Call for Papers: The Transnationalization of Religion through Music. Montréal, Canada, 16-18 October 2014

The transnationalization of religion refers to the relocalization of beliefs, rituals and religious practices beyond state lines, in real or symbolic spaces, with the help of new imaginaries and narrative identities (Capone 2005). Although the analysis of religious transnationalization has revealed the various ways religion transcends borders, the role of music in this process is rarely addressed. Yet this role is essential in the transnationalization of universal religions like Islam and Christianity. Music also contributes to the migration of local religions, neotraditionalist movements, and cults associated with a particular area, such as Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santería, or Brazilian Candomble. Such musical phenomena, far from being new, gave birth to early religious globalizations (Irving 2010). For example, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Jesuits used baroque music to establish Roman Catholicism in China (Picard 2002), in Ethiopia (Damon 2009) and in the Andes (Carme 1989).
During the 20th century, the emergence of new means of transportation and communication accelerated musical transfers, which took place on a more global scale. As a result, transnational religious repertoires are today extremely diverse: African American gospel (Williams-Jones 1975), Japanese Christian rock (Stevens 2004), Swedish Muslim hip hop (Ackfeldt 2012), Hindu music in Martinique (Desroches 1996), Tanzanian Christian Choirs (Barz 2003), and Papua New Guinean Pentecostal hymns (Webb 2011).
The transnationalization of religion through music is historically linked to evangelism, slavery, and colonialism; it is also a by-product of the migration of the musicians, the circulation of song books, and the spread of recordings in physical and other forms: records, tapes, CDs, DVDs, radio, television, and the Internet. In all these situations, rhythms, melodies, lyrics, repertoires, dances, and instruments convey meanings that redefine worldviews, religious identities, rituals, prayers, and modes of divine presence.
By studying musical mobility and its reception in local contexts, this conference aims at understanding how music “migrates” along with religions, how it contributes to the construction of plural societies, and the fundamental role it plays in the creation and recreation of ideas, identities, and religious practices in a transnational context. This will make it possible to highlight misunderstandings and ambivalent musical postures, which are the products of transnational processes and which are created through various religious, aesthetic, or political choices. By bringing together musicologists, musical historians, ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, and sociologists of music, this conference will shed new light on a phenomenon mainly studied from a religious point of view.

Four themes will be explored:

    1. Transnationalization from a historical standpoint. Is the concept of transnationalization relevant in describing the early stages of religious spread, or should it be replaced by the concepts of globalization or internationalization? The transnationalization of religion as a process has greatly changed since the beginning of the 20th century and should be examined through a musical lens, paying particular attention to the development of new technologies and the ever increasing migration of musicians. The examination of these driving forces will reveal whether such changes are truly original or recurrences of older phenomena. While we will be primarily concerned with the diachronic dimension of the phenomenon, it will also be possible to model processes that reappeared under similar forms in various contexts and periods of history.
    2. New areas of fieldwork, new areas of study. The transnational nature of the music studied leads researchers to carry out fieldwork in both locally-based and multi-sited fieldworks (Marcus 1995). Although participative observation, interviews, and life story approach are still relevant, researchers sometimes need to corroborate their findings with second-hand sources, written or oral. In some instances, they must combine urban and rural surveys, while “cyber-fieldwork”, now unavoidable, sets various methodological problems. Addressing these issues will renew the way fieldwork is perceived in the social sciences.
    3. Process analysis. The goal of this theme is to clarify the process of religious transnationalization by examining the reception, appropriation, creation and distribution of musical practices and objects. The identification of the various forms and functions affecting music during this process should also be considered, as exemplified by the sacralization of secular music (or vice versa). The migration of musicians and their routes and networks are also of interest, as is the evolution or non-evolution of aesthetic values.
    4. Poles and scales of identification. Research has shown that religious transnationalization involves a double process: the homogenization of local worship practices and, concurrently, the reassertion of local identities (Hervieu-Léger 2001). From specific examples, an area for research might be how the conjunction of music and religion takes part in the standardization or diversification of the world. How the transnationalization of music is responsible for the creation of multiple identities is also a question that should be addressed. Comparing musical parameters with musicians’ discourses will reveal how each musical dimension is associated with the different aspects of identity, such as religion, nationality, ethnicity, and affiliation with imagined communities.

By focusing on phenomena of musical transnationalization in the specific contexts of religion and the diversity of global practices and beliefs, this conference will provide an opportunity to combine a vast array of fields and to compare works that are both historically and geographically distant.

Proposal Submission Guidelines
Each proposal, in French or English, should include:
• Author’s last and first name;
• Author’s institutional affiliation (please specify if you are a student);
• Author’s mailing address, phone number and e-mail;
• Author’s biography (up to 150 words);
• Author’s degrees by field, in reverse chronological order (up to 5);
• Author’s recent positions, if relevant, in reverse chronological order (up to 5);
• Author’s recent publications, in reverse chronological order (up to 5);
• Presentation title;
• Presentation abstract (750–1000 words) divided into three parts: subject (topics addressed), methodology, and conclusions;
• Selected bibliography (mandatory).

Lectures must last 20 minutes. Files should be sent as e-mail attachments (Word format) to The deadline is December 1st, 2013. The abstracts will be evaluated anonymously by a jury of international experts.
The OICRM will award two travel scholarships to the best applications from students living outside Montreal.

Scientific committee
Nathalie Fernando (Université de Montréal)
Hugo Ferran (Université de Montréal, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow)
Deirdre Meintel (Université de Montréal)
François Picard (Université de Paris-Sorbonne)
Kay Kaufman Shelemay (Harvard University)

Université de Montréal
Faculté de musique
Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique
Laboratoire de musicologie comparée et d’anthropologie de la musique
C.P. 6128, succ. Centre-Ville
Montréal (Québec) H3C 3J7
Phone | 514-343-6111, ext. 2801
E-mail |
Website |

Skip to content
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Facebook