Within the study of rock music, religion appears as a racial marker or a biographical attribute. The concept of religion, and its co-produced opposite, the secular, needs critical analysis in popular music studies. To inaugurate this work this article returns to the moment in singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s career that is most unmarked by religion, namely his appearance with an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Dylan’s going electric became, through subsequent years of narrative attention, a secularizing event. “Secularizing event” is a phrase coined to capture how certain epochal moments become transforming symbols of divestment; here, a commitment writ into rock criticism as one in which rock emerged by giving up something that had been holding it back. Through a study of this 1965 moment, as well as the history of electrification that preceded it and its subsequent commentarial reception, the unreflective secular of rock criticism is exposed.
Dylan Goes Electric: Religion and Race in Rock’s Secularizing Event
Kathryn Lofton is the Lex Hixon Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies and professor of history and divinity at Yale University. She is the author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011) and Consuming Religion (2017).
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Kathryn Lofton; Dylan Goes Electric: Religion and Race in Rock’s Secularizing Event. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 June 2021; 33 (2): 31–50. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2021.33.2.31
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