The Catholic University of America

Final Examination

April Stace Vega

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Friday, March 28, 2014

1:00p.m., Caldwell Hall, Room 125




Popular music in evangelical worship services: Secularization,
Sacralization, or Both?


Director: William Dinges, Ph.D.


                New music often accompanies the emergence of new religious movements, and congregational music often provides a space for theology, ethics, and identity to be negotiated within a religious tradition. This dissertation is an ethnographic study not of a new music per se but of a new musical practice: the use of popular music in the worship services of what Donald Miller has termed “new paradigm churches.” The meanings ascribed to this music by the church leaders are analyzed in terms of the subjectivization thesis of Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead in order to ascertain any connections between the emerging musical practices and the secularization dynamics in contemporary American culture.


                This study demonstrates that that the new paradigm churches can be divided into two groups based on the official meanings ascribed to popular-secular music and the way(s) that the music is used in the service. Donald Miller’s ideal-types of “innovator” and “appropriator” churches are employed to describe this division. Leaders at appropriator churches understand the music to be a bridge between the church and the culture, whereas leaders in innovator churches refuse to acknowledge any gap between the church and the culture, instead seeing all as “sacred.” Therefore, the use of this music represents both tension between the church and the culture in regards to secularization (as appropriator churches attempt to “sacralize” a culture they deem to be almost completely secular) but also, in innovator churches, a completely “sacralized” worldview, in which there is only the “sacred” and the “more sacred.” The use of the music is thus at once an expression of both “secularization” and “sacralization.”