibilities for furthering social justice, it can also give rise to social tensions and potential harms. As a result, a paradox presents itself in which music educators in many contexts cannot afford to neglect matters of religion, but attending to the sacred is nevertheless a fraught and complex endeavor.
Part 2: Identity and Community
The chapters in part 2 engage in a discussion of the role of music in supporting multiple, and at times conflicting, religious identities in particular education contexts. Especially as many nations are contending with rapid cultural change, the chapters in part 2 consider the potential for music education to foster a sense of belonging or togetherness on the one hand, and on the other hand to fuel intercultural tensions or social and cultural exclusion. Opening this part, Janelle Colville Fletcher and Margaret S. Barrett extend the conversation on how student agency might be constituted or constrained in “secular” schools with a consideration of how adolescents’ spiritual and religious identity work is shaped, within the context of music taught in an Australian Catholic school. Student narratives offer personal insights into their experiences and understandings of sacred, liturgical, and secular music at school. Fletcher and Barrett argue that music is a powerful expression of the sacred, contributing to individual identity formation and also a cohesive school community. The authors also raise important questions about how such a community identity contends with increasing diversity in students’ religious affiliation—even in an explicitly Catholic school. Thus, they suggest that while religious music may serve as a catalyst for integration and inclusion, it may also serve as a point of differentiation and tension.
These tensions are brought to the fore in Lauri Väkevä’s chapter, which examines both sides of a heated public debate on religious freedom and indoctrination in Finnish school music education. At the end of the school year, many Finnish schools celebrate with the singing of the Lutheran summer hymn Suvivirsi. Väkevä questions whether arguments for the omission of the hymn from school rituals reflect broader concerns for the inclusion of all students regardless of religious affiliation, or whether claims for its inclusion are warranted, either as a devotional practice of the religious majority or as a culturally significant tradition that has long ago been divorced from its religious origins. He concludes that if we are to engage in cultural dialogue rather than spiritual indoctrination, music educators need to be aware of the ideological justifications for the repertoires and practices that are employed in the cultivation of culturally reflective, ethical, and agential citizens.
While diversifying national populations heighten concerns over indoctrination through consensus or imposition, so too they present new possibilities for religious and nonreligious affiliation and identity. Ivana Perković and Biljana Mandić analyze the recent revival of religious music and Orthodox identity in contemporary Serbia, in both formal and informal education settings. The authors argue that the notable absence of music from the recently reintroduced primary school religious education curriculum reflects tensions in contemporary church-state politics, with religion serving as a vehicle for the protection and preservation of national identity. Neglecting the educational potentials of music here raises questions of whether students are learning religion, learning from religion, or learning about religion in Serbian schools. Conversely, with religious music being an everyday social and musical experience for participants in children’s church choirs, Perković and Mandić argue that the process of learning is contextualized and integrated, shaping a sense of social cohesion through individual identity construction. These two contexts offer important insights into the distinction and overlap between private religiosity (believing) and public religiosity (belonging) in and through music education.
Whereas music and religious education may be seen to be reinstating a once-repressed religious and national identity in contemporary Serbia, belief and belonging appears somewhat different in Thai diasporic communities in the United States. While it might be assumed that Thai diaspora employ religion and music education as a means of retaining a sense of home in unfamiliar surroundings, Pamela A. Moro illustrates the ways in which the religious foundations of Thai music education also produce culture. Analyzing youth culture programs at Buddhist wats in the San Francisco area, Moro explains that such cultural transmission is simultaneously conservative and innovative. While religiously infused music education in these contexts emphasizes moral authority and preserves cultural heritage and tradition, it also allows for new forms of identity production among young participants and new forms of belonging and community as Asian Americans. Moro argues that this process of pursuing religion and music as a distinction of ethnic identity, while also “becoming American,” has been necessary to establish recognition and legitimacy in multicultural America.
Part 2 emphasizes the role that context plays in the construction and articulation of religious and musical identities. Whether religious music recontextualized as cultural practice, the production of culture through religious music and the cultivation of communities in religious or secular schooling, or extracurricular choirs and community music activities, the functions of music in relation to individual and social identity are evidently complex—functions that are explored further in part 3 of this book.
