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U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher – A New Collection of U2 Studies Available Now

U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, is an edited collection of thirteen new essays from an international group of scholars studying U2 and its fandom, with a foreword by W. David O. Taylor and an introduction by Scott Calhoun.

Edited by Scott Calhoun
Studies in Religion and Popular Culture, Bloomsbury Press, 2018

U2 and the Religious Impulse examines indications in U2’s music and performances that the band work at conscious and subconscious levels as artists who focus on matters of the spirit, religious traditions, and a life guided by both belief and doubt.

U2 is known for a career of stirring songs, landmark performances and for its interest in connecting with fans to reach a higher power to accomplish greater purposes. Its success as a rock band is unparalleled in the history of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest acts. In addition to all the thrills one would expect from entertainers at this level, U2 surprises many listeners who examine its lyrics and concert themes by having a depth of interest in matters of human existence more typically found in literature, philosophy and theology.

The multi-disciplinary perspectives presented here account for the durability of U2’s art and offer informed explanations as to why many fans of popular music who seek a connection with a higher power find U2 to be a kindred spirit. This study will be of interest to scholars and students of religious studies and musicology, interested in religion and popular music, as well as religion and popular culture more broadly.

Available as a hardback and e-book from Bloomsbury and Amazon.

“U2 and the Religious Impulse provides a wide ranging, deep and thoughtful investigation of the relationships between popular music, religion and spirituality. Exploring areas such as music, lyrics, staging and cultures, the writers examine how fans navigate flows of meaning created by and beyond the band, offering considerable insight into the functions of the sacred within popular culture.” –  Rupert Till, Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield, UK

“This truly excellent collection of lively, provocative essays shows that digging into and reflecting on U2’s work is well worth the effort. Without constraining the band’s output and impact by interpreting their music in any simple, narrowly religious way, these multi-disciplinary investigations reveal U2’s importance for spirituality, theology, politics and ethics. The book provides compelling evidence of the profound significance of popular culture.” –  Clive Marsh, Head of the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester, UK

“The relationship of U2 and several western religions has been a topic of debate/discussion since the band’s debut album Boy, in 1980. Subsequent releases found the group consistently addressing spiritual and religious themes in an attempt to reconcile faith and ever increasing popular music stardom. Here Calhoun takes on the varied and diverse religious elements in the music of the long-lived, world-renown band. As the band, itself, culls religious influence from a host of sources, so U2 and the Religious Impulse expertly addresses these myriad sacred cues in a measured and thought-provoking volume.” –  David Moskowitz, Professor of Music History, University of South Dakota, USA

Table of Contents:

List of Figures

Contributors

Acknowledgments

Foreword by W. David O. Taylor

Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound (Scott Calhoun, Cedarville University, USA)

Part One: “Meet Me In The Sound”
1. “Edge, Ring Those Bells”: The Guitar and Its Spiritual Soundscapes in Early U2 (Henrik Marstal, Danish Institute of Popular Music/Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Denmark)

2. “Looking to Fill That God-Shaped Hole”: The Evolution of U2’s Spiritually Evocative Musical Gestures (Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University Bower School of Music and the Arts, USA)

3. Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways” (Steve Taylor, Flinders University, Australia)

Part Two: “Lift Me Out of These Blues”
4. “Hold On To Love”: U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s (Nicola Allen, The University of Wolverhampton, UK and Gerald Carlin, The University of Wolverhampton, UK)

5. Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon: The Fractured Form and Function of U2’s Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Richard S. Briggs, University of Durham, UK)

6. “You Carried the Cross of My Shame”: From Crippling Stigma to Infectious Joy in the Songs of U2 (Mark Meynell, Langham Partnership, UK)

Part Three: “Escape Yourself, And Gravity”
7. The Technological Reach for the Sublime on U2’s 360° Tour (Kimi Kärki, University of Turku, Finland)

8. The “Moment of Surrender”: Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2 (Brenda Gardenour Walter, Saint Louis College of Pharmacy, USA)

9. “In God’s Country”: Spatial Sacredness in U2 (Michael R. MacLeod, St. Mary’s University, Canada and Timothy Harvie, St. Mary’s University, Canada)

Part Four: “You Give Me Something I Can Feel”
10. “You Don’t See Me But You Will”: Jewish Thought and U2 (Naomi Dinnen, Independent Scholar, Australia)

11. “Like Faith Needs a Doubt”: U2 and the Theist / Non-Theist Dialogue (Angela Pancella, Independent Scholar, USA)

12. Finding What They’re Looking For: Evangelical Teen Fans and Their Desire for U2 to be a Christian Band (Neil R. Coulter, Center for Excellence in World Arts, USA)

13. U2 and the Art of Being Human (Mark Peters, Trinity Christian College, USA)

References

Index

“‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’” Studies U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism

A new academic essay on U2 titled “‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’: U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism,” by Lisa Plummer Crafton, Professor of English, University of West Georgia, appears this month in the new anthology Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018), edited by James Rovira, chair and associate professor in the English department at Mississippi College.

Rovira’s website for the book is a sort of launching point for “scholarship with a soundtrack,” with links to chapter summaries and an iTunes playlist for each of the eleven studies in the anthology.

