Not Secular: Interrogating the Sacred-Secular Binary through Gospel-Pop Performance

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Secularisation theory proposed that the modernisation of society would bring about a decline in religiosity across the West, leading to ‘entzauberung’ (disenchantment). Eventually, society would be devoid of belief in the transcendent. Some theorists have challenged this by suggesting (with some qualifying factors) that enchantment better describes the secular age we occupy. Charles Taylor suggests that we can perceive the enchantment of a secular age through the human relationship with art. In this article, I suggest that, when present in popular music, black gospel music (in particular) complicates notions of the sacred-secular binary. The sacred-secular distinction was not familiar to West Africans arriving in the New World during the transatlantic slave trade. Music had played a central role in the lives of pre-diaspora Africans, with no differentiation between sacred and secular musicking. Despite some of the historical opposition to secular music in many black-majority churches, gospel music owes its heritage to this West African worldview. In this article, I propose a four-quadrant model that troubles the accepted binaries of sacred and secular. I use the Kingdom Choir’s 2018 performance of ‘Stand by Me’ at the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as a basis for discussing alternative ways of viewing holy-profane, sacred-secular dichotomies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1178
Number of pages13
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

© 2023 by the author


  • secular
  • sacramentality
  • music
  • gospel
  • gospel choir
  • Secularization
  • black british

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