The relationship between music and religion can be found across many different religions such as Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Since ancient times, religious ceremonies and worship have always involved music and this has been evidenced by traditions across different cultures and geographic regions.
Religions have undergone significant changes since its founding. The associated musical traditions are emblematic of the diverse musical practices originating from religion. For example, bronze instruments from Indonesia are used in Hindu meditative music, while Christian music incorporates musical elements including but not limited to the Gregorian chants, Russian Orthodox choir, rock band music. Even across the same religious traditions, there are divergent musical practices from different regions around the world.
Despite the diversity, musical practices have become an indispensable component of religion and have great values in people’s religious lives. What makes music so important in religions? What purpose does music serve in religions?
Religious music is a way for people to express their feelings.
It creates a safe space for people to connect with their deeper thoughts in a way that words may not be able to. People in Zimbabwe make use of music to show gratitude towards their God and to engage in worship activities thanking their religious deity for providing a great harvest season or hunting season. One purpose of religious music is to strengthen the effects of words and lyrics that are being sung.
There is a significant emotional dimension to churchgoing music as it often facilitates an outpouring of emotions by worshipers. Religious music can also be seen as a form of proselytization where potential worshippers are attracted via music to join existing worshippers.
Religious music also has a psychological effect on people by eliciting various emotions and thought patterns.
A study by Bradshaw (et al., 2014) indicates that some religious music like gospel music sends the “message of hope and optimism”. It suggests that the more frequently people listen to religious music, the less anxious one feels about death; they are also more satisfied with their lives and enhance their self-esteem. This psychological effect is further proved by Demmrich (2018) where he found that the musical experience could trigger positive emotions for the religious experience, though it is yet to be answered whether this effect is a pure neuropsychological phenomenon, a cultural thing, or a combination of both.
Meanwhile, scholars propose that religious music could function as a subtle cue associated with moral standards (Lang, et al., 2016). They found that music in religion develops specific meanings and creates sacred cues that could influence the normative behaviors of people. From the perspective of early childhood education, Yeni (2017) indicates that learning and singing Islamic songs are beneficial for children to develop a sense of moral and religious values. As Islamic songs are close to the world of children and are rich in moral messages, Yeni believes that teaching Islamic songs will increase the active participation of children and let them apply the messages contained in the music.
Moreover, religious music serves the purpose of unifying people.
As Nash (2018) wrote, the values of religious music are to “encourage participation and build community”. Group solidarity is evident in group behaviors and mentalities especially when people are giving praise and expressing gratitude to a higher power together. Myrick (2017) made some observations about worshippers, where he noticed that when religious music is performed, the audience began to physically engage with the music by swaying side to side.
Myrick described such engagement to be stronger over time in the way that the swaying was more synchronized and unified; even those who did not move started to sway along eventually. Music is a key to building solidarity in their group and facilitating harmony in the church.
In modern times, people of cultural backgrounds who share the same religious beliefs may come together to worship in the same church, where religious music functions as developing a sense of belonging to the community as well as a sense of collective identity. It is through music that people feel connected and included no matter they are with different ethnic backgrounds or being in diaspora.
With Sound Infusion, an online educational tool that allows them to compose music with musical instruments around the world, students can try to incorporate new musical instruments into religious music. Sound Infusion encourages students to be creative by composing their own original music. There are no rules and boundaries when it comes to music composition. While students can freely explore all sorts of musical instruments, they can gain more knowledge about those musical instruments by using the map provided.
It provides great educational value as it gives them a better idea of exactly what instruments they are using including their origins and cultural information. Music in religion is constantly evolving in terms of harmony, complexity, and diversity. Students can make use of Sound Infusion to add their own twist and ideas to religious music.