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Singing the gospel: Using musical practices to build religious and racial communities


Allison Schnable
Working Paper #43, Summer 2011
Published in Poetics Volume 40, Issue 3,
June 2012, Pages 278–298

Abstract: How can musical traditions be used to create meaningful social bonds? In an ethnographic study of an African-American church, I examine the process by which the religious and musical practice of gospel singing creates social ties. Bonds are built not just in ritual moments of worship, but in “backstage” moments when vocal techniques are taught, shared understandings of religious lyrics are nurtured, and a “worshipful” subjectivity is cultivated. Gospel choir singing binds youth to the church and symbolically to the local and global black community. I use the concept of “practice” to bring to the fore the social contexts in which the act of singing takes place.

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