MTSU Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies hosts lecture on the study of sound, religion

Story and Photo by Connor Burnard / Contributing Writer

The MTSU Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies hosted a guest lecture in the Business and Aerospace Building on Thursday night by Rosalind Hackett, the head of Religious Studies Department at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Hackett was introduced by Rebecca King, a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at MTSU.

“Along with being a prolific and esteemed scholar, Dr. Hackett is also known within the academic community of religious studies scholars as someone who is a mentor to students and scholars around North America and across the world. I, myself, feel very fortunate to count (myself) among the people she has mentored,” King said in her introduction.

Hackett’s presentation, titled “Sound: The Missing Dimension of the Study of Religion,” dissected the impact that sound, music and noises have on organized religion across the world and individual spirituality and how this impact can often be overlooked in religious studies.

The lecture began with words of encouragement from Hackett for religious studies majors and minors, for whom the lecture was presented.

“I want you to feel that you’ve made a good decision. If anyone just looks at the national news or listens to it or international news, is religion not in just about every news broadcast these days?” Hackett said. “Please feel that what you’re doing is important. You probably don’t know yet how important the courses you take in religious studies or your major or your minor in religious studies will prove to be in today’s world.”

The presentation detailed many reasons why sound is omitted in religious studies, such as its difficulty to reproduce and a general mindset of preoccupation with visuals. However, Hackett offered several examples of sound and music taking a substantive role in religion and spirituality. These examples included masquerade ceremonies in southern Nigeria, the bells in Worcester Cathedral, Tibetan singing bowls and a Tibetan instrument called a kangling (literally translated as “leg flute”) used in Buddhist spiritual practice. The kangling is similar to a woodwind instrument but fashioned out of a human femur.

Hackett also recognized related research about sound in religion by authors such as Guy L. Beck, who analyzed music in religion in his books, “Sonic Theology,” “Sonic Liturgy” and “Sacred Sound,” and Steven Feld, who explored the spiritual expression of sounds in nature in his books, “Rainforest Soundwalks” and “Sound and Sentiment.” The presentation also highlighted the American Religious Sounds Project, a student and faculty research project that records religion being practiced.

MTSU junior and philosophy and religious studies double major Ethan McHugh is the president of MTSU’s Religious Studies Association and said that the presentation was a great way to introduce MTSU’s new religious studies major and draw attention to religious studies as a whole.

“(This was to) kickoff the availability of the new major coming here in the fall, but this is largely what we as the Religious Studies Association try to get involved with and facilitate just because we would like for the study of religion to be more publicly accessible to anyone and everyone,” McHugh said.

Liam Quinn, an MTSU junior majoring in recording industry management, heard of the event through his philosophy class and said it was an eye-opening presentation.

“I’ve never thought about what I study in audio production as being applied to a humanities study,” Quinn said. “I’d been aware of psycho-acoustic studies and the psychological understanding of sound… But I hadn’t really thought of it in such a cultural sense.”

The presentation was followed by a continuation of the discussion at a reception at the Boulevard restaurant on Middle Tennessee Boulevard.

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