Music, Education, and Religion

Intersections and Entanglements

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Alexis Anja Kallio, Philip Alperson, Heidi Westerlund
  • Bloomington: 
    Indiana University Press
    , September
     296 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Music, literature, and art—in general—offer access points to pursue the big (religious) philosophical questions. On the one hand, this setting was an obvious point of departure for musical education because, in the modern era, when culture and religion came together, it was generally shaped by a certain denomination.

For example, the Finnish (folk) song “Suvivirsi” and the German song by Paul Gerhard “Go Out, My Heart, and Seek Delight in Golden Sunshine” address in song form the (general) happiness of summer, yet are of religious origin. Both have their place among the songs of the Lutheran church. Musical education in the sense of “musical beauty” (Eduard Hanslick), on the other hand, could be carried out in a practically neutral manner and free from ideology. Now, in the postmodern era, in which large parts of the Western world are also post-Christian, there is a new question. How can religious music, both songs and instrumental music, be understood in a secular, polyreligious society?

Music, Education and Religion: Intersections and Entanglements, edited by Alexis Anja Kallio, Philip Alperson, and Heidi Westerlund, addresses this question on several levels. There is a double hermeneutic premise involved in both listening to and teaching music. Making music, like listening to music, implies both a receptive and a spontaneous aspect. Both instructors and students approach the music using their own frame of interpretation. Both musical and extramusical factors play a role here: “The rationale of this volume lies in the conviction that the various practical, social, cultural, ideological, and political constraints on music teaching and learning also engage with matters of religion” (1). How should this hermeneutic situation in musical education be handled under the aforementioned conditions? This study addresses this question in five steps, with an alternation of systematic and empirical studies, which complement each other.

Systematic questions are dealt with by Estelle R. Jorgensen, Westerlund, and others. The section “Tension and Negotiations” is about, among other things, the fundamental issue of religious elements in musical education. Alperson assumes for both students and instructors that in the process of reception and the spontaneity of musical experience there is a “selective affinity” at play. For listening to music and also making music there are both concordances and dissonances regarding how religion can play a part in education.

Empirical studies are increasingly found in the section “Identity and Community.” Musical education is examined with the examples of an Australian Catholic girls’ school, the transformation of Buddhist music tradition by Thai immigrants in the United States, and the current practice of musical education in Serbia. Lauri Väkevä systematically addresses the question of whether such practices are to be regarded as spiritual indoctrination or as a demonstration of cultural dialogue and exchange. In a further section, “Navigating New Worlds,” the issue of emotions and transcendence in musical experiences is traced under the general theme of “Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans.”

The social as well as the societal and critical factor of playing music and of musical education is examined in the last two parts of the study. The ancient conception of music, which connects aesthetic experience and ethics, is critically examined in the religious and theological adaption of the works “The Praise of Musicke” (1586) and “Apologia Musices” (1588). Alexis A. Kallio concludes by calling for a synthesis of the study in accordance with the motto of an open approach to the fields of music, education, and religion. The aspects concerned are overlaps, distinctions, connections, or conflicts between the three fields. Experiencing music and/or teaching music trains “polyphonic thinking” (according to composer Hans Zehnder). “Reaching beyond conceptions of music, education, and religion as distinct, fixed entities, this book invites the reader to consider the identities, cultures, values, and experiences of teachers, students, musicians, believers, and atheists alike as complex, dynamic and always in (re)formation” (278).

For every contribution there is a comprehensive bibliography provided for the topic covered. The use of the book is simplified by a comprehensive index (of names and topics). The book serves as a study volume for all those who are active in this field and provides both systematic reflections and useful empirical studies. A further impressive feature is the regional and religious breadth of the content presented and examined.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Wolfgang W. Müller holds a professorship of dogmatic theology at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland.

Date of Review: 
April 7, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Philip Alperson is professor emeritus of philosophy at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is editor of What is Music?The Philosophy of the Visual Arts, and Diversity and Community and past editor of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.

Alexis Anja Kallio is a music education researcher at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki, working as part of the Global Visions through Mobilizing Networks: Co-Developing Intercultural Music Teacher Education in Finland, Israel and Nepal project. She is co-editor of the Nordic Yearbook of Music Education Research.

Heidi Westerlund is professor of music education at Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland. She currently leads two large-scale research projects, The Arts as Public Service: Strategic Steps Towards Equality (ArtsEqual), and Global Visions through Mobilizing Networks: Co-Developing Intercultural Music Teacher Education in Finland, Israel and Nepal. She is co-editor of the book, Collaborative Learning in Higher Music Education, and Editor-in-chief of the Finnish Journal of Music Education.



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