In my courses on religion and popular music, students typically have trouble offering concrete historical answers to two questions: How do audiences come to understand particular chord voicings, instrumental arrangements, and lyrics as sacred or secular? How might one track historical conversations and controversies regarding sacred and secular music—focusing one’s source material so that a particular story emerges, yet broadening one’s gaze sufficiently such that constitutive cultural concerns come to light? The first question is difficult to explore in classrooms in which knowledge of music theory is neither a prerequisite nor a course goal. The second question is fundamental to inquiry across the arts and humanities,...

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