From Jesus Music to Lady Gaga

It comes as no surprise that the nation’s capitol has continued down the partisan path, while offering lip service to ideological equanimity. These dichotomies appear to be, to some extent, simply part of the human experience. And when it comes to religion and politics nowhere are these dichotomies quite as salient. A poignant reminder of the tenacity of human resolve, these topics (though often avoided at family gatherings) have for centuries been expressed by paint, chisel, and song. Throughout recorded history, humans have wedded art to the sacred, formalizing ritual as a means to contact or celebrate both the sacred and the unfettered personal muse. But after centuries of assigning categories such as “sacred” and “secular,” we now appear to be chipping away at a long cherished dualism.

Ironically, this blurring of worlds (at least for contemporary Americans) began during a Christian revival meant to galvanize young, baby boom evangelicals who were slated to share the Christian gospel before the apocalypse—and the primary tool was rock music. The apocalypse didn’t happen (at least as predicted) and a new industry was born—the subculture of popular evangelical music known as contemporary Christian (CCM). Historian David W. Stowe considers how current-day mainstream pop stars are often vocal about their religious belief. This hasn’t always been the case. But a precedent was set in the midst of the counterculture. During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the topic of Jesus seemed to emerge frequently within the unlikely world of rock ‘n’ roll, a genre once considered the Devil’s music by die-hard fundamentalists. Some references were “tongue in cheek” quips Stowe, and “few signaled a deep theological commitment.” Still, he notes, “it was hard to overlook that Jesus had turned into a highly resonant symbol for many ’60s youth.” Stowe’s account is a brief historical journey through an era of U.S. history marked by the ubiquity of a culturally iconic Jesus, the symbolic rebel for righteousness whose message was popularized in vernacular form through musicals, “secular” pop songs, and in the niche genre of Christian rock. Although baby boom evangelicals borrowed “organizing techniques pioneered years earlier by the New Left,” writes Stowe, Christian popular music has become a “critical component in the new conservatism.”

It may appear this marriage of conservative Christianity, politics, and rock ‘n’ roll merely reinforces theological dualism. But the fact that “secular” pop stars like Lady Gaga have entered the Jesus conversation indicates that cherished binaries such as sacred and profane are eroding, giving way to something entirely new—perhaps. Read the full article here.

Related articles:

Religion and Country Music By John Hayes, Wake Forest University
(Vol. 5, April 2010) Religion Compass

Both American and Global: Jazz and World Religions in the United States By David W. Stowe, Michigan State University (Vol. 5, May 2010) Religion Compass

Sound and American Religions By Isaac A. Weiner, University of North Carolina (Vol. 4, July 2009) Religion Compass

Punk, Metal and American Religions By Eileen Luhr, California State University, Long Beach (Vol. 5, July 2010) Religion Compass

Civil Religion and the History of Democratic Modernity: Probing the Limits of the Sacred and the Secular By Tom Crook, Oxford Brookes University (Vol. 5, June 2010) Religion Compass

The Religious Dimensions of Sustainability: Institutional Religions, Civil Society, and International Politics since the Turn of the Twentieth Century By Lucas Johnston, Wake Forest University (Vol. 5, March 2010) Religion Compass

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