Music in American Religious Experience: Individuals and Communities

Music in American Religious Experience: 
Individuals and Communities

Friday, January 25, 2008
9:30 AM-3:30 PM
Swift Hall, 1025 E. 58th Street
The University of Chicago

From chant to chorale to hip-hop, music is a cultural form. In religious contexts music tells us something about religious experience as well as shapes our religious experiences. Gathering musicians, theologians, clergy, historians of religious music, and ethnomusicologists, this conference explored religious cultural contexts in America, the logic of music in these contexts, and the formative power of music in religious experience.

This second conference of the Border Crossing Project brought together all of these people to look at the place of music in religious life. The conference furthered the project’s goal of encouraging collaboration between clergy and scholars around questions of teaching, ministry, and vocation.

The conference opened with two scholars offering a set of lenses for looking at music in religious experience. Two panels then reflected on actual music practices from a variety of perspectives—liturgical, theological, anthropological, etc.—using those lenses. There were several music presentations through the day. Participants, both clergy and academic, took away new ways of understanding music practice, in their own religious communities and in society.

Audio recordings of the conference will soon be available. Please contact Daniel Sack ( if you want to be informed when they are posted online.


10:00 Keynotes

Welcome—Daniel Sack, Administrator, Border Crossing Project

"The Life and Work of the Hymn in America”—Philip Bohlman, Mary Werkman Distinguished Service Professor of Humanities and Music, University of Chicago

“‘Sing them over again to me’: Hymns and the Shaping of Evangelicalism”—Edith Blumhofer, Professor of History and Director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, Wheaton College

11:15 Break

11:30 Responding to music 1

Music evokes rich reactions, both intellectual and emotional. Those reactions are often shaped by our vocational and disciplinary places. Three panelists will react to two musical presentations and invite reactions from the audience.

“Oh, Come all ye Faithful”—St. Luke Lutheran Church, Chicago, 2002
Brother Love (

Frank Burch Brown, Frederick Doyle Kershner Professor of Religion & the Arts, Christian Theological Seminary
Alisha Lola Jones, Ph.D. student in ethnomusicology, University of Chicago
Susan Swanson, Pastor, Luther Memorial Church, Chicago

Preview of upcoming PBS documentary, “Sounds of Faith,” produced by Shakeela Z. Hassan, MD, Associate Professor Emerita, University of Chicago

12:45 PM Lunch

1:30 PM Responding to music 2

Esa Eynai (Psalm 121), Max Janowski—University of Chicago Motet Choir, Tambra Black, cantor, James Kallembach, director
Psalm 121, Gregorian Chant, Tone 2—Members of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel Choir

Deborah Bard, Cantor at KAM Isaiah Israel 
Lorraine Brugh, University Organist, Valparaiso University
Anne Knafl, PhD. Student, University of Chicago Divinity School

2:45 PM Closing reflections

The conference concluded with some reflections on the day's discussions. Some of the conference planning committee members went first, inviting the audience's thoughts. Here are some questions they considered.

  • What is the most interesting thing you heard during the conference?
  • Clergy, musicians, and scholars have different perspectives on music and religion. What can these different perspectives teach each other?
  • What do we learn about the religious lives of individuals and/or congregations when we pay attention to music?

The conference is sponsored by the Border Crossing Project, an initiative at the Divinity School focusing on the relationship of the professions of teaching and ministry. The project is supported by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.