Part 3: Navigating New Worlds
Music is often said to be able to capture something of human existence that goes beyond the intellectual, beyond the measurable. Similar discourses of transcendence surround religious experience, or spiritual belief. The chapters in this part of the book offer perspectives on the ways in which education might, or might not, attend to the existential, the ideological, or the spiritual in offering learners holistic critical engagements with music. Arguing against reductionist approaches to music education, Øivind Varkøy opens part 3 with a call for teachers to attend to the spiritual and existential layers of musical meaning by offering students powerful encounters with art. He suggests that much Nordic music education limits students’ musical encounters by restricting education to the “outer side of the music”—that which is technically describable and easily graspable, rather that acknowledging the deeper layers of spirituality and existential experience. Varkøy characterizes this situation through Weber’s notion of disenchantment, the fostering of a less poetic, less mysterious world and one that is overly reliant on modern Western rationality and empiricism. He also notes, however, that justification discourses in music education often rely on transformative potentials and “magical powers.” Drawing on Kierkegaard’s work Either/Or, Varkøy proposes that if teachers and students are to retain, or perhaps regain, some of the intensity and passion of musical experience, they need to move beyond the aesthetic and ethical stages of life to the religious.
Likewise appealing for music education to open up new worlds of meaning for students, Maria B. Spychiger considers the sacred sphere as a connecting zone between the factual world and second worlds, additional realities created by the human mind. In religious societies, she notes that these second worlds are divine, with churches and temples serving to connect these worlds of the gods with the human realm. She also notes, however, that music can play a key role in cultivating the sacred sphere and connect different worlds. Extending a psychological model of the person-environment relationship introduced by Lang (1993), Spychiger suggests that the sacred sphere retains its function even in a secular age. She argues that, as a specific ecology, music education ought to cultivate an awareness of other (spiritual) worlds if it is to make a wider range of cultures accessible. Spychiger concludes that education can engage and inspire learners through positioning the sacred as a searching area wherein they may enter new and old worlds of meaning, learning, and experiencing.
Frank Heuser begins his chapter in just such a sacred sphere. Noting the plurality with which individuals create their own sacred moments, distinct from religious doctrine or institutions, Heuser locates his discussion in what Charles Taylor (2007) refers to as the “imminent frame,” a society in which individuals have an array of sacred-secular allegiances and options from which to choose. He draws parallels between the learning customs employed in music education and practices of spiritual traditions within the imminent frame. For example, he considers a conductor’s pause before a performance as a small rite similar to that of a priest before a sermon, a signifier of reverence and of the sacred. In encouraging learners to explore their own identities without “treading on the forbidden territory of religious creeds” in secularized education contexts, Heuser finds hope in the themes of connectedness, community, and relationships with others. He argues that music is a powerful means of connection not only between individuals, but also for individuals to connect with their spiritual selves as well. Through exploring the guru/disciple relationship and adopting a multidimensional perspective of religion and spirituality, Heuser notes that spirituality—in sacred or secular forms—can play an important role in music teaching and learning.
Part 3 ends with an essay by Alexandra Kertz-Welzel that offers an important word of caution pertaining to the misuse of the powers of music education in matters of religion. Acknowledging some similarities between religious and intense musical experiences, but also acknowledging the potential for imposing religious value systems on students, Kertz-Welzel invites the reader on a metaphorical search for the devil in music education. Through Goethe’s 1808 play, Faust, and Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel, Doctor Faustus, she explores the likely, and perhaps unlikely, places where the devil can be found. Through the notion of Kitsch applied to music education, she locates the devil in overly simplistic, uncritical, sentimental characterizations of teaching and learning and also in music education that promises a renewed and healed world through the transformation of individuals and societies. Kertz-Welzel implores us to gain a more critical, dialectical awareness of how music is taught, why it is taught, and the goals toward which music education might aspire.
