Jonathan Arnold

Published On


Page Range

pp. 285–304


  • English

Print Length

20 pages

14. Spiritual Cultures

Innovations in Choral and Classical Music

Recent research has revealed not only the continued growth of interest in traditional western sacred music but also the development of new initiatives that respond to people’s desire to experience spirituality through music. In this chapter, I explore how Kathryn King’s ground-breaking research into choral evensong in England, and Hanna Rijken’s mapping of the growth in popularity of choral evensong in the Netherlands, as well as the results of my own ‘Experience of Music’ surveys all indicate that sacred music, and its ritual-sacral context, leads towards tranquillity, transcendence and sanctuary, re-enchanting both religion and the secular, and leading the listener or participant away from potentially destructive emotions of pride, anger, greed or envy, towards more benevolent feelings of humility, patience, temperance and generosity. Through exploration of current trends in scholarship, I reveal how the liminal space of evensong, with its mystical overtones and transcendental properties, is not a consumerist distraction from the ‘real’ world of work, business, money, or other realities of the everyday that can give us anxiety and stress. It is a retreat into the numinous that can give strength, encouragement, and inspiration to face our problems, and look outwards from our own selfish desires. Both choral evensong and semi-liturgical rituals bring us musical and sacral encounters which can increase our sense of empathy and galvanise us for action. Hearts and minds can be transformed by music and the word in combination, a transformation encouraged by a shared experience. Listening to sacred music in community, even as strangers, can also inspire a broader sense of cohesion and socially committed resolve.


Jonathan Arnold


Jonathan Arnold is Executive Director of the Social Justice Network in the Diocese of Canterbury. Prior to this, he was Dean of Divinity and Fellow of Magdalen College at the University of Oxford, and, for many years, a member of the professional choir The Sixteen. His publications include The Great Humanists (2011), Sacred Music in Secular Society (2014), and Music and Faith: Conversations in a Post-Secular Age (2019).