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RLST 342: Religion and Popular Music in the African Diaspora  

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Presentation topics

Essay Topics: African American Genres

  1. September 10: The early Blues provided a psychological profile of the experiences of Blacks under Jim Crow and sharecropping, and hence can be called the secular Spirituals (James Cone). Discuss the social context that gave rise to the Blues, the character of the Blues, and Blues’ relationship to African American Religion.

  2. September 23: The character of Black Southern religion and the Blues emerged from the same stratum of Black society in the early Twentieth Century. Using Dorsey as a case study, discuss how this social location framed the interplay of the sacred and the secular in the aesthetic sensibilities of the Blues and Black Gospel Music.

  3. October 02: Using his lyrics and secondary sources, characterize and discuss Tupac’s spirituality and/or preoccupation with religious questions. Would you characterize his music career as a prophetic ministry on the behalf of the downtrodden? Why or why not? (Use sociological or religious studies insights on the character and function of the prophet as a basis for your argument).

  4. October 18: A growing number of rappers are members of an Islamic group called Five Percenters. Choose two or three rappers of this persuasion and discuss how their beliefs frame the perspectives articulated in their music (Make good use of their lyrics.

Essay Topics: Afro-Caribbean Genres

  1. October 23: On the surface, Rara is a kind of raucous street theater that takes place in Haiti during Easter Week. But along with the play, spiritual and political works take center stage. Discuss how Rara is related to and invokes the Vodou ethos of Haiti and how is provides social space for political discourse in a repressive environment.

  2. Nov 06: At one level the Trinidadian carnival is just a huge national party in which people can “jump and wine” and let their hair down. But some scholars see carnival as a social, even religious ritual. Discuss Trinidadian carnival as ritual in relation to Victor Turner’s theory of liminality and communitas.

  3. November 20: Bob Marley has been hailed as an articulate Rastafarian prophet, who used his music to internationalize Rastafari. Discuss the refraction of Rastalogy (Rastafarian philosophy and spirituality) and Rastafarian critique of Babylon in Marley’s lyrics.

  4. December 04: The treatment of violence, gender and sexuality in Rap and Dancehall has led to their excoriation as lewd, slack and reprehensible. Should the violent, homophobic and misogynous lyrics of these genres be censored? Explore the pros and cons of this debate and present reasoned arguments for your conclusion.

  5. December 10: In the name of cultural relevance Christian groups have adopted and adapted popular African Diaspora music forms for spiritual purposes. Choosing whatever genre(s) interests you, discuss contemporary efforts for such adoption and adaptation, and explore the merits and pitfalls of such an approach to the creation of religious music.

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