Braxton Shelley

The Divinity School is pleased to announce that Braxton Shelley will deliver a lecture for the Black History Month lunchtime event series.

Tuesday, February 14, 12:00-1:30pm, Swift Hall Common Room.

Lunch will be provided (vegetarian options available).

This talk attends to the musical afterlife of the late Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson, a Pentecostal minister who, at the time of his death, served as presiding bishop of the largest African American Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). In it, I theorize the nexus of faith, media, and sound that lifted Bishop Patterson to the heights of ecclesial power during his lifetime, while laying the groundwork for a pervasive posthumous presence: broadcast religion. Placing Patterson’s life-long preoccupation with various modes of technical mediation in conversation with his extremely musical approach to preaching, I will show that Bishop Patterson’s technophilic Pentecostalism takes an enchanted view of devices like microphones, radios, televisions, and cameras, understanding each as a channel through which spiritual power can flow. As Patterson’s voice and broadcasting infrastructure produce intimacy with countless scriptural scenes, they cultivate an enduring immediacy that I refer to as Afterliveness. Transcending any single homiletic event, Afterliveness depends on sermonic sound reproduction, effected by Patterson through both the practice of recording and through ecstatic acts of musical repetition, a set of recurring musical procedures that endow the bishop’s ministry with an eternal pitch. 

Minister, musician, and musicologist, Braxton D. Shelley specializes in African American popular music. His research and critical interests, while especially focused on African American gospel performance, extend into media studies, sound studies, phenomenology, homiletics, and theology. His award-winning first book, Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination develops an analytical paradigm for gospel music that braids together resources from cognitive theory, ritual theory, and homiletics with studies of repetition, form, rhythm, and meter. Healing for the Soul is the winner of four book prizes, including: the Lewis Lockwood Award from the American Musicological Society, the Emerging Scholar Award-Book from the Society for Music Theory, the Ruth Stone Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology, and the inaugural Portia Maultsby Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology. His second book, An Eternal Pitch: Bishop G.E. Patterson, Broadcast Religion, and the Afterlives of Ecstasy is under contract with the University of California Press. Braxton D. Shelley received a BA in Music and History from Duke University, a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.