28. August
at 17.00


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Symposium is admission free and open to public.

Introductory Thoughts at the Symposium Music – Religion – Spirituality

Religious and spiritual doctrines and their interpretations have a significant impact on understandings of boundaries between musical and non-musical phenomena, and between acceptable and unacceptable music (sound) and dance (movement) practices in various spatial and temporal contexts. Religion and spirituality affect and reflect traditional, art, and popular music and dance domains. They are expressed under precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial circumstances, and in environments hostile to any or to at least different (minority) religious worldviews. Their role on a war-peace continuum sometimes results in migrations, refugee, and immigrant experiences. They are key components of ritualistic practices essential for identity maintenance, but also for new ecumenic syncretisms.

In March 2020, the Executive Board of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) endorsed the proposal of an international group of scholars for the establishment of a new Study Group with a focus on music, religion, and spirituality. The symposium in Ljubljana is the major required step in this direction. Recognized as an important focus, not explicitly present in the activities of any of the existing ICTM Study Groups, it is expected to be approached in an open, inclusive, and non-biased manner. Selected articles, based on the symposium presentations, will be published in the thematic issue of the peer-reviewed journal Musicological Annual.

Svanibor Pettan  

SESSION 7: South Asian and South American Contexts
Chair: Brita Heimarck

Lasanthi Manaranjanie Kalinga Dona: Pirit Chant – A Buddhist Sound Protection in Sri Lanka
Rohini Menon: Performing Emotion and Caste: Situating Koṭuṅṅallūr Bharaṇi in South Asian Textual Performances and Literary History
Pablo Rojas Sahurie: The Chilean New Song and the Construction of The Kingdom of God in The Popular Unity


SESSION 8: Sufism
Chair: Irene Markoff

Michael Frishkopf: The Sufi Sources of Tarab
Ihsan Ul Ihthisam Chappangan: Language Performances and Connected Literary Sensibilities: Circulation of Sufi Texts and Sounds across the Indian Ocean


SESSION 9: Alevism
Chair: Michael Frishkopf

Maja Bjelica: Music of the Turkish Alevis: Spirituality, Community and Representation
Rumiana Margaritova: Accessing the Secret Sounds and Movements: Representations of Alevi and Bektashi Ritual Music and Kinetic Forms from Bulgaria

Final discussion on the creation of a new ICTM Study Group and publication


SESSION 7: South Asian and South American Contexts
Chair: Brita Heimarck

Lasanthi Manaranjanie Kalinga Dona
University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka):

Pirit Chant – A Buddhist Sound Protection in Sri Lanka

Pirit, a practice of chanting particular verses and scriptures with the aim of protecting people from dangers and misfortunes, has received rather limited ethnomusicological attention in Sri Lanka (Piyadassi 1975, Kulatillake 1982, Perera 2000, Kalinga Dona 2010). The chanting is performed exclusively by Theravada Buddhist monks who do it in groups or individually, depending on the circumstances. Pirit can be performed at live events, through loudspeakers, on radio and television, and in the form of audio or audiovisual recordings. Strictly speaking, pirit is not considered a »musical practice« by its carriers, but since its performance in a number of situations used to be preceeded by instrumental music, the paper examines the relationship between the vocal chanting and the instrumental component. Based on archival and ethnographic research, the analysis focuses on the dynamics between tradition and modernity and on the cases of experimental applications of pirit for therapeutic purposes in places such as hospitals.


Rohini Menon
Independent research scholar, New Delhi (India):

Performing Emotion and Caste: Situating Koṭuṅṅallūr Bharaṇi in South Asian Textual Performances and Literary History

South Asian religious traditions have a long history of cultural and social implications. Centering on a case study on the Koṭuṅṅallūr Bharaṇi (Ritual and Performance) of the Hindu-lower caste community performers, this presentation brings historical and contemporary literary history into focus around the nexus of emotions and performances. The performance of caste in South Asia is chiefly associated with the cultural and spiritual rituals that are entangled in day-to-day experiences, yet there are several art forms and performances which are unknown to the outer world, closely associated with the indigenous, tribal, and caste identities. Inspired by Margrit Pernau’s work Emotional Translations: Conceptual History beyond Language, emotional translation can be better explained as a form of translation happening between reality and interpretation which is mediated by the senses and the body (Pernau, p. 46). Although performances have been studied under the framework of gender, religion, politics, and history in the context of South Asia, there have been very few works on Caste and Performance, taking the wider network of translocal Hindu religious festivals celebrated across South Asia, especially by communities belonging to the lower caste. This paper looks into the intersection of caste and performance in the South Asian literary and historical world, by focusing on the idea of emotion and emotional translation.


