Music as an Aid to Philosophizing about Religion


  • Peter Donovan Religious Studies, Nelson



contemplative philosophy of religion, religion/music juxtaposed, performance, practice, appreciation


Music and religion have long been experienced together, yet music’s significance for implicit religion awaits thoroughgoing study. This paper tackles a related task: using music as an example to help develop a philosophical approach to religion as a whole, which is broad and flexible enough to do justice to contemporary religious studies, including the study of implicit religion and spirituality. D.Z. Phillips’s (Wittgenstein-influenced) “contemplative” philosophy of religion offers a promising development, beyond the predominantly Western, monotheistic and conceptual approach of much post-war philosophy of religion. However it needs fresh and accessible examples of distinctive “forms of life” drawn from beyond religion. Here is where music can help. Music, whether lay or professional, highbrow or lowbrow, reminds us of an area of life which has its own distinctive discourse, within which notions of transcendence, spirit, perfection and the like seem thoroughly at home. To understand this fully requires a contemplative (or “appreciative”) approach of involvement and participation. Comparing word-use in religious and musical contexts shows up significant common aspects such as performance, recreation and entertainment. When religion is appreciated as more like music and other arts, then modern scientific theories as to its origins, and philosophical questions about its truth or falsity, ontology, epistemology or rationality, seem less obviously applicable, or troubling.


Bailey, E.I. 1997. Implicit Religion in Contemporary Society. Kampen (The Netherlands): Kok Pharos.

Burley, Mikel. 2012. Contemplating Religious Forms of Life: Wittgenstein and D.Z. Phillips. New York: Continuum Books.

Connor, K.R. 2006. “The Fifth Corner: Hip Hop’s New Geometry of Adolescent Religiosity.” Implicit Religion 9.1: 7-28.

Dalferth, Ingolf U. and Hartmut von Sass. 2010. The Contemplative Spirit: D.Z. Phillips on Religion and the Limits of Philosophy. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck

Darwin, Charles. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray.

Gauthier, F. 2005. “Orpheus and the Underground: Raves and Implicit Religion—From Interpretation to Critique.” Implicit Religion 8(3): 217–265.

Phillips, D.Z. 2001. Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

——— . 1966. The Concept of Prayer. New York: Shocken.

——— . 1976. Religion without Explanation. Oxford: Blackwell.

Pinker, Stephen. 1997. How The Mind Works. New York: W.W. Norton.

Putnam, Hilary. 1992. Renewing Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sanders, Andy F. 2007. D.Z. Phillips’ Contemplative Philosophy: Questions and Responses. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Smart, Ninian. 1972. The Concept of Worship. New Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, edited by W.D.Hudson. London: Macmillan.

Steiner, George. 1989. Real Presences. London. Faber & Faber.

Winch, Peter. 1964. “Understanding a Primitive Society.” American Philosophical Quarterly 1: 307–324.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1967. “Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough,” translated by John Beversluis. In Philosophical Occasions 1912–1951, edited by J.C. Klagge and A. Nordmann, 118–155. Indianapolis: Hackett.




How to Cite

Donovan, P. (2014). Music as an Aid to Philosophizing about Religion. Implicit Religion, 17(2), 127–138.