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04 March 2014

Re-appropriating the Devil’s Music: Christian Identities and Aggressive Musics

Last semester, I taught our sociology program's Senior Capstone class. (I mentioned the class previously.) This is the default experience for students in their penultimate semester of study. (The other possible experiences are an Internship, Independent Study, Independent Research, and Independent Research on Study Abroad.) There are three aims of the Capstone course. First, the students get hands-on experience doing research with a faculty member. Second, the students walk away from the course with the bones of a research project that they will refine the following semester in the Senior Seminar course. Finally, the faculty member benefits from the labor of the students on a research project that, working at a teaching-oriented liberal arts college, he otherwise would not likely be able to pursue. It is mutually beneficial.

I'm very happy that several of the Capstone students and I will be presenting our research at 9:45 AM Saturday 5 April at the Southern Sociological Society's annual meeting in Charlotte! I will be previewing the presentation over the next several blog posts. Here is the abstract:

Re-appropriating the Devil’s Music: Christian Identities and Aggressive Musics

by Bradley Koch, Benjamin Coke, Anais Hardon, Victoria Maddox, Meghan Marzullo, and Joseph Morovich

Contemporary popular music is the story of the intersection of music styles and music communities (Lena 2012). One stream of musical styles that we will term “aggressive musics” includes punk, hardcore, and metal styles and their hybrids. Previous research (see Kahn-Harris 2006) has investigated the communities organized around aggressive music styles along with its often playful use of religious—or more typically Satanic or anti-religious—themes, symbols, and language. Increasingly, however, many bands playing aggressive musics openly identify as Christian. The wedding of aggressive musics and Christianity strikes many as contradictory. Metal, and its subgenres, has long been associated with Satanism, hate, anger, violence, and death, all of which are understood by most to be antithetical to orthodox Christianity; however, the simultaneous metal and Christian identities seem to be inhabited rather effortlessly by the musicians in the scene and their fans (most of whom are young men [We actually find evidence against this in the research.]). Unlike crossover Christian artists who typically begin in industry-based genre phases (e.g. Amy Grant), most of these bands, like The Devil Wears Prada, August Burns Red, Underøath, Demon Hunter, and Norma Jean, emerged from the scene-based genre phase and move rather fluidly within secular scenes. While a significant subset of their fan communities also shares their religious identity, most of these bands have substantial fan bases that do not identify as Christian but nonetheless—and perhaps in spite of this—still appreciate and follow them. This is undoubtedly aided by the fact that these bands do not do praise music, their lyrics rarely invoke "Jesus" or "God," and they seem fully integrated into the larger metal scene, touring with non- and even anti-Christian acts. For outside observers, there is an odd lack of cognitive dissonance among both the Christian fans and the Christian performers of aggressive musics, a genre historically associated with anti-Christian messages. In this research, we seek to understand the seemingly-contradictory identities of the performers and consumers of Christian aggressive musics. We present early, exploratory findings from our multimethod study of these scenes.

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