Thus, the chapters in part 3 focus on the potentials, but also the complexities, of navigating between the worlds of sacred and secular, and the worlds of music and education. In seeking deep, transformative, passionate, and transcendental experiences with music as part of teaching and learning, it is clear from these chapters that although these “other worlds” cannot be neglected, neither can they be welcomed unreflectively or uncritically.
Part 4: Emancipation, Regulation, and the Social Order
The potential misuse of religion or music in teaching and learning is continued in part 4, including three chapters that take the complex discussions of music, morality, and teaching to the foundational question of what music is in the first place, and what is considered good music, and by whom. Hyun-Ah Kim looks to the past in analyzing two Elizabethan apologetics that explore the value of music in civil and religious life. Defending music education against the common charge that music harbors symptoms of vanity and vice, the two treatises examined not only highlight the intrinsic value of music but also its value as a means to moral, spiritual, and religious ends. Although considerations of “the musician as an important agent of education and religious practice” is a perspective often overlooked in contemporary scholarship and music education practice, Kim reminds the reader that the discussions within this volume, and ideas conceiving of music and music education as ethical entities and political forces, are historically (in) formed, yet still insufficiently addressed.
Discussions of the value of music is a theme continued by Erum Naqvi as she undertakes a philosophical and musicological analysis of the regulation of music in Iran. As her point of departure, she describes a controversy arising from a television broadcast in 2014 that showed Iranian musicians performing. As Naqvi explains, the taboo that was broken here was not the broadcasting of the sounds of music, but the visual aspects of music making. The visual aspects of music making were at the time highly regulated by the authorities and labeled as problematic in line with particular religious concepts, political concerns, and questions of nationhood. Naqvi’s chapter explores these understandings of music as they arise through interpretations based on the Qur’an and the hadith, but it also considers the regulation of music based on religious teachings as complicated by constructs of nationhood and the politics of postrevolutionary Iran. Arguing that “witnessing embodied acts of dexterity in performance” is a hallmark of Iranian classical music, Naqvi questions the educational ideologies underpinning understandings and valuations of musicality in Iranian classical music and how they are constructed and constrained in relation to religious doctrine.
Taking a closer look at one particular genre of music that often falls in the category of the improper, or even downright deleterious, Ketil Thorgersen and Thomas von Wachenfeldt consider the educational lessons that Black Metal music might have to offer school music education. Emphasizing the importance of musical and intellectual excellence and offering examples of many musicians displaying virtuosic ability and knowledge of diverse musical traditions, they explore Black Metal culture beyond the initial satanic, elitist, and misanthropic impressions one may have of the genre. Through the notion of cosmopolitanism, and interviews conducted with young musicians, Thorgersen and von Wachenfeldt approach Black Metal as a means and an analogy for music education to “explore, share, scrutinize, respect, and celebrate difference.” Thus, although Black Metal might at first seem antithetical to the humane goals of democratic music education, Thorgersen and von Wachenfeldt suggest that if the school were to enter the dark realms, we might find new potentials for a critical, discomforting, open-minded music education.
Part 4 explores social norms and values as they are constructed by and reflected in musical performance and transmission. The chapters each contribute a different perspective on the values that guide teaching and learning and how understandings of morality, and of music, can be strengthened, confined, or unsettled by (anti)religious doctrine or belief.
Part 5: Agency and Social Change
If, as some previous chapters attest, both music and religion can foster a sense of community among diverse individuals and cultivate connections between different worlds and within oneself, the four chapters in part 5 turn their attention to the processes by which this can take place. The focus here is on how individuals or social groups might be afforded agency in enacting or navigating social change, acting as part of religious, musical, or educational communities. Considering the implications of fostering social cohesion in music education for music teacher education, June Boyce-Tillman seeks new ways to bring together multiple and dynamic religious identities in an inclusive postsecular music education community. In her chapter, she describes her own recent work at a university in the United Kingdom. Through queering the value systems embedded in traditional classical music curriculum models and subverting heteropatriarchal church structures, she advocates for a more collaborative approach that embraces diversity and different spiritualities. Radical musical inclusivity, in this context, is a tool for reconciliation, for social justice, and for peace.
