Amy DeRogatis, associate professor of Religion and American Culture at Michigan State University and the author of Moral Geographies: Maps, Missionaries, and the American Frontier, is conducting a graduate seminar this semester on religion and American culture; periodically, we'll be posting some thoughts from her students in our guest-blogging series.
Today's guest blogger, Shawn David Young, is a Ph.D. student in the American studies department at Michigan State University. He holds the M.A. in American culture studies from Washington University, St. Louis and the B.S. in music industry studies from Appalachian State University. He is interested in researching the formation of dogmatism and apocalyptic fundamentalism within the contemporary Christian music youth culture, and its alignment with the religious right.
Gods on the Stage, by Shawn David Young
Crossposted from: http://religionandpopularmusic.blogspot.com/
The typical rock and roll stage elevates the performer to a position which could imply a kind of status above the fan. Technology amplifies messages and illuminates images: corporal, rhetorical and visceral. This intentional position gives the rock star a kind of privileged role in the minds of fandom. Whether they admit it or not, to the fan of Christian rock the stage is a place where they are privy to information given by “vessels of God.” The fact that the star is positioned in such a manner might give some fans a sense of misplaced authority when listening and viewing.
My concern is not with the (perhaps) benign teenage idolizing of the all-too-familiar American music icon. My concern is with the overuse of power, marketing, and positioning when an artist proclaims a message rooted in meta-narratives. While message music has played an important role in American history, particularly protest music, the need seems less appropriate and the danger more severe when the subject discussed deals less with concrete issues such as equal rights and more with religious ideology (ideologies which have been argued for hundred of years).
Fundamentalism of any brand becomes quite dangerous if married to corporate money and power. The messages embedded reach young ears, perhaps untrained in philosophical inquiry. The musings of the latest Christian rock star trumps years of theological and political research. These messages appear to take priority over intellectual inquiry. While I agree with William James’ anti-intellectualism as it pertained to religious experience and personal encounter, I also agree with James’ call to avoid the systematizing or dogmatizing of these experiences. James would, perhaps, cherish the life-changing moment the teenager experienced at the concert. However, it is possible he would caution the recipient of the moment to avoid extending the experience beyond the bounds of that particular moment. The teen need not proselytize based on what the musician shouts from the stage. But they do. Some attend concerts for simple pleasure. Many more attend to receive their marching orders, albeit subtly. Vernacular religious music exists as a tool for conversion, as well as the alternative to the mainstream “secular.”
While I applaud the need and the use of age-appropriate music (regardless of religious affiliation), I wonder how the next generation of voters within the ranks of neo-evangelicalism will act. From what frames of reference will they gain insight into the complexities of American life and culture? Will they seek the nuances of the American experience, or will they be content with the weekend youth group conference, sound bites attempting to contain complexity within simplicity?