As I’m looking back on this course, what stands out to me most is not really the general course itself; I don’t believe I am any more of an authority on music and religion than I was at the beginning of the class. I do think I am a more well-rounded music history student after being exposed to so many different, interdisciplinary topics in the class, and I know that I am a better researcher.
I was going to say that some of my favorite readings and discussions weren’t about my core interests as a liberal arts student, but that’s actually not true. I loved the reading about Suya songs and I enjoyed our discussion about how to properly study music from “other” cultures without making them The Other. At first glance, this article could be unrelated to my interests but the deeper conversation had a lot to do with struggles I have in any field of study. I found Dr. Rodland’s lecture-recital about Bach, and especially the information about numerology, to be fascinating, but while I don’t really know anything about organ music, Bach is a major musical interest of mine. And of course, I really appreciated that we got to read about Hildegard (I was especially a fan of Holsinger’s work, although apparently that’s an unpopular opinion). I was also really interested in the discussion of how anti-Semitism can manifest itself in music. Unfortunately for me, Bach had been one of the very few composers/historical figures that I had managed to keep unproblematic before this class–I have a Bach tattoo and my senior recital is Bach themed. But problematizing and complicating things isn’t actually negative; it just means that we’ve actually devoted the time and thought to really considering what is going on in history, in music, in religion, and in the composer’s mind.
The biggest challenge for me in this course was class discussion. I actually did carefully read (or at least attempt to find something comprehensible) for class almost every single day. This issue is admittedly a personal problem in discussion classes, but it’s not always so difficult. I felt that even after reading the articles and thinking through discussion questions ahead of time, nothing I could come up with was really worth adding to the discussion. Often, my peers’ comments just went way over my head. I’m not sure if this is because of rhetoric that was used or my lack of background knowledge about the Bible or some other inadequacy, but try as I might, I really only came up with worthwhile contributions when we were discussing things that I felt like a resident expert on (read: gender–and sometimes not even that). I’m not one to talk just to hear my own voice. Maybe that means I don’t belong in this particular academic setting, but at least I found the experience of listening to others valuable. I’m not sure that there’s an easy solution to this, and I’m also not meaning to make an excuse for myself. But I do believe that I did the appropriate work outside of class and I hope I didn’t ever come off as indifferent.
Finally, if I could take a similar course again, I would love to learn more about non-Christian religions, especially religions that are being practiced today. It could be difficult to find scholarship on recent musical religious topics, but I would have enjoyed hearing more contemporary views, rules, regulations, and purposes about/for religious music.