Music as a Vehicle for Religious Dialogue: An Interreligious Discussion of Sin, Salvation, and Redemption


Amidst the social and cultural upheaval of the 1960s, the Catholic Church opened the Vatican II council in 1962 in order to address issues of modernity. Until then, the Church had condemned modernity; Vatican II encouraged the church to engage with the changing world. The Church issues a number of documents that significantly altered the Catholic religious landscape. Included in these changes were the shift to replacing the Latin mass with vernacular languages, the official recognition that Protestants and other non-Catholics were genuine Christians, and the condemnation of anti-Semitism. In addition, the “Church recognized that God speaks to and through non-Christian religions” (Adair 2008). This sentiment was expressed in the Nostra Aetate, a document which encourages Catholics to enter dialogue with non-Christian religions.


Most generally, religious dialogue between Christians and non-Christians takes place within the realm of ideas. Theologians and other religious leaders can speak about similarities and differences in their respective central belief systems. Clearly, there is a wealth of material worthy of discussion. However, it is rare one finds religious dialogue located specifically within the realm of concrete practice. In the course of this paper, I direct my attention particularly on song, music, and dance to suggest that artistic media as such can function as valid vehicles through which to carry out religious dialogue. Music, song, and dance have been central forms of religious and social expression for peoples throughout history. In the spirit of religious dialogue, this paper looks to the musical traditions of Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen, the San Bushmen of the Kalahari desert, and the Dine (or Navajo) of the Southwest United States. Herein I particularly explore how each representative’s musical tradition is strongly bound with beliefs concerning illness and healing, sin and salvation.



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