Music and Religion: That which connects all of us.

Religion. Music. Music and Religion. These two examples of the creativity of the human intellect have been entwined and related to each other since the beginnings of time. Religion’s purpose in our world is varied, but fundamentally its purpose is to give our lives meaning and explain the unexplainable. Music is a creative form using sounds to express the full spectrum of the human experience. Does it not make sense then that Religion and Music are related so closely to one another? Music is one of the mediums a religion utilizes to convey its ideas and to facilitate the worship of those ideas. In our World Religions class, we have strived to gain a better understanding of the role music plays in religion; to gain this perspective, we have made a detailed study of a few core religions: Christianity, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Hindu, Buddhism, and Hare Krishna, . There have been other religions in our study, but these are the six that contain the best examples of the role that music can play in a religion.


The role that music has played in Christianity can be best described as extensive. Since its initial, mass spread by Saint Paul during the times of the Roman Empire, Christianity has shared a close relationship with music. There are various uses for music in Christianity. One of the first is the use of chanting as a form of prayer. Eastern Orthodox sects of Christianity most notably do this. Another role music plays is that it is used as a tool by the congregation of a church to glorify god. Christians believe they are bringing happiness and glory to god by singing in the church. The main form of music played in churches is called a hymn. The accompaniment to hymns varies, ranging from just voices to a full orchestra. Contemporary Christian music has gained prominence as well and this form of Christian music is very similar to modern pop music, only the lyrics have Christian religious connotations.


Much like Christianity, Jewish music is also used to bring glory to god and to facilitate prayer. The facilitation of prayer aspect is taken to a whole new level, however, in that most of the praying done in Synagogues and Temples is done through song like chanting rather than spoken word. An example of this chanting would be the prayer a boy must recited during his Bar Mitzvah. The reading from the Torah has many lyrical qualities and is one of the earliest forms of music. Contemporary Jewish music utilizes a wide range of instruments including: the violin/fiddle, accordion, guitar, and various percussion instruments.


Rastafarianism is unique in that it is a religion practiced mostly in only one geographic location: Jamaica and the surrounding Caribbean islands. Do to its isolation, Rastafarianism was able to develop a music style that relied heavily upon African influence and was completely unlike anything else in the world. This music style is called Reggae and it has become one of the most popular music genres in the world. Reggae is used by Rastafarians to worship Ja (God) and lament about the suffering of Rastafarians brought upon them by Zion (Western Society). Reggae achieved worldwide appeal through its promotion by artists such as Bob Marley during the 20th century and is now not only played by Rastafarians. Reggae uses a variety of modern instruments such as electric guitar, bass guitar, trumpets, saxophones, drums, and steel drums.


Hindu music is again another manifestation of the need for acolytes to express their religious ideas and doctrines through song. Hindu music uses a different scale than eastern music, so it has a tendency to sound very ethereal and strange to the untrained western ear. Gandhavas are the heavenly sings of Hinduism, and can most be likened to the choir of a Christian church. The Gandhavas, and other Hindu practitioners, sing songs from the Hinud version of a hymnal called the Sama Veda which contains the songs sacred to Hinduism. These songs are called bhajans and incorporate two different Hindu musical elements: Raga (melodic scales) and Tala (rythem). Together, Raga and Tala become Rasa (song) and allow Hindus to praise Brahma and the other gods through song.

Buddhism/ Hare Krishna

Buddhist Music is very similar to Hindu music in that it incorporates many of the same scales and rhythmic elements. Buddhist music is unique in that it realizes more heavily upon rhythmic chanting than melodic verse. The chanting in Buddhism is not used, however, to praise god; making it unique from many of the other religions afore mentioned. Instead, Buddhist chanting is utilized to bring the Buddhist peace and to allow them to maintain a meditative state. This chanting and repetition of the holy syllable Om is meant to help the diligent Buddhist achieve Samsara (enlightenment) and escape the cycle of rebirth. Hare Krishna, a form of Hindusim and Buddhism that worships the god Krishna, is a religion that takes this chanting to the next level. The chanting takes on a more melodic quality as acolytes recite the holy names of the god Krishna in an attempt to bring about the end of suffering and the plant the seeds of happiness. Hare Krishna music is particularly important to popular music since its influence can be seen in the works of many pop-artists such as the Beatles.