Defining Music and Religion

In Deal’s wonderful article on Whales’ songs (which I nonetheless critique here), he tells us:

But what is often overlooked [about the calls of a humpback whale] is the true musicality of the sounds. The shrill wails, deep growls, rhythmic scratches, and spectral moans combine into repeating patterns so structured that they fit any conventional definition of music.

Reading this, I questioned: “Conventional definition of music?”.   Does such a thing really exist.  I doubt it. And sure enough, when I clicked on Deal’s link to read the wiki article, I saw it had the same problems as those found when trying to define religion,

As readers may know, in this blog I discuss at great length the problems with defining religion. And in the music article I saw that a similar controversies exist in defining music: cultural bias and vague overlapping uses and more. “Music” is a word well before it is some real thing. Looking for an agreement on exactly what music is reveals it as a construed, abstract fuzzy concept.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “Defining Music and Religion

  1. rautakyy

    Haha, yes. I may like and get really emotional about the early symphonies of Jean Sibelius, but find his later works hardly anything worth calling even music… “Absolute music” he called it. But honestly to me they sound just incoherent noises with a symphony orchestra, that people go to listen either because they like such noise, that mostly resembles very badly organized traffic, or because they like to show to others how cultured they are, that they understand even the most abstract versions of “music”.

  2. @ rautakyy,
    So how would you define music? It seems you agree with my point about defining music or religion, no?

  3. rautakyy

    @Sabio Lantz, yes I do agree with you. I have no practical definition of music. I would like to say, it is noise that has rythm and melody, but then some traditional Japanese music has no rythm as such, and there are plenty of examples of traditional and modern music around the globe without any actual melody in them. Yet, one can instantly recognize them as music. A bit like whale singing. Or birdsong. But not everything with a rythm is music, like for example engine noise, though some of it (like a V8) may very much please a certain type of listener.

    As for religion, there are ridiculous examples about attempts to define religions. Here in Finland for a society to be recognized as a religious community they need to have a holy scripture, because the committee defining such are formed mainly from the state Lutheran church bishops. This is ridiculous, since we actually have several university professors of religion studies in the country, who could have given a much more professional and academic evaluation on the issue.

    Not long ago there was a dispute about this, as a small group of people identifying as adherents and worshippers of ancient Finnish gods was first denied as a religious group, but then they re-applied and claimed that the Finnish epic (collected from Finnish folklore in the 19th century), the Kalevala was their “holy scripture”. They were then admitted the recognition of religious community. All the while for example the imported movement of Wiccans, a far more popular group, does not recieve the same recognition, because they have no “holy scripture” to show for their faith.

    Anybody could basicly make up a “holy scripture” and be recognized as a religion, but the actual ancient animistic versions of Finnish nor other Fenno-Ugric religions could not be admitted the same recognition, because none of the original ones have any actual “holy scriptures”. No doubt the Kalevala is formed of ancient poetry and wisdom passed down for countless generations, but calling it “holy scripture” seems counterintuitive, because the writers never even claimed divine influence. As such, the official Lutheran state church, and subsequently the state itself, favours Neo-Paganistic movements over ancient and actually traditional beliefs here. But nobody says anything, because the people who actually cherish the ancient religious traditions are so accustomed to hide their beliefs and customs, that they never speak out.

  4. Interesting Finnish anecdotes, thank you rautakyy

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