Performances of Spirituality and Relationality in Contemporary Worship Music
Jeff R. Warren

Contemporary worship music (CWM) is a genre of congregational song set to musical styles of select popular musical genres. CWM is used within churches of varying theological beliefs and is a dominant practice within churches that identify as ‘evangelical’. To provide a sense of the prevalence of this practice, Hillsong, an Australian based producer of CWM and a group of churches, claimed in 2012 that 25 million people a week sing Hillsong songs in church. CWM has not received scholarly attention proportional to its prevalence, and many questions could be asked about the practice. In this presentation, the main questions investigated are: How does contemporary worship music perform spirituality? How are relations and responsibilities to God and other people performed? The framework for investigating these questions begins by an analysis of lyrical content, performative roles, musical form and material, musical distribution, and performed responsibilities. This analysis raises several relational elements in these musical practices, and I attempt to articulate relations and responsibilities that are created and/or encouraged in performance. I then turn to the idea of spirituality and argue how the idea is negotiated within the congregational performance of contemporary worship music. 


Jeff R. Warren, PhD is Professor of Music and Humanities at Quest University in Squamish, British Columbia. His book, Music and Ethical Responsibility, is published by Cambridge University Press. Jeff's research areas include music and ethics, improvisation, soundscape, and phenomenology. His creative work includes sound installations, jazz composition and performance on double bass. Jeff has a PhD in music and philosophy from Royal Holloway, University of London. Before moving to Quest in 2013, Jeff spent nine years at Trinity Western University, where he retains the title of Adjunct Professor of Music and Interdisciplinary Arts. More at www.jeffrwarren.com.