The Politics of Liturgical “Musicking”

Publication Date



A key premise of the Western “art” music tradition is music’s purported universal, transcendental, and autonomous essence. Opposition to this view is now axiomatic in the methodological assumptions of ethnomusicology and cultural musicology, but the implications of these emerging, critical, practice oriented paradigms do not sufficiently shape the study of liturgical “musicking”—to appropriate Christopher Small’s neologism.

This investigation considers congregational musicking as a socially embodied practice in three diverse, urban congregations. Focus lies not only on public ritualization but also on liturgical music planning and preparation and the various ways that worshippers can contribute to the shaping of collective practice. A composite methodological lens juxtaposes practice oriented approaches within the disciplines of ritual studies, music sociology, and critical musicology to ask a liturgical theology question: How is a congregation’s liturgical musicking congruent with its liturgical leaders’ stated commitments to cultivating diverse, inclusive community? Within each church’s particular liturgical ecology, how does musicking afford accessible participation, facilitate a holistic presence to God and fellow worshippers, and empower the development of aptitudes for embodying inclusive community?

Ultimately, this study asks not merely what music practices mean but what they do. Specifically, how do the collective ritualized appropriations of particular musical forms and other liturgical music practices afford a more holistic liturgical encounter with God and cultivate a community that embodies—in the twenty-first century—the Apostle Paul’s first-century call for unity in diversity and equality among “Jew” and “Greek,” “slave” and “free,” “male and female” (Gal. 3:28 NRSV).

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)

First Advisor

Johnson, Todd E.

Document Type





Church music, Liturgics, Music in churches, Ministers of music, Public worship


Missions and World Christianity


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