The notion of an in-between space in which different spiritualities, religions, and music can meet is explored by Laura Miettinen. She examines religion as part of higher music education teachers’ professional identity work in Israel, considering how teachers negotiate their own identifications when teaching students in a religiously oriented teaching context. Miettinen offers insights into the experiences of an Orthodox Jewish music teacher working within a segregated ultra-Orthodox Jewish educational context, in which religious values and norms define the boundaries of teaching content and method. Through the reflections of this teacher, Miettinen describes her work as a boundary worker, in that she acts as a bridge, but also a border, between different but related worlds. Such intercultural competence, she argues, can contribute to the formation of a liminal zone, a third space in which the ethical, cultural, and religious complexities of music education can engage in dialogue and produce new, culturally sensitive, ethically oriented understandings, learnings, and ways of interacting.
Exploring such an ethical commitment to promoting positive social change in and through music education, Iris M. Yob looks at three university outreach projects that aim to foster social unity among divided groups in the United Kingdom, address the needs of underprivileged youth in the United States, and offer music therapy and education to students with learning disabilities. The ways in which religion intersects work conducted in each of these three cases offers insights into the positive contributions and challenges that religion might bring to an education for social change. Yob suggests that if we are to work together in music, music educators need to take into account the complexities of lived experience, both religious and musical, in working toward mutual well-being and a common good. This entails the acknowledgment of sameness and difference and a commitment to the inclusion of all, even though inclusion may not always be comfortable.
Belal Badarne and Amira Ehrlich offer a dialogue between two sides of a society characterized by sociopolitical tensions and socioreligious segregation. As religiously observant music educators, Badarne and Ehrlich are each required to navigate numerous discrepancies between Jewish and Muslim religious doctrines and musical practices. Through an interreligious and intermusical conversation that dances “on the limits,” Badarne and Ehrlich are positioned as cultural change agents, challenging the divisive, segregated socioreligious norms of Israeli society in searching for new opportunities for mutual understanding and identification. They conclude that their chapter serves as an illustration of “small and simple acts of hope,” a model of collaboration in interreligious dialogue in music education. Yet it is also useful to engage in our own conversations with this chapter, hoping to fill the gaps that arise in our own research and teaching practices at the intersections of music, education, and religion.
Thus, having traversed considerable ground (indeed, venturing to “other worlds” and back), the chapters in this final part of the book illustrate what enacting social change at the nexus of music, education, and religion might look like in various contexts.
In the final contribution to the discussions in this book, Alexis Anja Kallio offers a response to the preceding chapters and a provocation for future theoretical and practical work. She firstly outlines the epistemological issues that arise from within and between the discussions presented in this volume, the first work attending to the intersection of music, education, and religion in decades. Accordingly, while the preceding chapters offer new insights, rich descriptions, and analyses, new ideas and questions are also raised, which Kallio suggests may provide the foundation for future conversations and inquiries. She invites readers to not only continue the rigorous work begun here in more depth, in different contexts, and by attending to new and different perspectives, but also to construct a critique of the emerging scholarship at the intersection of these three fields, so that we may challenge ourselves and each other in advancing our understandings and practices.
ALEXIS ANJA KALLIO is a music education researcher at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts–Helsinki, working as part of the Global Visions through Mobilizing Networks: Co-developing Intercultural Music Teacher Education in Finland, Israel, and Nepal project. She is coeditor of the Nordic Yearbook of Music Education Research.
HEIDI WESTERLUND is Professor of Music Education at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts–Helsinki, Finland. She currently leads two large-scale research projects: The Arts as Public Service: Strategic Steps towards Equality (ArtsEqual) and Global Visions through Mobilizing Networks: Co-developing Intercultural Music Teacher Education in Finland, Israel, and Nepal. She is coeditor of the book Collaborative Learning in Higher Music Education and editor-in-chief of the Finnish Journal of Music Education.
PHILIP ALPERSON is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is editor of What Is Music?, The Philosophy of the Visual Arts, and Diversity and Community and former editor of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
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