Making Church: The Experience of Spirituality in Women’s Choruses

Janice Kinney. “Making Church: The Experience of Spirituality in Women’s Choruses.” Diss. U of Washington, 2010.

Six women were interviewed who had self-selected as having had spiritual experiences as singers in feminist women's choruses (amateur choruses whose mission/vision/purpose statement specifically includes work on behalf of women--often, specifically, lesbians. The purpose of the study was to discover what kinds of experiences these women considered to be spiritual. It was determined that their spiritual experiences fell into two major categories. These were, first, "passive" experiences in which they felt 1) a "calling" (sometimes synchronistic) to join their groups; 2) a deep sense of connection with one another, their audiences, the music itself, and/or supra-human entities (God, the Universe, and so on); 3) expanded awareness in the form of extra-normal vision, vibrations felt in the area of the heart, or heightened sensitivity to musical or narrative nuance; 4) a feeling of transport at the beauty of the music and/or lyrics, often described in traditionally religious terms; and 5) a sense of peace, joy, timelessness, and "rightness"--a group of sensations Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow." The "spiritual discipline" these singers practiced to elicit such experiences included obedience to the conductor, regular attendance, focused attention, and assumption of a "chorus persona" that excluded internal and external distractions, for the duration of a performance. All the singers identified personal transformation as a consequence of their chorus membership. The second category of spiritual experience was more active: the singers consciously "opened their hearts" to others by supporting lesbian rights and dignity (both within the chorus and in the larger community), participating as an organization in social justice work, or making charitable contributions to other social justice organizations. Further studies may include determining whether these singers' experiences map to the spiritual experiences of fundamentalist Christians, and whether similar experiences can be found in choruses without a political mission.

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