The Transnationalization of Religion through Music

International Conference

Laboratoire de musicologie comparée et d’anthropologie de la musique (MCAM) de l’Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM)

The transnationalization of religion refers to the relocalization of beliefs, rituals and religious practices beyond state lines, in real or symbolic spaces, with the help of new imaginaries and narrative identities (Capone 2005). Although the analysis of religious transnationalization has revealed the various ways religion transcends borders, the role of music in this process is rarely addressed. Yet this role is essential in the transnationalization of universal religions like Islam and Christianity. Music also contributes to the migration of local religions, neotraditionalist movements, and cults associated with a particular area, such as Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santería, or Brazilian Candomble. Such musical phenomena, far from being new, gave birth to early religious globalizations (Irving 2010). For example, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Jesuits used baroque music to establish Roman Catholicism in China (Picard 2002), in Ethiopia (Damon 2009) and in the Andes (Carme 1989).

During the 20th century, the emergence of new means of transportation and communication accelerated musical transfers, which took place on a more global scale. As a result, transnational religious repertoires are today extremely diverse: African American gospel (Williams-Jones 1975), Japanese Christian rock (Stevens 2004), Swedish Muslim hip hop (Ackfeldt 2012), Hindu music in Martinique (Desroches 1996), Tanzanian Christian Choirs (Barz 2003), and Papua New Guinean Pentecostal hymns (Webb 2011).

The transnationalization of religion through music is historically linked to evangelism, slavery, and colonialism; it is also a by-product of the migration of the musicians, the circulation of song books, and the spread of recordings in physical and other forms: records, tapes, CDs, DVDs, radio, television, and the Internet. In all these situations, rhythms, melodies, lyrics, repertoires, dances, and instruments convey meanings that redefine worldviews, religious identities, rituals, prayers, and modes of divine presence.

By studying musical mobility and its reception in local contexts, this conference aims at understanding how music “migrates” along with religions, how it contributes to the construction of plural societies, and the fundamental role it plays in the creation and recreation of ideas, identities, and religious practices in a transnational context. This will make it possible to highlight misunderstandings and ambivalent musical postures, which are the products of transnational processes and which are created through various religious, aesthetic, or political choices. By bringing together musicologists, musical historians, ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, and sociologists of music, this conference will shed new light on a phenomenon mainly studied from a religious point of view. 

Call for Papers