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Searching for Transcendence: Research into Music and Religion

by YPU Admin on September 29, 2016, Comments. Tags: Humanities, music, Religion, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Hannah Burton and I’m currently studying for a PhD in theology and music. As an undergraduate I studied Music at the University of Liverpool, and then moved back to Manchester where I completed a Masters in Religions and Theology. I enjoy the diversity of this subject – especially in a city such as Manchester where a people from a wide variety of religious backgrounds live, work, and have an impact upon the city’s culture. I’m particularly interested in the ways in which people feel they experience religion, or God, in their lives, and my research tries to understand how music can enable this experience for individuals.


In Depth

Music plays a prominent and important role in many religions as part of prayer and worship, and so it seems reasonable to explore how it might create an experience of and a direct connection with something transcendent, or God. To do this, it is useful to have a case study of attitudes toward both religion and music, and examine the similarities and differences therein. Therefore, my research analyses the writings of several early nineteenth-century scholars from the fields of theology, philosophy, and music criticism. Most prominent are FDE Schleiermacher and ETA Hoffmann.


Schleiermacher was a theologian writing at the turn of the nineteenth century. His ideas about religion were radically new at that time – he encouraged his readers to concentrate less on religion’s rituals and doctrine (the in-depth beliefs and ‘rules’ of religion) and to focus instead on having a religious intuition and feeling. He rejected the idea that having a great knowledge of religion was key, and argued, on the other hand, that the essence of religion is being able to perceive, recognise, and feel and presence of the transcendent (or God) in the world around us. However, because the transcendent is not of our world, we can never fully reach or understand it. Nevertheless, Schleiermacher maintains that we must continue to strive to intuit and feel transcendence by engaging closely with everyday objects and experience in our lives.


ETA Hoffmann was a theatre director, composer, and music critic writing at around the same time as Schleiermacher. Some of his best-known writing about music includes interesting ideas about how music reveals an ‘unknown realm’ of ‘spirits’ that is outside of our world. Though music creates a glimpse of this realm, Hoffmann claims that it does not reveal it completely, and so music’s listeners often feel a sense of ‘yearning’ for what Hoffmann notably calls ‘transcendence.’

So there are certainly parallels between these two theories of religion and music! I hope to be able to show, through my research and by looking at some musical examples, that there are particular features in music that enable us to experience, intuit, feel, and yearn from, transcendence. I also hope that this case study might shed some light on how music might continue to evoke an experience of God and transcendence today, particularly across different genres and contexts.


Going Further

Some faith communities and organisations blog about their perspective on the place of music within religion and theology, such as these examples:

https://www.rca.org/resources/theology-and-place-music-worship

http://www.theworshipcommunity.com/theology-of-music-part-one/

To find out more about how music affects us, have a look at this blog post written by a neuroscientist: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-graziano/why-is-mozart-a-religious_b_875352.html

If you want to know more about studying Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester, have a look at our department’s webpage: http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/religionstheology

 

Combining Cultures Through Music

Introduction

My name is José Guillermo Puello. I grew up in the Dominican Republic where I went to a French school. When I finished school I came to the UK to study music at university. I recently graduated with a PhD in Composition from the University of Manchester. My research focused on the integration of Dominican music and culture with European contemporary concert music. My thesis consisted of seven original pieces of music, including works for orchestra, for small chamber ensemble, duets and trios. I decided to pursue this area because I wanted my music to reflect my background. As the research progressed, I became interested in how the audience perceived the music and how I could integrate extra-musical elements into my music.

When I started my undergraduate degree, I never thought I was going to do a Master’s degree, let alone a PhD. It was towards the end of my second year that I started to integrate Dominican dance music (i.e. merengue) into my compositions. I continued to develop this throughout my third year and my Master’s. As a result, my style became clearer and my Masters supervisor suggested that I do the doctorate. These past four years doing the PhD provided the opportunity to better define what I want my music to be.

