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  • "Worshipping in My Head"Everyday Devotional Practices and Disciplines of Listening among Ghanaian Christians
  • Florian Carl

Taking as a starting point the premise that listening is a historically and socially constituted practice, in this article I examine ways of listening as an integral part of everyday devotional practices among Ghanaian Christians. My specific interest is in how technologically mediated practices of listening are part of the formation and transformation of religious subjectivity and how listening is framed as a religious and devotional practice. In particular, I focus on how recorded music features in the everyday lives of born-again believers and how they use Christian popular music for religious purposes and in negotiating their identity as Christians. Building on earlier research on the ritual use of music in the context of charismatic church services (Carl, 2012, 2014, 2015), in this article I concentrate on disciplines of listening as a form of ritualized behavior in the everyday lives of believers.

Gospel music is extraordinarily popular in Ghana, as an integral feature of Christian worship as well as a part of the broader cultural landscape. John Collins (2004, 2012) has stressed the close connection between the rise of gospel music and the emergence of Charismatism from the 1980s onward. In his seminal article on Ghanaian Christianity and popular entertainment, he situated gospel highlife and forms of popular social dance in a broader historical context, showing how, since the late 19th century, popular entertainment and Christianity in Ghana have continuously cross-fertilized each other, forming what he calls a "creative circular relationship" (Collins, 2004, p. 421). This creative feedback has, Collins argues, after the 1970s, also led to the emergence of "popular Christianity" as a "transcultural urban phenomenon" (p. 421). Abamfo Atiemo (2006), on the other hand, provided us with a useful overview of Ghanaian gospel music, focusing on Akan song texts from different time periods and arguing for their [End Page 45] social and religious significance as a "depository of the authentic historical spirituality of Ghanaians" (p. 158). Both Atiemo and Collins stress the significance of gospel music as a reflection of people's hopes, aspirations, and beliefs. In contrast, my own approach is less a semiotic one that asks how music reflects broader sociocultural and historical processes, but more a practice-centered approach that asks how people actually experience and actively engage with existing forms that circulate in the mediascape. My interest is, in other words, in how Christian music features in religious ritual and in the everyday lives of believers: what they do with music, and what it does to them. How does music not just reflect, but actually shape religious subjectivities, and how is music used as everyday devotional practice?

There are a host of studies of music in everyday life that serve as a model for my own study. Research that is situated within the social psychology of music has mostly employed quantitative methods.1 Perhaps the most important contribution of this strand of research is, as Adrian North and David Hargreaves (2008) noted, that "it has quantified the value of music to people in their everyday lives" (p. 142). For instance, a study that we conducted in Ghana found that participants spent at least half of their waking hours listening to some form of music, and gospel featured in more than a third of the episodes that were recorded (Carl & Kutsidzo, 2016). One of the most detailed qualitative studies to date remains Tia DeNora's Music in Everyday Life (2000; see also Crafts, Cavicchi, & Keil, 1993). Focusing on "private or one-to-one forms of human-music interaction" and using observation and ethnographic interviews, DeNora (2000) analyzed how British and North American women used recorded music as a mode of self-regulation and self-modulation or, as she terms it, "technology of self" (p. 46). "Music is," DeNora summarizes, "a material that actors use to elaborate, to fill out and fill in, to themselves and to others, modes of aesthetic agency and, with it, subjective stances and identities" (p. 74). As such, she further notes, music plays a crucial role in the constitution of subjectivity, not merely as an object of experience, but as a cultural resource...


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