Book Review: Music, Theology, and Justice

Music, Theology, and Justice

Michael O’Connor, Hyun-Ah Kim, Christina Labriola, editors

Lexington Books Hardcover, 228 pages, $100.00/$95.00 e-book

Exploration of the intersection of music with either theology or justice is a rarely-encountered endeavor; for this collection of essays to take on the intersection and interplay of all three topics is remarkable, and this volume is an excellent foundational resource for anyone wishing to begin an interdisciplinary understanding of them. Though the book’s primary focus is music, its two partners imbue the entirety of the essays.

The book is organized around three principal roles that music can have: prophetic, pastoral, and priestly, which help give cohesion to its wide-ranging material, and solid organization to what could have seemed to be a scattered or confused collection. These three roles are broken down further into the respective categories of protest and liberation, creating community, and reconciliation and restoration. A concluding summary/reflection is provided for each section as well. These are helpful for providing readers a model or starting point for their own reflections on the various topics.

The topics themselves cover a broad spectrum, and reach well beyond the sanctuary walls for the musical genres or styles that are investigated, including punk rock and Daft Punk. Musical artists range from Hildegard of Bingen to Sting. The essay topics by a diverse group of authors are likewise far-ranging, and will surely stretch and challenge any reader.

As the book itself observes, music does not make itself, and therefore compels us to explore the array of social, liturgical, and historical contexts in which it is created and performed. Likewise, music’s content is not only musical/textual, but also has facets of ethical performance, cultural expression, and transformative potential.

I will confess that, at first, I was taken aback by the pricing of this book. As I continued to read, however, it began to emerge that what is at issue here is value, not merely price. For the quality of scholarship and insight provided here, these essays are well worth the investment. I can easily imagine taking several months to a year to read through them, and know that there are several to which I will return at least once again.

The editors are to be greatly commended for their work in assembling and presenting this material. I hope that a second volume is in the works.

Most highly recommended!

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