In depth

My doctoral research focused on integrating Dominican cultural elements into my music, building strong musical structures and developing my rhythmic language. To this effect, I researched the music of other Latin American composers, such as Astor Piazzolla, Amadeo Roldán, Tania León, Julio Alberto Hernandez, Alberto Ginastera and Leo Brouwer, to evaluate how they incorporated Latin American elements into their music. I also researched the music of other composers, such as Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Debussy, Bartók, Berio and Ligeti, to understand how other composers dealt with rhythm, folk music and the articulation of musical structures.

The act of composing is not just writing notes on the page but also of listening, studying and problem-solving. I don’t think I know of any composer that just sits down to write the music in their head. I always compare composing to an architect designing a building. It very often starts with a concept/idea that the composer/architect tries to realise using the techniques they have developed and borrowing/adapting the ideas and techniques of others.

During my PhD, my research into Dominican culture mainly influenced the concept of the piece that I was composing. For example, I wrote an orchestral piece based on a religious ritual and another based on a Dominican poem. As I read about the Dominican Republic and its history I realised that the fusion I was creating in my music could be compared to the melting pot of cultures that shaped Dominican history. The music, whilst taking inspiration in Dominican music, is closer in style to the music of European composers (i.e. contemporary classical music) than to merengue or salsa songs.

One of the most gratifying aspects of being a composer is writing for and collaborating with other talented musicians. I have been fortunate enough to have my music performed by a number of professional and amateur ensembles, including Manchester Camerata, Psappha, The Fourth Wall Ensemble and Quatuor Danel, in the UK, Europe, Canada, USA and the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, each new piece brings its own challenges, which provides the opportunity to keep learning and to keep imagining new musical possibilities.

Going further

If you would like to know more about the University of Manchester Music Department and the very active Manchester University Music Society, you can visit the following websites:

- http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/music/

-  http://www.mumusicsociety.co.uk

You can visit my website: www.joseguillermopuello.com or listen to my music on soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/jgpuello  

Below are some links to pieces that I have listened to and studied as part of my PhD.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

The video has a five-minute introduction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq1q6u3mLSM

Piazzolla’s Adios Nonino

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTPec8z5vdY

Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, French Horn and Piano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQTNEx4P3qU

Juan Luis Guerra Todo tiene su hora (merengue song)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4s_5gfCNhY

Berio’s Sequenza III (for voice)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGovCafPQAE

Birtwistle’s Ritual Fragment

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAIKZiXPDRA

Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f4qdJHatNM

Debussy’s La mer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlR9rDJMEiQ

Varèse’s Ionisation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wClwaBuFOJA

Brouwer’s El decameron negro

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbcW8X73MBI

 

Witchcraft and demonic possession!

by YPU Admin on July 9, 2015, Comments. Tags: demons, french, history, Humanities, imagery, medieval, Religion, Research, theology, and witchcraft

Introduction

My name is Tom and I am embarking on a PhD in History at the University of Manchester this autumn. I studied for my BA in History at Manchester and I’m currently finishing my masters in Gender History at the University of Glasgow. In between these courses I spent a year working as an English Language Assistant in two secondary schools in Lille, France. During my undergraduate studies I developed a passion for early modern beliefs about the supernatural and I wrote a dissertation on sixteenth-century French demonological treatises (you could call these witch-hunting manuals!). My research has now taken me to the phenomenon of demonic possession in sixteenth and seventeenth-century France and England, particularly on how possession narratives contributed to the cultural construction of the body.

In Depth

Demonic Possession may seem strange to us now, something you expect to see in a horror film, but during the early modern period it was an extremely important phenomenon. There were perhaps thousands of cases of possession and exorcism across continental Europe, including France, during the early modern period (c. 1500-1800).Young boys and girls, often teenagers or young adults, were recorded as having seizures, possessing unnatural strength, speaking in ‘foreign tongues’, levitating and spitting out objects like pins and nails. There are many cases in France where entire convents of nuns were said to be possessed by the devil. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, when Western Christianity split and Protestant churches emerged, demonic possession and exorcism acted as a vehicle of religious propaganda, a way of showing which religious denomination God favoured.

