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Hearing
Senses – hearing

Embodied and affective audial responses to congregational music (Day 2009) emerged in complex and multiple ways in the narratives of queer identifying religious youth, and are significantly shaped by their gender, sexuality and ‘age appropriate’ expectations. This essay explores the role music plays in these young people’s worship, their attitudes to ‘progressive’ and ‘traditional’ musical sounds and styles, and the approach taken by inclusive non-denominational churches, such as the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), to reconcile the different, and at times conflicting identities of its members.

Congregational music has the power to evoke deeply embedded emotional and embodied responses that go beyond the cognitive construction of identity (Sai-Chun Lau, 2006; Partridge, 2006; Ingalls et al, 2013). Ingalls et al. assert that the embodied experience of faith and spirituality is integral to shaping religious identities both in singular rituals and practices of everyday life. Music, they argue, is “particularly crucial to consider because it is frequently central to worship across a wide spectrum of liturgical forms. Rather than remaining separate from or subordinate to belief, experience – and the powerful emotions it involves – is integral to embodying it” (2013: 8). These embodied experiences of worship can be experienced through listening to music in certain Church environments and within religious ritualistic settings, and can be both individual and collective. In addition, this experience can be heightened through creating congregational music, again on a personal basis as well as part of an ‘imagined community’ through playing instruments and singing.

This affective, collective embodiment is experienced in complex and multiple ways by young people who identify as both Christian and queer. Queer identifying religious youth often negotiate complex and conflicting identities (Taylor and Snowdon 2014) and seek ‘spaces of reconciliation’. The role of music in formal Christian congregations, as well as in alternative spiritual youth subculture and queer scene spaces, evokes powerful embodied and affective experiences that key into these spaces and identities. It is therefore important to incorporate an embodied analytical approach that accounts for how certain music, sounds, rhythms, beats, instruments and even the audible volume of music is experienced through the bodies and particular spatial environments of participants. For example, in contrast to the assumption that young queers feel ill at ease with ‘tradition’- a result of this being associated with a more conservative, inherent disapproval of non-heterosexuality – many of our participants felt pulled towards traditional choral songs and hymns despite their young and queer signifiers.

Faith infused creativity, such as practicing singing, enables queer youth to do religion and Christianity, while negotiating their thoughts and feelings.Here we see how ‘spaces of reconciliation’ are embodied and felt through music, and in turn how the medium of music can play with notions of ‘imagined community’ for young people who wish to bridge the perceived opposition of Christian and Queer identities. With regard to the notion of ‘progressive temporality’ and the assumption that ‘youth’ and ‘queer’ are inherently incompatible with ‘tradition’, we analyse how certain music and ‘sounding religious’ or ‘sounding queer’ can represent ‘safe’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ spaces for queer identifying religious youth.

Works cited

Day, A. Believing in belonging: An ethnography of young people’s constructions of belief. Culture and Religion, 10:3 (2009), 263-278.

Day highlights the importance of affective relationships with religion, and the spatial environments described above reveal insightful way in which young queer participants perceive these religious environments.

Ingalls, M., C Landau and T. Wagner, Christian Congregational Music: Performance, Identity and Experience. Surry: Ashgate, 2013.

Ingalls et al. assert that the embodied experience of faith and spirituality is integral to shaping religious identities both in singular rituals and practices of everyday life. Music, they argue, is particularly crucial to consider because it is frequently central to worship across a wide spectrum of liturgical forms. “Rather than remaining separate from or subordinate to belief, experience – and the powerful emotions it involves – is integral to embodying it” (2013: 8). These embodied experiences of worship can be experienced through listening to music in certain church environments and within religious ritualistic settings, and can be both individual and collective. In addition, these experiences can be heightened through creating congregational music, again on a personal basis as well as part of an imagined community through playing instruments and singing.

Partridge, Christopher. “The spiritual and the revolutionary: alternative spirituality, British free festivals, and the emergence of rave culture”, Culture and Religion 7:1 (2006), 41-60.

The affective description of drums and flashing lights resonates with the sensual experiences highlighted in research into spiritual connections in youth rave culture and trance music Partridge describes the deep throbbing pulse of music, the smell of incense and the sensual experience of ‘transcendence’ in the spiritual trance parties in Goa where ‘that the music was connecting dancers to that which was beyond the mundane’ (2006: 47).

Sai-Chun Lau, S. “Churched Ibiza: Evangelical Christianity and Club Culture”, Culture and Religion, 7:1 (2006), 77-92.

This research demonstrates how music scenes are experienced through the (collective) body, providing affective description of drums, rhythmic beats and bass of trance music, smells of incense, the feeling of the ground under bare feet and flashing lights, in order to highlight the sensual experience of spiritual connection and belonging. This collective embodiment through music has also raised notions of a ‘surrogate family’ community brought about through this shared culture.

Taylor, Yvette and Ria Snowdon. Queering Religion, Religious Queers. London and New York: Routledge, 2014.

Queering Religion, Religious Queers how religious identity interplays with other forms and contexts of identity, specifically those related to sexual identity. It asks how these intersections are formed, negotiated and resisted across time and places: ‘contradictions’ are both privately and publicly inhabited in the context of legislative change and increasing, but often competing, socio-legal recognition. Considerations of ‘sexual citizenship’ are still positioned as separate from and indeed negated by, religious rights. Questions around ‘queer’ engagements in civil partnerships, marriage, and other practices (e.g. adoption) have created a number of provoking stances and policy provisions – but what remains unanswered is how people experience and situate themselves within sometimes competing, or ‘contradictory’, moments as ‘religious queers’ who may be tasked with ‘queering religion’.