Spiritual Realism in Black Gospel Music Discourse and Practice

“"Spiritual Realism in Black Gospel Music Discourse and Practice" examines the ways in which gospel artists have accommodated the cultural infatuation with realness in their musical practices. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Cory W. Hunter University of Rochester/Eastman School of Music Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

"Spiritual Realism in Black Gospel Music Discourse and Practice" provides a framework for studying twenty-first century African American gospel music practice. The phrase "spiritual realism" derives from the terms “real” and “spiritual,” commonly invoked in the rhetoric of contemporary gospel artists to legitimize their theological and musical practices. Spiritual realism as a conceptual framework denotes the ways in which gospel artists articulate transparency and interiority in a manner that departs from prior gospel music practices. I argue that contemporary artists such as Donnie McClurkin and Kim Burrell articulate spiritual realism through several contemporary gospel music practices: worship music albums, love albums, gospel and secular artist collaborations, gospel reality shows, and songs of redemption. Their constructions of realness expand and reinscribe traditional notions of gender, sexuality, race, and class in ways that deviate from the theological traditions of the gospel industry and the biblical proscriptions of conservative Black churches. For example, gospel artists such as Fred Hammond are releasing love albums in order to initiate transparent conversations about sexual desire in a religious context and to demonstrate that desire is not antithetical to belief. Further, I examine the influence that contemporary theological movements, such as the Neo-Pentecostal and Word of Faith movements, have had on gospel artists’ expressions of realness and the ways in which each gospel practice participates in the formation of theology. Their musical constructions of realness become new methods of evangelism designed to retain and attract individuals in and beyond the church who have become disillusioned with the church's conventional theologies. Realness discourses thus facilitate new markets that enable gospel artists to proliferate the gospel message beyond the confines of the church.