Research in ILT Review 1: The Role of Popular Music in the Construction of Alternative Spiritual Identities and Ideologies

Now that I determined my research topic, engaging with music to form community identity, what is next? As a newbie to action research, who can I look to for guidance on my topic? According to Remi Holden, professor of my INTE 6720-Research in Information and Learning Technologies (ILT) course, the next step is to critically consume others’ scholarly research related to my topic. As I learn from similar research projects, I hope to improve my action research technique.

Becca Argenbright, my ILT Research classmate, taught me to access Auraria Library, apply filters (scholarly/peer-reviewed and full text online), and search key words. With the key words spiritual, identity, and music, I located Gordon Lynch‘s article “The Role of Popular Music in the Construction of Alternative Spiritual Identities and Ideologies” from the Journal for Scientific Study of Religion. I chose this article because of its close relation to my research topic and its potential to enrich my study.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jssr.2006.45.issue-4/issuetoc

My specific action research topic is, “How is community identity impacted through engaging with music in the spiritual space known as “A” center?” I am a stakeholder at “A” center and often times we sing nontraditional hymns such as “Rocky Mountain High” or “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out”. Granted these songs are not current songs, but most people recognize them in American culture. I wonder how the music performed and sung at “A” center impacts the community and their identity-formation.

In the article, Gordon Lynch compares the work of Christopher Partridge’s “The Re-enchantment of the West” and Graham St John’s “Rave Culture and Religion” and “Culture and Religion” through the following questions:

  • How popular music “audiences” use pop music as a source of religious identity and ideology?
  • How does music function as a medium for shaping religious identity?
  • What specifically does music do to people?
  • What do people concretely do with music to shape religious identity, belief, and experience?

In the work of Partridge and St John, Lynch finds that both researchers demonstrated evidence that alternative spiritual beliefs affect popular music and culture. However, Lynch says there is a gap in the explanation of how people physically or mentally use music to create new spiritual identities or meanings.

Lynch’s study consisted of 39 semistructured interviews with “clubbers” outside their dance club environment. In this study, the night club is identified at the religious center for the clubbers. The results were not clear, nor listed. Lynch explained the results as the exploration of cultural discourses through which “clubbers”  sense their experiences, but did not address the role of music as a source of identity-formation. Lynch concludes that the study had significant limitation much like Partridge and St John’s research.

It seems the questions Lynch asked did not stress the importance of how music specifically and concretely shaped community identity. I plan to explore the following questions that Lynch outlined above, while paying special attention to his previous limitations:

  • How does music function as a medium for shaping religious identity?
  • What specifically does music do to people?
  • What do people concretely do with music to shape religious identity, belief, and experience?

Lynch suggests his research along with Partridge and St John, is lacking the cultural, familiar importance individuals attach to music as studied by Tia DeNora in Music in everyday life.

Arguing against the view that the meaning and influence of music lies in its structural and semiotic properties, DeNora has engaged in extensive fieldwork to explore the significance and meanings that music can have for people in lived, everyday settings (Lynch, 2006, p.486).

DeNora’s study explored the sociology of music’s impact on identity. I found Lynch’s summary of DeNora’s questions to be insightful beacons for my research. DeNora’s research addressed the following questions (Lynch, 2006): 

  • What are the different social settings in which people listen to music?
  • How does one’s musical taste differ between waking up, going to church, driving a car, etc?
  • What was the aesthetic and affective aspects of the experience of listening to music?
  • Are there certain kinds of emotion that are important for absorbing ideas from music?
  • Is the process of religious identity-formation through popular music actually as much a process of learning to feel about one’s self and the world in particular ways, as one of learning to think about it in certain ways?
  • What is the specific aural quality of music?
  • In what ways might religious identity-formation through listening to popular music be different to religious identity-formation through, for example, watching film or visiting websites?
  • Are there particular ways in which alternative spiritual ideologies are encoded and decoded through the aural properties of different genres of popular music?

In my research, I plan to take Lynch’s limitations and suggestions to heart. Even though the results of Lynch’s research were inconclusive, I learned the terrain of my action research topic. If I can implement De Nora’s insights into my research agenda and data collection, then I may be able to avoid the gaps others faced.

I have the utmost respect for Gordon Lynch’s work and appreciate his contribution.

References

De Nora, T. 2000. Music in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lynch, G. (2006) The Role of Popular Music in the Construction of Alternative Spiritual Identities and Ideologies. The Scientific Study of Religion. 45(4): 481-488

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