He summarizes Crafton’s essay this way:

“‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’: U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism,” triangulates Blake’s, Cohen’s, and U2’s songwriting to illustrate how each artist represents, responds to, and addresses different life stages as they engage themes such as ‘social and cultural protest, the conflation of erotic/spiritual love, and the representation of the rupture of that symbiosis, especially in the poetic treatment of Judas, Yahweh, and Jesus.’ Life stage writing, therefore, is demonstrated in Crafton’s chapter to be a vehicle for sociopolitical critique. Critique is simultaneously and alternatively inwardly and outwardly directed: politics are the outward manifestation of inwardly present ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ and the external force forging those manacles from the start. Blake’s answer to this quandary, a Romantic response repeated by Leornard Cohen and then by U2 through both Blake and Cohen, is to address the mind first through imaginative vision.

The songs Rovira and Crafton suggest listening to are:

  • Leonard Cohen, “I’m Your Man,” “Nevermind,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “Story of Isaac,” “Suzanne,” “Who by Fire”
  • Van Morrison, “Let the Slave“
  • U2, “Beautiful Ghost,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “Grace,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “MOFO,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Until the End of the World,” “Wake Up, Dead Man,” “With or Without You”

Crafton’s essay is the only chapter in the anthology about U2, but fans and scholars of popular music and Romanticism will surely find the entire book stimulating reading.

Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2, appears in Lexington Books’ On The Record series, edited by Scott D. Calhoun, Cedarville University, and Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University. It is available starting February 15, 2018, from the publisher and Amazon.

New Entries in the U2 Studies Bibliography

We’ve recently updated the U2 Studies Bibliography with these six new entries:

Fast, Susan. “Music, contexts, and meaning in U2.” In Expression in Pop-Rock Music. Ed. Walter Everett. New York: Routledge, 2008, 33-57.

Galbraith, Deane. “Meeting God in the Sound: The Seductive Dimension of U2’s Future Hymns.” In The Counter-Narratives of Radical Theology and Rock ’n’ Roll: Songs of Fear and Trembling. Ed. Mike Grimshaw. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 119-135.

Huliaras, Asteris and Nikolaos Tzifakis. “Personal Connections, Unexpected Journeys: U2 and Angelina Jolie in Bosnia.” Celebrity Studies. 6.4 (2015): 443-456.

Neufeld, Timothy D. U2: Rock ‘n’ Roll to Change the World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

Williams, Michael. “One but not the same: U2 Concerts, Community and Cultural Identity.” In Identity Discourses and Communities in International Events, Festivals and Celebrations. Ed. Udo Merkel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 242-259.

Williams, Michael. “Politics as spectacle: U2’s 360° tour (2009-11).” In Power, Politics and International Events: Socio-cultural Analyses of Festivals and Spectacles. Ed. Udo Merkel. London: Routledge, 2014. 174-190.

Please visit the full U2 Studies Bibliography for more resources.

U2 and Music Theory Series Debuted on @U2.com

Professor Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University, writes about U2 and music theory in “Theorectically Speaking,” a new series on @U2.

Theoretically SpeakingHave you ever been listening to a familiar song and suddenly noticed something new about it? This happens to me all the time, especially with U2’s music. If I hear something new or particularly interesting, my music theory training instinctively kicks in and compels me to dive deeper. That’s what this series, “Theoretically Speaking…”, is all about: an exploration of U2’s music through the lens of music theory.

His debut article is Rhythmic Representations of Uncertainty in ‘Zooropa.‘” 

New Study: Emotions in U2 Fan Videos

From this Media Release:

Music fans’ emotions could be used to help them find new songs online, according to research at the University of Strathclyde.

A study of 150 music videos made by U2 fans uncovered a range of methods, both visual and musical, used to convey emotion, through location, style of music and video content.

Dr Diane Pennington, a Lecturer in Strathclyde’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences, carried out the research. She said: “Although music holds no emotion in itself, it can elicit very deep emotions in listeners and performers.”

The videos were covers of U2’s Song For Someone, from their 2014 album Songs Of Innocence. They were made and posted on video streaming website YouTube, after the band invited their fans to create their own clips, which would “make (it) your song.”

The research found that the videos, and viewers’ responses to them, were highly individual but often also social, with shared emotions creating a sense of community.

It also found that such emotions could help to inform searches, recommendations and playlists in online music providers.

Dr Pennington said: “The emotion music evokes is the main reason people listen to it and many would like to be able to search for music videos that meet an emotional need, such as a desire to be cheered up.

“However, information retrieval systems, such as those used in video streaming sites, don’t currently support this well. To advance these systems, new systems need to be envisioned that go beyond traditional keyword-based or subject-based queries and process information requirements in new ways.

“I chose the Song For Someone clips as a case study after U2 called for fans to make them. This was because it would be a rich source of information and because, for their fans, U2’s songs and concerts are highly emotional; this is reflected in the content of the Song For Someone clips and the reactions they produced.

“Many of the cover versions were personalised by people recording their own versions in their houses or bedrooms, or including images of their loved ones. Others signified their devotion to U2 by using their original version to accompany the clip or by including U2 paraphernalia, such as t-shirts, posters and photos.

“Emotions are difficult to define tangibly and describing them in a way which could benefit information retrieval presents a challenge. However, this research could inform commercial music service providers on how they might include emotional factors in their recommendations and automatically created playlists.

“Allowing retrieval system users to search, browse and retrieve by positive emotions could also have a contribution to make to music therapy.”

Dr Pennington’s research has been published in the Journal of Documentation (doi.org/10.1108/JD-07-2015-0086)

 

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