Jazz, religion, and the construction of radical place meanings

Authors: Edward Davis*, Emory & Henry College
Topics: Cultural Geography, Religion, Political Geography
Keywords: music, religion, revolution
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Studio 9, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Spirits Rejoicing (2015) by Jason C. Bivins reinterprets American religious history in light of the destabilizing power of jazz. He argues that we may define much of the practice of both religious experience and jazz music as "spirits rejoicing" - something at once orderly and chaotic, stable and unstable. For example, Charles Mingus wrote jazz compositions that not only drew widely from church influences, but also sought to break down the conformist tendencies of religious beliefs. Singer Abbey Lincoln spoke often of how African spirituality was at the root of her music, and its liberating and democratic power were both deeply personal and political.
Geographers have much to gain from applying Bivins' ideas about jazz music and religion. Place meaning, for example, is the product of both ritual and improvisation, both serious structure and playful creativity. We can secure solidity for a space through the use of ritual in both religions and jazz performance. We can dissolve previous place meanings and construct new ones through improvisational practices. But if we speak of such powers, the obvious question is, can a community use this for significant political power? Can jazz music or religion really be revolutionary? In any way that matters? This paper relates Bivins' analysis of jazz and religion to the work of historian Cornel West on race and democracy. The goal: to see if religion and jazz music, as conceived by Bivins, are compatible with a post-colonial understanding of American society and the construction of radical place meanings.

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