Monday, August 30, 2010

Musicians Might Learn a Thing or Two from Theologians

This is a two-way street, or at least I hope so. While popular musicians and artists have the edge by way of inventive practices and techniques of composition (sampling, looping, remixing, etc.), theologians who have studied within a religious tradition have something to offer. At the very least, they offer depth and complexity, which can help those within the networks and flows of popular culture better navigate the resources available to them. How can these more complex ideas be best presented? And how can they be placed into creative juxtapositions with other religious  "breaks" and "beats" within mashup religion, in order to invent theological ideas that are potentially helpful?

Theologians Might Learn a Thing or Two From Pop Musicians

For many people in developed nations, the religious life takes place at the intersection between religious traditions, religious or quasi-religious ideologies, and popular culture. Religious resources, which in the past were the sole property of traditional communities of belief, are disseminated widely through popular media such as the Internet, radio, and television. For years, sociologists have been heralding this shift, showing how traditional religious resources now take their place alongside a huge range of resources minted within the networks and flows of popular culture.

In this context, lived religion resembles a mashup. In the world of popular music, a mashup is a song consisting entirely of parts of other songs. Usually, the work of one musical artist is sampled and broken into bits. These bits are placed into juxtaposition with sampled bits of music created by several other artists. The result is a musical pastiche that, in the final analysis, becomes something very different from its original prototype. By analogy, people who “do religion” today tend to take the ideas within particular religious traditions and mash them up using ideas gleaned from many other resources, some religious and some not. In the process, for better or worse, they invent new theological ideas and models.

In the context of mashup religion, theologians are losing their inventive edge to other forms of cultural production. Musicians and other popular artists are using new technologies in the service of artistic invention, and in some cases in the service of theological invention. Whereas some theologians use newer technologies to spruce up the presentation of traditional ideas, they do not use them to aid in the invention of new ideas. Theological lecturers and preachers use presentation software to project pictures and video-clips to help them teach the same ideas they’ve taught for years using handouts and slide shows. Religious journalists and bloggers use the Internet to present and disseminate preconceived ideas. Most Contemporary Christian and Praise and Worship musicians use recent music technologies to dress up conservative evangelical theologies in the rhythms and sounds of pop music.

What goes missing are the ways recent technologies, and the inventive practices they foster, can help theologians, in a variety of contexts (higher education, ministry, journalism, music, activism, etc.) in the actual invention of new and useful theological ideas.

 (the paragraphs above are from the Introduction of my forthcoming book, Mashup Religion: Pop Music and Theological Invention (Baylor University Press, forthcoming, Fall, 2011).

This blog is devoted to investigating and resourcing some of the ways theologians can learn from these resources within popular culture