Christian Congregational Music: Local and Global Perspectives

Seminars 2015

2015 seminar sessions

The seminars at this year's conference present an opportunity for delegates to engage with one of the guest speakers in a small, graduate-style discussion.

  • Readings will be distributed ahead of time so that participants are able to come prepared for small group discussion.
  • On the booking form, you will be asked to select your first, second, and third choice for seminars. 
  • To keep the groups small, we will be limiting seminar participation to one seminar per delegate. We will make every effort to accommodate your indicated interests. You are not required to attend a seminar.
  • Seminars will run concurrently in Tuesday morning or afternoon sessions. 

Morning sessions:

Teresa Berger, Yale Divinity School: Gender Matters, in Christian Worship and Singing 

In this seminar, we will engage some of the basic methodological texts at the intersection of Christian worship, congregational singing, and gender theory. The goal is twofold, namely both to draw attention to this intersection as well as to make its theorizing productive for each participant’s own scholarly work and interests. The texts to be read will range broadly, that is to say, they will, for example, not be limited to issues of the female voice but also attend to constructions of masculinity.   

Carol Harrison, University of Oxford: 'Turning the Senses' through Singing in the Early Church

We will examine extracts from the work of early Christian bishops (Athanasius, Nicetas, Basil and Augustine) who were prompted to reflect on the effect which singing had on their congregations’ understanding and practice of the faith, paying special attention to the ways in which it was thought to turn the senses towards God and to communicate a grasp of the mysteries of the faith through performance and affective response. 

Fiona Magowan, Queen's University Belfast: Music and Conflict Transformation in Christian Worship

In this seminar we will consider the ways in which Christian music and dance have the capacity to be used in conflict resolution, as its properties allow listeners to hear, think and feel beyond the politics and sentiments of the everyday. Christian music, just as its doctrine provides not only a powerful corrective to transgression but offers its own discursive and practice-based framework (see de Nora 2011). It is inevitably contentious, however, since it also is subject to the fluctuations of what music comes to mean or not to mean at any given moment. Jean Paul Lederach (2014: 15) speaks of how ‘conflict opens a path, a holy path, toward revelation and reconciliation while Adorno (1973 cited in de Nora 2011: xiii) has noted that, ‘Ambiguity [has] provided a resource for innovative and contradictory structures of knowing and thus for critique’. This seminar examines the possibilities of knowing, transforming and analyzing the self through the words, senses and ways of hearing the sounds of praise and worship in intercultural settings. Rather than focusing on the debates around ‘worship wars’, we will consider the experiential challenges that conflicting elements of musical style, doctrine and emotional affect engender in different kinds of Christian music. We ask what kinds of problems are addressed philosophically and practically in the planning and preparation of music in worship. It is hoped that participants will also share some examples of Christian musics from their own research or backgrounds that have posed questions for other individuals, church elders or worshippers. 

Timothy Rommen, University of Pennsylvania: Mek Some Noise? Rethinking the Ethics of Style

Some years have passed since I wrote Mek Some Noise: Gospel Music and the Ethics of Style in Trinidad. This seminar will take a new journey through that monograph, paying particular attention to the concept of the ethics of style, which I developed in response to the specific ethnographic work I was conducting in Trinidad. My principal aim is to interrogate the possibilities that might exist for thinking with the ethics of style outside of this particular context? Is it a theoretical idea fitted so precisely to its milieu that it is, in effect, fixed in place, or can it be reconfigured such that it becomes more widely portable and useful? What, moreover, is gained and lost in that process? In order to facilitate  discussion, please read the book before the session.

Afternoon sessions: 

Vicki Brennan, University of Vermont: Media and Materiality in Congregational Music

In this seminar we will examine how congregational music is materialized and circulated through different media forms, such as sheet music, hymnals, sound recordings, videos, and the internet. We will focus on how processes of materialization, mediation, and circulation reshape religious practices and identities and consider the impact that these processes have on ways of hearing, seeing, feeling, and being. The seminar will discuss theoretical frameworks and methodologies that help us to understand how media enable transformations of self and experience that in turn leads to new imaginings of community and action both within and outside of Christian congregations.  

Joseph Palackal, Christian Musicological Society of India: Research Possibilities in the Christian Music of India 

Christian music of India is an emerging area of investigation that offers immense possibilities to researchers from multiple branches of academia. Christianity in India is as old as Christianity itself. The use of the Chaldean and Antiochene liturgies in Aramaic by the St. Thomas Christians connect India to the very source of Christianity in West Asia. From the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century onwards, India has opened its doors to all forms of Christian faith from the West. Consequently, Christian music in India is embedded in a multi-layered history of complex cultural interactions within India, and between India, West Asia, Europe, and America. The approximately thirty million Christians, who constitute about 2.5 percent of the total population of 1.25 billion, are as diverse linguistically, and culturally, as the country itself. The focus of this seminar will be on a wide range of topics that researchers can choose, from linguistic and theological studies of chant texts to transformation of melodies and thought processes, based on their interests and academic backgrounds. The seminar may change the participants’ perception of India. 

Lester Ruth, Duke Divinity School: Touching Christ's Sacramental Clothes: Exploring Charles Wesley's Hymns on the Lord's Supper as Theological Document

Methodist founder John Wesley once described a hymn collection from his brother, Charles, as a “little body of experimental and practical divinity.”  In 18th century Methodistspeak, that meant a collection of hymns was theology intended to be experienced and practiced.  Using this sentiment as a touchstone, this seminar will explore a specialized collection of Charles Wesley, his 166 eucharistic hymns, as such an example of theology in the form of lyrical congregational song.  What does it mean and what is involved to approach worship music as a historical, theological document?