Awesome in this place: Sound, space, and identity in contemporary North American evangelical worship

Monique Marie Ingalls, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines the congregational song repertory known as “contemporary worship music,” showing how its musical sounds and performance spaces inform and reflect North American evangelical Christian identities. This study challenges representations of North American evangelicalism as a static, homogenous religious community by showing how this musical repertory creates an “evangelical imaginary” connected by shared discourses and practices whose meanings are constantly contested and negotiated at both the local and translocal levels. In order to illustrate these complex negotiations, this dissertation comprises two parts which provide complementary examinations of the relationships between sound, space, and evangelical identity while differing in scope and methodological approach. The four chapters of Part I construct a narrative of the development of the contemporary worship music repertory from the late 1960s to the late 2000s. Employing personal interviews and evangelical primary sources, each of these chapters traces the institutions, social networks, and cultural shifts that accompanied and influenced contemporary worship music's creation and led to its acceptance as a widespread evangelical practice. The three chapters of Part II offer an in-depth ethnographic and theoretical exploration of the relationship between contemporary worship music and evangelical identity through close readings of the three performance spaces of concert, conference, and local church. These chapters demonstrate how these worship spaces serve as forums in which evangelicals negotiate broader societal shifts while broadly disseminating discourses and practices which connect local churches with the translocal evangelical community. By showing the ways in which contemporary worship music, and the meanings and discourses it embodies, moves between these spaces, this study demonstrates the powerful role of music in constructing an “evangelical imaginary” through which evangelicals negotiate local and translocal contexts, concerns, and convictions. By using the sites and sounds of musical performance to inform a discussion of religious identity, this dissertation opens avenues for exploring music's role in the negotiation of religious faith and practice in the modern world.

Subject Area

Religion|American studies|Music

Recommended Citation

Ingalls, Monique Marie, "Awesome in this place: Sound, space, and identity in contemporary North American evangelical worship" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3328582.