Traces of the Spirit: The Religious Dimensions of Popular Music

Front Cover
NYU Press, 2002 - Music - 291 pages

"Sylvan's thesis furnishes far more of the same valued experiences than is usually realized: ritual activity, communal ceremony, a philosophy and worldview, a code for living one's life, a cultural identity, a social structure, a sense of belonging, and crucially, Sylvan argues encounters with the numinous."
—Journal of Religion
Most studies of the religious significance of popular music focus on music lyrics, offering little insight into the religious aspects of the music itself. Traces of the Spirit examines the religious dimensions of popular music subcultures, charting the influence and religious aspects of popular music in mainstream culture today and analyzing the religious significance of the audience's experiences, rituals, and worldviews. Sylvan contends that popular music subcultures serve the function of religious communities and represent a new and significant religious phenomenon.
Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork using interviews and participant observation, Sylvan examines such subcultures as the Deadheads, raves and their participants, metalheads, and Hip Hop culture. Based on these case studies, he offers a comprehensive theoretical framework in which to study music and popular culture. In addition, he traces the history of West African possession religion from Africa to the diaspora to its integration into American popular music in such genres as the blues, rock and roll, and contemporary musical youth subcultures.


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


The Connection between Music
West African Possession Religion
Popular Music Subcultures
The Dance Music Continuum
Stairway to Heaven Highway
105 Steve Silberman interview by author tape recording Berkeley Calif
96 Malcolm interview by author tape recording Oakland Calif 12

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 37 - I would suggest that, among other things, ritual represents the creation of a controlled environment where the variables (ie, the accidents) of ordinary life may be displaced precisely because they are felt to be so overwhelmingly present and powerful. Ritual is a means of performing the way things ought to be in conscious tension to the way things are in such a way that this ritualized perfection is recollected in the ordinary, uncontrolled, course of things.
Page 43 - Our tradition teaches us that sound is God — Nada Brahma. That is, musical sound and the musical experience are steps to the realization of the self. We view music as a kind of spiritual discipline that raises one's inner being to divine peacefulness and bliss. We are taught that one of the fundamental goals a Hindu works toward in his lifetime is a knowledge of the true meaning of the...

About the author (2002)

Robin Sylvan is Assistant Professor of Religion and the Arts at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Bibliographic information