The Unanswered Question: Music and Theory of Religion

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Christopher I. Lehrich Department of Religion, College of Arts and Sciences Boston University 145 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215 USA

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Several of the great “founding fathers” of theory of religion discerned a deep connection between religion and music, particularly Western “classical” music. Our relatively recent acceptance that “religion” as universal category was an early modern European invention should prompt suspicion that this connection is historically specific. Yet while scholars in many disciplines have recognized the importance of music in Western imagination, modern scholars of religion have largely ignored it. This article surveys three important discussions of music and religion, in Rudolf Otto, Johan Huizinga, and Max Weber, to provide groundwork for rethinking an important, unanswered question. In conclusion, some preliminary remarks are made about reconstituting this question in contemporary theory, using a brief discussion of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to suggest the potential value of treating Western music as a discourse of imagining religion.

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