Abstract: This article presents the ethnographically driven multi-method research perspective of vernacular religion and analyses its potential to contribute to the theoretical advancement of Jewish studies. The ongoing discussion on religion and change within the study of religions in general and Jewish studies in particular is outlined and structured around three ‘turns’ identified in the research on vernacular religiosity. To exemplify these theoretical and methodological considerations, a recently initiated research project focusing on vernacular Judaism in Finland is presented. This project seeks to examine central ideas of boundaries as they are negotiated and interpreted among Finnish Jewry, to compare the emerging patterns with Nordic counterparts and thus contribute to a more nuanced perception of Jewish identities in these contexts. The article concludes with a discussion on the advances of such an approach, pointing to the relative novelty of research into vernacular religion within Jewish studies and the exceptionality of the Finnish Jewish context.
Topics: Main Topic: Other, Ethnography, Jewish Music, Liturgy, Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism, Religious Observance and Practice
Abstract: This book analyses religion and change in relation to music within the context of contemporary progressive Judaism. It argues that music plays a central role as a driving force for religious change, comprising several elements seen as central to contemporary religiosity in general: participation, embodiment, experience, emotions and creativity. Focusing on the progressive Anglo-Jewish milieu today, the study investigates how responses to these processes of change are negotiated individually and collectively and what role is allotted to music in this context. Building on ethnographic research conducted at Leo Baeck College in London (2014–2016), it maps how theologically unsystematic life-views take form through everyday musical practices related to institutional religion, identifying three theoretically relevant processes at work: the reflexive turn, the turn within and the turn to tradition.
Singing in Hebrew or Reading in English? An Ethnographic Analysis of Music and Change Among Progressive Jews in the UK
Topics: Main Topic: Identity and Community, Interviews, Ethnography, Ethnomusicology, Liturgy, Synagogues, Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism, Jewish Music, Religious Observance and Practice
Abstract: This article explores the role of music in contemporary processes of change within progressive Judaism in the UK. By analyzing ethnographic research material gathered among progressive Jews in London between 2014 and 2016, it illustrates a burgeoning trend in the Western world today: the wish to combine liberal theology with religious practices that are experienced as increasingly traditional, and the important role played by music and musical forms of expression in this process. Building on theoretical insights from religious studies and ethnomusicology, three research questions are put forward related to the role of music in processes of religious change concerning the perceived relationship between language and emotions, singing as a religious practice, and embodiment as a form of “doing” Jewish. The article also analyzes and discusses the views expressed in the interview material in light of the research questions arising from the literature. As a conclusion, the ethnographic analysis is summarized in a thought-provoking quotation from the interview data, aptly capturing the theoretical implications suggested by the research: “I’m convinced that reading English that you understand is no more helpful than singing Hebrew that you feel.”
Topics: Main Topic: Culture and Heritage, Jewish Music, Liturgy, Synagogues, Interviews, Ethnography
Abstract: This article focuses on religion and change in relation to music. Its starting point is the argument that music plays a central role as a driving force for religious change, as has recently been suggested by several researchers of religion. Music is seen to comprise elements that are central to contemporary religiosity in general: participation , embodiment, experience, emotions, and creativity. This article approaches the discussion from a Jewish point of view, connecting the theoretical perspective to an ethnographic case study conducted among progressive Jews in London with special focus on music, religious practice, and change. The article outlines the ongoing discussion on religion and change by focusing on features of individualism, personal choice, and processes of bricolage, critically assessing them from an inclusive point of view, focusing on individuals as simultaneously both personal and socially as well as culturally embedded agents. The analysis highlights a visible trend among the interviewees of wanting to combine a radically liberal theology with an increasingly traditional practice. In these accounts musical practices play a pivotal yet ambiguous role as instigators and insignia of religious change. As a conclusion, insights into more 'sonically aware religious studies' are suggested. We need a kind of … something that retains the tradition; that holds on to these precious traditions and rituals, the music and all the rest – but with an open mind and a much more questioning and open approach to Jewish law. In these words Rebecca 1 expresses what she strives to achieve in her work as an innovative yet historically perceptive and liturgically informed can-1 The names of the persons interviewed have been anonymised, and common Jewish names are used as aliases. See the reference list for or more detailed information about the ethnographic research material and research method.
Abstract: Jewish musical practices stemming from Kabbalah and Hasidic mystical traditions are currently the object of growing attention among a variety of different Jewish communities in Europe and North America, as well as in non-Jewish spiritual circles. This article focuses on contemporary practices of niggunim – the (mostly) wordless melodies with roots in Hasidic Jewish traditions, sung, chanted and sometimes danced in preparation for, or as a form of, ardent prayer. The practice is seen as an example of the expressive, engaging, emotional and embodied forms of prayer that currently attract many Jews of different institutional attachments. As niggunim travel into new contexts, they are reframed and reconsidered in order to meet the needs and expectations of contemporary religious communities, characterised by a liberal and egalitarian, global and transformative religiosity. The article seeks to explore the different functions niggunim are put to today and the motives which drive different people to engage in the practice. The analysis is based on ethno-graphic material in the form of in-depth interviews conducted among progressive Jews in the London area. As a conclusion, the article suggests an approach to contemporary niggunim practices that incorporates perspectives from both literature and ethnography in order to deepen the understanding of the motives for and functions of singing niggunim today