Pablo Rojas Sahurie
University of Vienna (Austria):

The Chilean New Song and the Construction of The Kingdom of God in The Popular Unity

The Chilean New Song is a musical movement that has not only been historically linked to the political left, but has also presented important religious elements in both its sounds and its concepts (Rojas 2020). These religious aspects, assimilated by an important part of the members of the movement from Chilean popular religion can be understood in terms of religious atheism, which allows us to account for the paradoxical figure in which the sacred and the profane find a point of convergence (Löwy 2015). In this way, the religious dimension remained present at the very heart of the Chilean New Song and was explicitly inserted into the revolutionary discourse of the movement. Within this context, one of the most interesting aspects is that the Chilean New Song imagined the political project of the Popular Unity, of which it became a part, as the realization of the kingdom of God. Thus, this presentation shows how the Chilean New Song developed the idea of the kingdom and matched the utopia of a classless society with the idea of the kingdom of God on earth.

SESSION 8: Sufism

Chair: Irene Markoff

Michael Frishkopf
University of Alberta (Canada):

The Sufi Sources of Tarab

Tarab finds no ready translation from the Arabic. Narrowly defined, tarab refers both to musical ecstasy and to the traditional musical-poetic-social resources for producing it, including harmonious relations between singer, poetry, and listeners. Tarab depends on consonant performative interactions, in which experienced listeners express emotion through vocal exclamations and gestures; the performer, in turn, is both moved and guided by such feedback, such that emotion is shared, exchanged, and amplified among participants. Tarab represented Arab music’s highest aesthetic ideal up until the mid-20th century, after which it began to fade. However, listeners often describe inshad (Islamic chant), as rich in tarab, especially in Sufism. Why did Sufi music remain tarab-laden, despite conservative discourses critical of music, while tarab disappeared in the secular sphere?  Exploring Sufi worldviews, concepts, socio-spiritual organization, and practices, I show how Sufism both facilitates and requires the harmonious socio-spiritual relationships upon which tarab depends.


Ihsan Ul Ihthisam Chappangan
University of Chicago (USA):

Language Performances and Connected Literary Sensibilities: Circulation of Sufi Texts and Sounds across the Indian Ocean

This research concerns the circulation of Sufi texts and sounds across the littoral worlds of the Indian Ocean. More specifically, it identifies the genre of ‘language performances’ in the Sufi Islamic ritual economy, from the early sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, among the Muslim community of the Malabar and Ma’bar/Coromandel Coast. The term ‘language performances’ takes its cue from ethnomusicologist Michael Frishkopf’s conception of ‘language performance’ as a genre and methodology (syntactic, semantic, sonic and pragmatic), which enables a systematic and comparative historical investigation of performances in Islamic ritual. Another useful concept for the analysis is cosmopolis (Pollock, Eaton, and Ricci) which defines the spatially and temporally extended, but connected, ecumene of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian literary influences and sensibilities. The prime focus of the paper, then, will be the cult of eleventh century Persian Sufi saint Šaiḫ Muḥyuddīn ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Ǧīlāni (as spiritual savior of land and sea), along with the travelling literary texts subjecting his hagiographies. The study historicizes the transcreations of the saint’s life into cosmopolitan vernacular language performances that are connected as a cosmopolis across the Indian Ocean. The project enables a panoramic look into the socio-political atmosphere of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ Indian Ocean world (colonialism), which gives us the ideology to refigure the conundrum of ‘connected literary sensibilities’ in the formation of  those language performances, from a Malabari and Ma‘bari perspective, extending to the wider South and Southeast Asian circulatory regimes.


SESSION 9: Alevism
Chair: Michael Frishkopf

Maja Bjelica
Institute for Philosophical Studies, Science and Research Centre, Koper (Slovenia):

Music of the Turkish Alevis: Spirituality, Community and Representation

For the Turkish Alevis, the largest religious minority in Turkey, music plays a central role in their religious practices: it constitutes the central element of their main ritual called cem. Rituals also include sacred movement known as semah, that alongside music also provides an important space for Alevi spirituality, community encounters and identity representation. The paper will present the visual and audio material, gathered during ethnographic research conducted in Istanbul in the spring of 2015 at the Gaziosmanpaşa Hoca Ahmet Yesevi Cem Evi Inanç ve Kültür Derneği and the Esentepe Hz. Ali Cem Evi Inanç ve Kültür Derneği  where  Alevis congregate. In the data provided by the method of participant observation and field work recording, specific usages of music and its various forms will be offered into observation for an account of the importance of Alevi music for Alevi communities.


Rumiana Margaritova
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (Bulgaria):

Accessing the Secret Sounds and Movements: Representations of Alevi and Bektashi Ritual Music and Kinetic Forms from Bulgaria

Alevis and Bektashis are historically and culturally related Turkish-speaking Muslim communities of Asia Minor and the Balkans, confessing a strong cult of Ali and searching for a deeper inner sense of faith. Their centuries-long opposition to the Sunnis, their complex position of a “minority within a minority” in Bulgarian society, and some other reasons led to a perception of them as closed communities. This contributed to the preservation of their religious views which are still perpetuated through regular clandestine rituals, an integral part of which is music – songs (nefesler) accompanied by a folk lute (saz), with or without sacred movement (semahlar). The presentation examines different approaches to the representation of Alevi and Bektashi ritual music and kinetic forms, with a special focus on the potential of the virtual tour – an experimental form, which stands between the ethnographic film and the ethnographic exhibition, and which could provide an ethical mediation between the audience and the community still sensible to outsiders’ observations and interpretations.


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