Can a Song Save the World? The Dynamics of Protest Music, Spirituality, and Violence in the Context of the 'War on Terror'

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Title: Can a Song Save the World? The Dynamics of Protest Music, Spirituality, and Violence in the Context of the 'War on Terror'
Authors: Levesque, Lauren M.
Date: 2012
Abstract: In this dissertation, I construct and apply an adequate approach to the study of contemporary protest music in the discipline of spirituality. The purpose of this construction and application is twofold. First, I emphasize the ambiguity, complexity, and multiplicity of protest music as a genre and as a performance space. Second, I seek to broaden what scholars in spirituality consider valuable and viable examples of protest music in their discipline. By valuable and viable, I mean those examples that can act as sources of insight and as methodological frameworks. The dissertation is divided into five chapters. The first three chapters address issues of methodology. In Chapter One, I contextualize my research by discussing the history of spiritually-motivated peace activism in the United States. I focus on the capacities to imagine and to build a positive peace in the lives and works of particular activists. The examples explored provide precedents for a consideration of an ‘engaged spirituality’ in the contemporary United States. The spaces created by this spirituality, I propose, can be understood as mirroring those generated in protest music performances. Chapter Two is an examination of the methodological steps needed to construct an adequate approach to the study of protest music. The steps include stating my hypothesis that protest music is a source of insight into the delegitimizing of violence. To substantiate this hypothesis, I discuss working definitions of music, spirituality, and violence and explore the idea of delegitimizing violence in theological, religious, and musical engagements with the ‘war on terror.’ Out of these definitions and explorations, I suggest that an adequate approach to protest music begins by creatively shifting one’s methodological starting point from spirituality to music. This shift is evident in the work of select scholars in the discipline of spirituality who examine the dynamics of natural and urban spaces. By dynamics, I mean the relationships that structure these spaces. By effecting a shift from spirituality to spatial dynamics, the scholars discussed broaden their sources of insight. I argue that their scholarship exemplifies the principles of creativity, interdisciplinarity, and literacy. In Chapter Three, I utilize the above-mentioned principles to construct an adequate approach to protest music. For the purposes of my research, however, the principle of literacy is not geared toward natural and urban spaces but toward the spaces created in musical performance. I therefore discuss the importance of music literacy in this chapter. Although creativity, interdisciplinarity, and music literacy are extent in select works on popular music in theology, religious studies, and spirituality, I query whether approaches that use spirituality as their starting point are adequate for the study of protest music written in response to the ‘war on terror.’ To answer this question, I ‘follow the flow’ of protest music performances in Chapter Four. By following the flow, I mean understanding these performances according to protest music scholarship. Chapter Four comprises an application of the constructed approach to popular music performances, including those of protest music. I not only use musical performance as my starting point but also demonstrate literacy in protest music scholarship. The understandings provided by this scholarship suggest that performance is a space in which those participating imagine and live out alternative ways of being in the world; alternatives with the prospect of contributing to peaceful social and political change. I discuss the performances of Neil Young’s 2006 “Living With War” album as an in-depth example of these alternatives. In Chapter Five, I weave together comments on protest music, space, and spirituality. Based on this weaving, in the Conclusion, I suggest that protest music performances can be used as methodological frameworks to re-vision engaged spirituality. One re-visioning is that scholars in the discipline of spirituality can be understood as artists who create imaginative and performative spaces with which to dream up and live out a more just and peaceful world. Through these spaces, scholars in this discipline contribute to and sustain the hope that options, other than violence and war, exist to address the threat of future terrorist attacks.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/24368
http://dx.doi.org/10.20381/ruor-802
CollectionThèses Saint-Paul // Saint Paul Theses
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