Studying Worship Capital: Cultural Insiderness, Religious Outsiderness, and Political Economy in Evangelical Worship
Fall 2015 Lunch Series of the ISM Fellows in Sacred Music, Worship, and the Arts
The presence of capital in Christian worship is unmistakable, enabling individuals and institutions to participate in the production, distribution, mediation, and consumption of worship music. Performing artists, songwriters, and ministers operate in markets that shape the aesthetics of songs that congregations sing every Sunday morning. This worship economy, however, remains undertheorized in congregational music studies. In what ways are other forms of capital (material, social, cultural, etc.) are implicated in the worship economy? Ethnographers of worship often balance an ambivalent identity—at once a cultural insider yet a religious outsider, for example—and can struggle to comprehend and interpret the affective dimensions of congregational worship. What can a theoretical understanding of the worship economy reveal about the phenomenology of worship? Building upon the works of Pierre Bourdieu, analyses of music industries, and contemporary discourses of intellectual property, this paper outlines a theoretical framework for the political economy of worship music. This research emerges from several years of ethnographic fieldwork at the Anchor Fellowship, a non-denominational evangelical church in Nashville, Tennessee, and advances the concept of “worship capital” to capture the various ways in which individuals and institutions invest in worship.