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Title: The Politics of Real Spirituality in Gospel Music Discourse and Practice
Authors: Hunter, Cory Wendell
Advisors: Agawu, Kofi
Contributors: Music Department
Keywords: Black
Subjects: Music
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Black gospel music has historically been a site of contention and debate about what constitutes “real spirituality.” Despite the diverse meanings that it evokes, the rhetoric of the real continues to pervade the discourse and music of gospel artists. “Real spirituality” connotes an understanding of God and God’s work in everyday living; it entails a genuine relationship with God and an earnest desire for God’s will to be fulfilled on earth. This dissertation shows how artists use various musical and discursive practices as strategies to authenticate and redefine their spirituality. Although scholars have documented the early history of gospel music throughout the mid-twentieth century, current gospel practices and emerging conceptions of spirituality have not been examined. Gospel artists are increasingly engaging in various practices to reconceptualize existing notions of spirituality. Artists have recently released love albums to demonstrate that God and sex need not be opposed and that religious beliefs are not necessarily incompatible with physical desire. In addition to love albums, gospel artists have embraced multiculturalism by asserting through their music that ethnic inclusion reflects God’s divine will; these albums stress the oneness of humanity. At the same time gospel music aspires to a global reach, it also affirms its own communities through worship albums that seek to validate a personal relationship with God. Lastly, I discuss how gospel artists have exposed their flaws through reality TV to demonstrate that perfection is not a requirement for having a real relationship with God. Drawing on hours of fieldwork at gospel conferences, countless personal interviews, and intensive critical analyses of online and televised interviews, I examine how gospel artists discuss their spirituality in relation to four genres of contemporary gospel practice: love albums, multiculturalism, worship albums, and reality TV. I also analyze the entire construct of the contemporary gospel album, including text, music, and visual images. My analyses reveal how artists harness each practice to renegotiate identity and to challenge how their listeners interpret God. Finally, I suggest how these practices are used as methods of evangelizing that attempt to maintain the relevance of the black church within contemporary popular culture.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Music

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