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Don’t forget about the new book

Posted in: General by Tom Beaudoin on November 30, 2013

You know, “the” new book? It’s been a while since I reminded R&T readers about Secular Music and Sacred Theology, the book featuring various R&T contributors. Check it out at the publisher’s website here or Amazon here.

Review of Secular Music and Sacred Theology

Posted in: General,Reviews by Tom Beaudoin on October 23, 2013

A review of Secular Music and Sacred Theology, written with contributions from many R&T authors, is online at “Catholic Books Review” here. (The reviewer slightly misstates my name, but better a good review with a little mistake than…) You can find our book SMST at the publisher’s website here or on amazon here

This was the original conclusion to my introductory chapter in the recently-published book Secular Music and Sacred Theology. This conclusion was not published in print, but I publish it here:


I conclude this introduction with a callback to where this chapter started, wondering about what theology is doing when it is doing cultural analysis. Building on the notion of pragmatic rehearsal, I develop a more encompassing metaphor for evaluating theological work on popular music, which means essentially the evaluation of “all” theological work: scorekeeping.

Theological work on music provides an opening into a larger truth about theological work: that it is the striving for “suitable music” through which to comment on individual and social life, on life’s eros as known in texts, practices, and ideas, that are always plugged into the electrical sockets of cultural scenes, actions, events, and surroundings. All theologies are also, though not only, soundtracks to theologians’ circumstances.

To interpret cultural practices theologically, which properly understood is to make any theological claim, is to “score” a cultural event as one would “score” a film—to attribute to it a certain meaning by the way in which you set music to images. But theologians scoring culture as a composer scores a (more…)

Several of the contributors to Rock and Theology wrote chapters for a book that has just been published, Secular Music and Sacred Theology (publisher page here, Amazon page here), a book that looks at different ways that popular (hip hop, punk, early rock, metal, and more) music can be spiritually/religiously/theologically significant — without reducing music to being merely a “tool” for religion. As the editor of the book, it was my responsibility to show the argument that the book as a whole is making about the relationship between theology and music, and I tried to do so by grouping the chapters according to three distinct ways in which the authors find in music something that is theologically meaningful. Here is an excerpt from my “Introduction” to the book, outlining those three ways and giving a sense of what is in the book:


In the first section, “Theology Through Artistry,” the authors situate the theological significance of music in relationship to the creative process of artistic invention. David Dault juxtaposes the music of Lou Reed with the theology of Karl Barth and the art of Yves Klein, so as to show how all three artists create works that try to name what exceeds naming. The ancient theological question of whether God can be comprehended in human terms is turned by Dault, in his chapter “To the Void: Karl Barth, Yves Klein, and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music,” into a triptych of rock and roll, theology, and visual art, all trying to let that which is profoundly other appear through their respective mediums. In the process, we are sensitized to the analogies among these forums of artistry, and while theology is not assimilated to music and art, it is located by Dault on an evocative map of family resemblances across genres for experiencing what cannot be grasped. Maeve Heaney, in “Musical Space: Living ‘In-Between’ the Christian and the Artistic Callings,” also finds juxtapositions to be a productive site for theological exploration. For her, the life and work of the artist houses a key tension in music culture that is theologically significant: the calling to be a Christian and the calling to be a musician. Heaney works with statements from musicians about their art and their faith, weaves in her own experience as a Christian musician, and finds in contemporary theology resources for making sense of these distinct and yet complementary callings. The deeper one goes, juxtapositions become comparisons, and comparisons become exchanges, or occasions for pursuing places of spiritual convergence and divergence. Through it all, the tensions among callings will be the place for theological work. Thus we have two different takes on why and how one can make musical artistry the center of theologically interested exploration.

The second section of the book, “Theology In Community,” investigates ways that music helps create communities of heightened moral consciousness. Michael Iafrate’s chapter “More Than Music: Notes on ‘Staying Punk’ in the Church and in Theology,” finds punk rock, and especially the ethics of punk culture, to be a robust place for theological appreciation and criticism. This is so especially because the personal and social commitments of punk and theology frequently coincide, and a theologically aware punk ethic can even help ground everyday adult life and the practice (more…)

A few weeks ago, the new book Secular Music and Sacred Theology was published. The chapters are written by many R&T contributors, and explore different ways that popular music can be connected to spirituality/religion/faith. I served as editor of the book and also wrote the introductory chapter. Here is an excerpt from my chapter, “Theology of Popular Culture as a Theological Exercise”…


Most people spend a lot of time enjoying music, but very little time asking why we care about it so much. In the United States, lots of people easily and passionately state that we like this or that song, band, or genre, but we have few occasions for asking how these choices connect up with what we think our lives are all about. This is perhaps easiest to see among young people. More than one teacher has observed that students today “live inside music. Their musical lives may well be their spiritual lives.” They (and their elders) find something “vital, vigorous, intense” in music. But they (and we) lack ways of integrating that pleasure into our larger lives, of thinking about how music relates to the bigger picture of our lives.

The authors in this book, in writing theology, care about “big picture” questions. Theological research focuses on what religious traditions have to do and say concerning the beings, books, and beliefs that people call holy, sacred, or somehow special. Certainly there are many fields of inquiry in (more…)

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 (more…)

In the world of Rock and Theology, my interests have hovered around the relationship of underground music cultures, social movements, and religion. In particular, I’ve been interested in the relationship of DIY punk music cultures (broadly defined) and spirituality/religion and have done some writing on this, most recently in an essay in the new Rock and Theology book, Secular Music and Sacred Theology. In my essay on “staying punk” as a theologian, I spend a good deal of time discussing one of the “patron saints” of punk rock, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Minor Threat, whose distinct voice within the many discussions of “punk ethics” has made me think not only about my own musical practices but about the practice of theology.

In December of last year, MacKaye and his wife Amy Farina released their third album as The Evens. The album, The Odds, is another great batch of MacKaye and Farina’s “quiet,” but still uncompromisingly political, punk rock. As I was preparing final edits to the chapter I submitted for the book, I was also reading the press’ discussion of MacKaye and The Evens, and I realized that, had I had more space, I could have discussed The Evens as great example of the traditioning of punk, of the way punk evolves — “grows up,” even — but stays true to its commitments.

The Evens’ recent string of interviews contain some discussion that might help to push forward some of the ideas I’ve been tossing about on theology and punk rock. (more…)

I am very happy to announce that the new book Secular Music and Sacred Theology has just been published by Liturgical Press. We will have a lot to say about this book in the coming months, and we think it is a book that Rock and Theology readers — and all who are interested in creative thinking about the relationship between theology/religion/spirituality and popular/secular music — will enjoy.

Secular Music and Sacred Theology is available in paperback or e-book format, and features many authors that R&T readers will recognize, each of whom write about how to relate theology/religion/spirituality to rock and roll/hip hop/secular/popular music. The authors include: David Dault, Maeve Heaney, Daniel White Hodge, Michael Iafrate, Jeff Keuss, Mary McDonough, Gina Messina-Dysert, Christian Scharen, and Myles Werntz. I edited the book and wrote the opening, introductory chapter.

This book will challenge readers to further clarify our thinking and to examine more deeply our own experience. It continually gets to the question: Why is music spiritually significant?

Please celebrate with us as we send this book out into the world, hoping it will connect!