However it was also an important phenomenon for everyday people. Men and women flocked to see public exorcisms in France and there was a booming book trade which centred on stories of demoniacs (a possessed person) which would rival the best Stephen King novel. In this way demonic possession can be viewed as a type of performance, even a form of mass-entertainment. This is where my research centres. I’m interested in why demonic possession was such an important phenomenon in this period but also how it affected other areas of people’s lives. I look at the use of the body within the performance of demonic possession and how it was written about and understood. I use a wealth of documentation left behind, from the trials of witches accused of causing possession, personal and witness testimonies of possessions and exorcisms and the wealth of printed books which distributed these narratives to a mass audience. In doing so I hope to shed light on how beliefs surrounding the supernatural were connected to early modern cultural ideas about the body and the life-cycle.

I developed my interest for this area of history in my final year of undergraduate studies during a module on Witch-Hunting in Early Modern Europe and I was supported by my supervisors in developing this project. Having French language skills made this a viable PhD project and so if I could give one word of advice it would be to learn a language! Not only do languages give you a competitive edge in academia or on the job market but they’re actually pretty fun and (cliché alert) really do take you places. It was fantastic having the opportunity to live in France and practice my French for a year. I gained life-long friends and memories plus I’ve picked up practical skills in the process. It’s never too late to learn either! I started learning Latin this year and in fact your first year at university is the perfect time to experiment. Manchester’s University Language Centre lets you take a language as part of any degree programme. You may not have clicked with French, German or Spanish at school but have you ever thought about Portuguese, Polish, Chinese or even Arabic? Try it and who knows where you’ll end up!

Going Further

There really is a wealth of on-line resources out there on early modern Europe and the Supernatural. Also, in 2016 there will be an exhibition, “Magic and the Expanding Early Modern World”, at John Rylands Library on Deansgate!

15-Minute History: “Demonic Possession” in Early Modern Europe (Podcast) (http://15minutehistory.org/2013/10/23/demonic-possession-in-early-modern-europe/)

The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (http://www.shca.ed.ac.uk/Research/witches/)

The Damned Art: The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (Internet Exhibition) (http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/specialcollections/virtualexhibitions/damnedart/)

The Many-Headed Monster (Blog) (https://manyheadedmonster.wordpress.com/)

The Pendle Witch Trial (Documentary) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv-JDUfADiw)

A helpful website on European Witchcraft (http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/index.html)

Women and the Early Modern Witch Hunts (Blog Post) (http://www.jesswatson.co.uk/post/78990856670/women-and-the-early-modern-witch-hunts)


 

Investigating Latin American Culture in Manchester

Introduction

My name is Nicola and I’m in the third year of a PhD in Latin American Cultural Studies. I did A-levels in Spanish, English Literature and History and went on to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, spending my year abroad in the north of Chile. After returning to Chile for another year to teach English, and then doing a Masters in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, I began my PhD which looks at how members of the British public engage with Latin American culture in the city of Manchester.


In Depth

The first thing to point out about studying Spanish (or any language) at university level is that it’s not just about the language! While your language skills are obviously important and will be developed, you will also spend lots of time studying foreign cultures and how other people around the world live and express themselves. This can involve studying literature, film, music, art, history, religion and indigenous cultures. And, in the case of Spanish, you don’t just study Spain, but also Latin America!

After doing my undergraduate degree and Masters, and living in Chile, I found myself particularly interested in how Latin America is perceived in Britain. Latin American culture, such as salsa classes, music, food and films have become popular in this country over the past couple of decades, yet Latin Americans are a relatively small immigrant population in the UK and not many people travel there, although both have started to increase in recent years. My research therefore investigates how Latin American culture is produced in the city of Manchester and how members of the public consume it.

