Creating Belonging and Drawing Boundaries through Sacred Songs

Conveners: Alexandra Dick and Christoph Günther (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz).


Songs and music are a basic dimension of human practices. They encompass the use of various parts of the body, stimulate multi-sensory experiences, affect audiences, and promote senses of belonging even across language boundaries. In religious contexts, sacred songs provide specific means to convey particular religious norms, values, and beliefs that are reflected not only in the lyrics and compositions, but also in the performative dimension. Songs and music may, in addition, be understood as soundscapes (Hirschkind 2006) or sonic atmospheres (Eisenlohr 2018), which relate audiences to their environment and enable their co-vibration (Revers 1970: 73) during religious practices. Moreover, sacred songs are a potential means for believers to experience the transcendent in this world.


This panel brings together contributions that examine lyrics, composition, and performative practices with regard to the various ways in which sacred songs in different religious traditions help to establish and reinforce senses of religious and social belonging and boundaries. We want to shed light on how songs and music are used to create a collective We that is, positively accentuated, identified with the performers, appealed to, and set in relation to the blessings of the divine. Also, we want to get a better understanding of how sacred songs define and address a collective Other, negatively stigmatize or appeal to it, and eventually draw boundaries that also include the negation of promises of salvation.