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Reviewed by:
  • Music, Education, and Religion: Intersections and Entanglements ed. by Alexis Kallio, Philip Alperson and Heidi Westerlund
  • William M. Perrine
Alexis Kallio, Philip Alperson, and Heidi Westerlund, eds., Music, Education, and Religion: Intersections and Entanglements (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2019)

It is perhaps something of a truism–or at least a stereotype containing a grain of truth–that most academics, particularly in the United States, are notoriously bad when it comes to a scholarly discussion of religion. In scholarship on education, this results in unfortunate omissions within debates regarding the philosophical aims of curriculum. Religion, after all, is an inescapable part of everyday life for billions of human beings around the globe. To ignore religion is to ignore an important part of the human experience. Part of the problem in discussing religion is undoubtedly the conventions of academic discourse itself. To qualify as “research,” academic writing has generally been expected to place a degree of distance between the author and the content matter at hand. In the case of religion, this has involved a state of remove to an ostensibly neutral vantage point, typically a perspective grounded in a philosophical naturalism. This tendency is compounded by the pressure, particularly acute within secular institutions, to compartmentalize religious belief as a private matter that should not overtly inform one’s public professional practice. Thus, while a researcher in music or music education might have an active religious life in private, an open [End Page 117] integration of personal faith and teaching practice might be considered extraordinarily unprofessional—at least if the faith in question is socially déclassé. The obvious problem inherent in this framework for understanding the relationship between religion and professional life is that, particularly when it comes to questions of philosophy, religious faith is rarely a strictly personal matter. As Charles Taylor notes, religious faith as a lived human practice traditionally involves strong evaluations: determinations of right and wrong that supersede personal choice or preference.1 These evaluations often take the form of hypergoods, positions by which moral or truth claims must be weighed. Strong evaluations and hyper-goods by nature cannot be limited to the personal; they inform all areas of our intellectual, social, and professional lives. Such commitments tend to inform and precede other philosophical commitments, rather than vice versa. Pressure to minimize the importance of hypergoods can be a profound source of frustration for religious believers within the secular academy, particularly as the assumption that deep religious commitment is incompatible with a spirit of critical inquiry runs very deep. When the academic literature touches on matters of religious concern, either directly or indirectly, it seems to either minimize the complexity or concerns of traditional religious belief as lived experience, or privilege progressive forms of religious practice. At worst, academic discourse on religion is condescending, often coupled with class-based and socio-geographic prejudice against particular religious groups and beliefs.

With this framework in mind, I approached Music, Education, and Religion: Intersections and Entanglements with a degree of apprehension. Fortunately, editors Alexis Kallio, Philip Alperson, and Heidi Westerlund have put together an impressive volume that treats the complex relationship between music education and religious practice with the respect and sensitivity that the topic deserves. As the editors note in their introduction, music as a human practice cannot be artificially separated from religious beliefs. These domains are, as the volume’s subtitle makes clear, entangled through a multiplicity of intersections. The book itself consists of eighteen essays representing a wide array of viewpoints, case studies, and contextualized problems from around the world. The diversity of topics prohibits drawing any generalizable conclusions beyond the obvious observation that interaction with religion presents entanglements that cannot be ignored under an artificial banner of secular neutrality. As the first edited collection of essays in our discipline to tackle these problems in a substantive manner, however, the book is unquestionably successful in opening a space for critical discussion. With this in mind, rather than attempting to summarize each of the included chapters within this review, I will instead attempt to engage in conversation with some of the themes that emerge from the book from my own vantage point as a scholar...


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pp. 117-122
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