Jazz is often dubbed the greatest American original art form. This claim might be difficult to contend. But a close exploration of the folks...

Jazz is often dubbed the greatest American original art form. This claim might be difficult to contend. But a close exploration of the folks who created, listened, and participated in jazz environments can also tell us lot about the religious history of those people. In his new book, Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion (Oxford University Press, 2015), Jason Bivins, Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at NC State University, argues that Jazz is a unique and under-explored venue for investigating American religious history. Bivins explores Jazz through common components of religious communities and traditions, including as forms of ritual, institutional structures, practices of healing, and jazz cosmologies. He begins with an outline of the deep connections between jazz musicians and their relationships with specific religious traditions, including Islam, the Black church, Bah’ ethics, Buddhism, and Scientology. He also outlines how artists engage in historical self-reflection and the production of religious narratives. In our conversations we discussed analyzing religion in music, the difficulties and opportunities of examining wordless artifacts, spaces of religio-musical practice, the role of performative and improvisational aspects of jazz, the sonic architecture of metaphysical worlds, egolessness and the divine, racial imaginaries, and forms of American spirituality. Of course, we talked about a lot of wonderful musicians too, including John Carter, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marselies, John Coltrane, Mary Lou Williams, and Ornette Coleman. And when you are done listening to our conversation check out the listening guide, which has music video playlists for all the chapters of the book.


Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. His research and teaching interests include Theory and Methodology in the Study of Religion, Islamic Studies, Chinese Religions, Human Rights, and Media Studies. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at [email protected].

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