Conflict and Reparation: The agency of music in modern monastic community dynamics
Despite the social climate of individualism and freedom of choice which pervades the early twenty-first century, men and women still feel called to enter monastic life, a decision which brings with it not only vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Monastic life also involves a serious commitment to living in community and, as such community living often presents interrelational problems, the aim of this paper is to use ethnographic data to show the ways in which music acts as a crucial element in communal health and the resolution of social conflict in modern-day monastic communities. A monastic community brings together highly disparate individuals with the sole common aim of a personal theocentric existence: every individual will bring their own attitudes into community, and one of the hardest lessons to be learnt is that of giving up their own will and agenda to pursue this goal, while simultaneously establishing themselves within their own community. Music has always played a major role in monastic life, and chant has long proved an ideal medium for supporting a life of prayer, but recent research in twenty-first-century monasteries and convents has shown that it also has considerable agency in the psychosocial structure of monastic communities. In this paper ethnographic data are used to explore the role of communal singing, and specifically chant, as an integral part of twenty-first-century monastic life, and its impact as a source of both conflict and reparation, division and cohesion. Following a review of the current literature on monasticism and monastic music this paper outlines my own perspective and methodology for the collection and presentation of the ethnographic data; I then present and discuss my findings on the musical implications of joining a religious community, the role played by music in community bonding, and issues of elitism and exclusion which can complicate the ongoing community dynamics, before drawing conclusions on the agency of music in modern monastic life.
Contemporary monasticism; chant
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