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September 2017
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The new book that includes many R&T authors, Secular Music and Sacred Theology, really should end in a question mark, so that it would read: Secular Music and Sacred Theology? Indeed, that was how the book started. Somewhere along the process, the question mark dropped out, but only on the cover, not in my head.

Adding the question mark would put in question whether “secular music” and “sacred theology” are the best way to denominate the two sets of phenomena we are trying to relate to each other in the book. I don’t think they are the best/clearest ways. In other words, I don’t want to let theology off the hook for also being, in a certain sense, a ‘secular’ exercise, nor do I want to let popular music get away with not being considered ‘sacred.’

The problem with both terms is that both ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ are pretty well worn-down to very fine armies of pencil-point definitions now in academic discourse, even though they still carry substantial weight in everyday language. In fact, as far as I can tell, one of the benefits of carefully exploring the relationship between music and theology is that neither one is able to stay on secure ground over against the other, whether those supposedly contrasting grounds are secular/sacred, good/bad, content/form, God/world, or any of the other common binaries that often help establish and structure theological work on contemporary culture.

That question mark is implied in the introduction that I wrote to the book, in which I tried to describe why popular music is important as a topic for theology and how one might go about imagining some of the moves to be made in a theological treatment of contemporary music. I’ll post some excerpts from that introduction eventually here at R&T.

That question mark is also implied in the final chapter of my last book, Witness to Dispossession: The Vocation of a Postmodern Theologian (Orbis, 2008). That chapter argues that there are good imaginative, historical and rhetorical grounds for seeing theology as a spiritually significant arrangement of cultural materials. I called that chapter “Witness to Dispossession: On the Way to a Pre-Christian Catholic Theology,” which was my best language for it at the time.

At any rate, keep in mind that question mark: Secular Music and Sacred Theology? It makes all the difference.

Tommy Beaudoin, Yonkers, New York

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