Book and Theory Background
Daniel J. Levitin wrote an absolutely brilliant book called The World in Six Songs, supported by a great website with the many music samples referenced, among other great related material.
My basic paraphrasing of the concept is this. All the songs in the world could be fit into at least one of six categories providing an evolutionary benefit to humanity, often ultimately tied to our social nature.
The book and website offer far more detailed interpretations, of course, but I will expand on my paraphrasing with each post and the associated topic.
In a series of posts, I will describe each of the six categories in brief, one at a time:
I will describe what the categories are about because they are not as limited in scope as the category names suggest. I will then supply one of my choices and ask all readers to do the same if they so wish. In the seventh post of the series, I will offer the chance to put the song choices all together so readers can read the entire set on one post. I do this because it would be a long post to describe all six categories at once, but to have all the answers in one place might be nice.
This post focuses on Songs of Religion
July 30th add-on in italics, from Dan Levitin in a summary article
Religious ceremonies and ritual go hand in hand, with music frequently accompanying a ritual. Music acts as a retrieval mechanism to guide the movements and words of a particular ritual, and ritual can allow people to stop worrying and focus on the task at hand. Music is also tied to religious ceremonies such as weddings and funerals where acts can be performed as a community, providing social bonding.
Songs of religion are not simply songs about religion. In fact, the songs of knowledge post showed how the Oral Torah was really a song of knowledge, not religion, even if its lyrics were all about religion. Songs of religion are really ritual songs intended to give meaning to something greater than just the subject itself. Furthermore, this meaning is attached to a belief system that establishes some sort of “social” order, both, less and more than us. It is this search for meaning, a self-conscious act of awareness on our part, for our place in this order which truly separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. However, it is what we embrace in this search, in turn, that has benefited us in evolution.
In our search for something greater that is part of our religious beliefs, we embrace sets of rituals that exist in all religions. Religion gives meaning to these rituals that have little meaning on their own otherwise. Just look at rituals in religions foreign to you and see how you feel about them compared to those in your own. However, those not familiar with your religion would have no different overall reactions to rituals in your religion. Pages 194-195 has a great list of 11 rituals universal to all religions, though, which is an absolutely fascinating read!
Now, the rituals of religion come in two flavours: self-rituals and group rituals. Self-rituals tend to be of the type which promotes survival, like not murdering others or coveting their mates which could cause conflict among us that is not good for survival. Rituals also mean the actions get repeated, which helps survival if all the actions were good for survival. As for religion’s role, religion gives self-ritual self-meaning, like what it could mean for someone in their current and/or afterlife. Religion also monitors external and internal states for danger in guiding rituals to be done at various times throughout life.
Like it does for self-rituals, religion gives group rituals group meaning and monitors internal and external states to the group. This is the more important benefit to evolution when compared to the self. This is because group rituals promote group activities, which not only protect us from ourselves but also from other factors of harm to us, and better than individuals could do alone. Group rituals are essential to religion because one cannot find a place within a greater social order if there were no one or nothing else around oneself to create this social order.
Finally, all rituals, with their meanings given by religion, are intended to reduce ambiguity in life by changing the state of the world into something more exacting. It also lets us move on with our lives with the direction given so we don’t subject ourselves to situations not beneficial to our survival.
At this point, I would like to insert a note to say that while the general big picture descriptions of religion described in the World in Six Songs are beneficial to evolution, when it comes to the main organized religions in human history, I’m not sure I would concur. I think modern organized religions have become so warped from the spirit of religion’s concept I would debate whether it has had net benefit on humanity or net hindrance. Ironically, this has been since we supposedly have become “civilized”. So much wrong has been done in the name of organized religion, or hidden by it, that I really do think we could do better without it. I think we’d be better off if we only embraced religion in its intent rather than its meanings that it often has no business giving. Organized religion is just a pretense to guide us as if those leading it knew what were happening when they have no idea.
Songs associated with rituals mean there is a time and a place for songs of religion, with consequences. Thus, funeral and wedding marches count, but not national anthems or Christmas carols. There are places and times for national anthems, football fight songs and Christmas carols when you could break out in one or the other, and there wouldn’t be much problem. Try the same with funeral or wedding marches, especially the former, and there might well be. Children’s songs where participants move parts of their body selectively also count as songs of religion because of their ritualistic nature. This practice to develop motor coordination through repetition when we are young and learning is also of benefit to us evolutionally. Finally, gospel songs are religious songs, and it was mentioned that Dan Dennett had suggested that atheists should have pro science gospel songs as atheism doesn’t have gospel religious songs — a thought I, both, like and found tremendously amusing.
Audio sample of songs from the Religion chapter in The World in Six Songs can be found on the website. No direct link was available, but click on the Songs menu option and appropriate page number range link carrying pages 189 to 228. Please note that not all songs are meant as samples of Religion songs. Some are just referenced material in the book text.
Overall, I found this chapter on songs of religion to be very profound and deep, as it should be considering the subject matter. Despite the long post, I have only touched upon the many things Daniel Levitin touched upon for which there is much to think about each.
Author Daniel Levitin chose
My choice for Song of Religion is
Lacrymosa , by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from his incomplete Requiem (funeral music), K. 626, that is magnificent from beginning to end.
It seems the current opinion is that only the first 8 bars were actually written by Mozart, with the rest under instruction for completion. However, listening to it, sounds like the instructions were pretty complete to me.
I have had the pleasure to sing this piece in choir and, well, let’s just say when you hear this piece with all the parts around you, singing one part, that’s when you really “get” the genius of Mozart.
I have also heard this version sung whereby the choir stopped at where it was thought Mozart stopped composing (I believed that version was about 8 bars into the vocal section), and they just stopped dead and walked off. It was so moving, the reminder that Fate doesn’t care for what we do and stops where it wants, that I cried in realizing the finality of it all.
Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March, from his Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35, also works well. This version is by Vladimir Horowitz. Masterful!
(the music, not video which is just black which might be appropriate but boring as heck)
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu from his Requiem is also a favourite of mine. I have also sung this in choir. Sissel Kyrkjebø does a beautiful job here!
I don’t know what to say about all the funeral music selections here. I LOVE classical funeral music for some reason. It gives me such peace and lets me focus incredibly well. I especially like writing anything I need to focus and be concise on to it. Obviously, I don’t blog to it.
What is your choice for Song of Religion?
Please leave your choice as a comment.
Lyrics and YouTube/audio link would greatly enhance your answer so readers can know more about your choice. They are not necessary, though, and not possible if no lyrics or version exist.
You can include songs you wrote as a choice, too!
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 10.7
One thought on “What’s Your Song of Religion? (Part 5 of 7 on the World in Six Songs)”
Amazing Grace sung by Leann Rimes
Kumbaya My Lord
Sister Janet Mead sings The Lord’s Prayer
Jesus Christ Superstar
Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood
The Staple Singers — I’ll Take You There
I Say a Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin
I say a little prayer from the movie My Best’s Wedding
Lyrics to “I say a little prayer for you”