My research focuses in particular on the annual ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the Cornerhouse cinema. I analyse how the film festival is produced, the reasons why they choose some films over others, why they choose particular images to publicise the festival. By interviewing members of the audience, I can find out whether these choices influence the way members of the audience envisage Latin America, or if there are other factors to be considered, such as how the media portrays Latin America. My research also investigates what attracts British people to Latin American culture, especially whether it stems from a cosmopolitan concern to understand others around the world, something particular to Latin American culture and/or disenchantment with contemporary British culture and society.


Going Further

See what you think of the ¡Viva! film festival at their website: http://www.cornerhouse.org/viva2014?no-redir

For information on studying Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/splas

For more information on Latin Americans in the UK, you might like to read this report on the Latin American community in London: http://www.geog.qmul.ac.uk/docs/research/latinamerican/48637.pdf


 

You might be a cyborg!

Introduction

My name is Scott Midson and I'm in the third year of a PhD in Religions & Theology (R&T). In my research, I look at how technology changes the way that we think about ourselves. More specifically, I explore the idea of ‘creation’, which is an important religious idea, and ask what it means to re-create ourselves or to create things like robots.


In depth

I didn't always know I was going to be studying robots and religion, though! Going back a few years, I came to university (at Manchester) with an interest in the sociology of religion. I didn't study religion at A-Level but was given a place on the ‘BA Religions & Theology (Religion & Society)’ programme because of my interest in the subject. Here, I looked more and more at ideas about technology and how new media technologies influence our beliefs. I then took a year out and did some travelling, but when I returned to the department as a postgraduate, I came across a very interesting essay by Donna Haraway called ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, and I loved it so much that I ended up writing a PhD thesis on it!

In the essay, cyborgs are used as metaphors for the ways that we interact with technology and how we cannot separate ourselves from the technologies that we use everyday. Think about the technologies you use everyday: could you live without your computer, for example? Or your mobile phone? Or what if you had no access to a clock – how would this affect you and society? We are cyborgs, the argument goes, because we live so closely with our technologies.

But not everybody likes the idea that we are cyborgs. For some people, there is a limit to how much we should embrace technology – think here of dangerous robot-like cyborgs in ‘The Terminator’ or ‘Star Trek’. Or, imagine that a new technology becomes available that would surgically implant your phone in your body. Would you want it? Would it be any different to always having your phone with you in your pocket?

A lot of people fear invasive technologies like this, and a big part of my research is finding out why. This is where I link what I study to religion: in Christian theology, humans are described as created in the ‘image of God’. Although what the ‘image of God’ means is unclear, there seems to be a link between the ‘natural’ state of humans (i.e. when they were created by God) and the use of ‘unnatural’ technologies. I thus question religious ideas about the ‘natural’ human and the ‘image of God’ in order to look at how we can use the cyborg metaphor better and not fear it so much.

Going further

One of the best things about what I study is how frequently these themes and topics appear in popular culture. Most sci-fi films and books make reference to how technology changes the human, and you’d be surprised at how many of them involve religious and theological ideas in some way! If you’re interested in this topic, then a good place to start exploring further is to ask how technology is portrayed next time you watch a (sci-fi) film.

 Other useful sources to get you started are:

Charlie Brooker’s TV miniseries ‘Black Mirror’ (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/black-mirror/) – all episodes are available online (but many do contain some shocking images and offensive language)

I keep a research blog where I post intermittently on films, programmes, and even billboards that catch my attention (http://scadhu.blogspot.co.uk) (I also tweet some stuff about my research - @scadhu)

This ‘cyborg anthropology’ site (http://cyborganthropology.com/Main_Page) gives a fairly good and accessible overview of the metaphor of the cyborg

If you’re interested more generally in the sort of stuff we get up to in Religions & Theology at Manchester (we don’t all want to be priests or vicars!), then check out this page (http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/religionstheology/). Alternatively, the Lincoln Theological Institute (LTI) page (http://religionandcivilsociety.com/lti/) shows some of the more specific work that some people in the department do. The LTI is a think-tank that does its own projects but is connected to the University of Manchester R&T department.