Mark Porter studied at University College, Oxford, and King’s College, London, before completing his doctorate in ethnomusicology at City University, London, in 2014. After his doctorate, he took up a postdoctoral position at Max-Weber-Kolleg, at the University of Erfurt. This position paved the way for his current research project on Christian musical innovation and changing ecological relationships, based at the university’s department for theology and religious studies. His work is driven by a desire to engage with the diversity of musical practices and experiences in Christianity and beyond and to understand their significance for individuals, for particular communities, and within wider constellations of groups, networks, and ecologies.
Mark is author of Contemporary Worship and Everyday Musical Lives (Routledge 2016) and Ecologies of Resonance in Christian Musicking (Oxford University Press 2020). He is co-editor of the edited collection Ethics and Christian Musicking and co-founder/programme chair of the biennial Christian Congregational Music: Local and Global Perspectives conference as well as part of the team behind the Open University’s Eco Creativity events. His writing has appeared in the Church Music Quarterly, Ecclesial Practices, Liturgy, the Journal of Contemporary Religion and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, among others. He has taught and presented at numerous universities around the world, as well as maintaining a practical strand to his work through engaging with communities, offering workshops, and collaborating on a range of creative projects and performances. Alongside his academic work, Mark is an active church musician who has served as worship leader, director of music, organist and choir leader for a variety of churches in the UK and in Germany.
A new volume based on three years of interviews with individuals and communities experimenting with new ways of drawing together faith and ecological crises through music. Coming soon with SCM Press.
Ecologies of Resonance in Christian Musicking explores a diverse range of Christian musical activity through the conceptual lens of resonance, a concept rooted in the physical, vibrational and sonic realm that carries with it an expansive ability to simultaneously describe personal, social and spiritual realities. Mark Porter proposes that attention to patterns of back-and-forth interaction that exist in and alongside sonic activity can help us to understand the dynamics of religious musicking in new ways and, at the same time, can provide a means for bringing diverse traditions into conversation. The book focuses on questions arising out of human experience in the moment of worship. What happens if we take the entry point of human beings who experience varying patterns of sonic interaction with the world around them as a focus for exploration? What different ecologies of interaction can we trace? What kinds of patterns can we trace through different Christian worshipping environments? How do these operate across multiple dimensions of experience?
Chapters covering ascetic sounding, noisy congregations and internet livestreaming, among others, serve to highlight the diverse ecologies of resonance that surround Christian musicking, suggesting the potential to develop new perspectives on devotional musical activity which primarily focus not on compositions or theological ideals but on changing patterns of interaction across multiple dimensions between individuals, spaces, communities and God.
Virtual Book Launch on 17th November 2020 with
Mark Porter’s book explores the dynamics of interaction and sound across a dizzying variety of Christian devotional settings and moments. Porter's core idea of ‘resonance,’ rather than offering simple answers, opens up new questions for us. Porter helps us ask why and how patterned sound is present across varieties of religious devotion, and also what qualities of devotion particular patterns of sound and interaction allow for.
—Jonathan Dueck, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Canadian Mennonite University (Winnipeg, Canada)
Mark Porter's evocative, wide-ranging, and theoretically significant work presents an invaluable frame for understanding the complex interconnections between sound, space, and social life in the context of Christian music-making. This book establishes Porter--already a pioneer in congregational music studies--as a leading authority on music and contemporary religion.
—Monique M. Ingalls, Associate Professor of Music, Baylor University and author of Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Forms Evangelical Community
This is a pathbreaking book that points the way to a totally new understanding of the role of music in religious experience.
—Hartmut Rosa, Professor of Sociology and Social Theory at Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, Germany
Not just musicology, not just ethnography, not just anthropology, but a proper thick description of what it's like to be in worship, experience it, and comprehend it.
—Martyn Percy, The Dean, Christ Church, Oxford
This book confirms Mark Porter’s place as a leading thinker and theorist in the field of congregational music ... [His] work deserves to be taken seriously not only by students of congregational music, but also more widely by musicologists and scholars of the study of religion; if they do so, they will find much here that may persuade them to afford more attention to the vibrant, diverse and ever-changing world of congregational music than has previously been the case.
—Martin Clarke in Reading Religion
This set of studies on Christian musical encounters deserves to be received as a more broadly enticing and provocative volume than its title may at first convey ... what he terms 'ecologies of resonance' ... [wrestles] the reader out of various established avenues of musical-theological study and into the new territory Porter wishes to chart. And it is very promising territory ... by its later chapters he demonstrates a highly perceptive engagement with quite complex musical and liturgical phenomena ... [T]he issues and opportunities he explores around live-streamed worship will no doubt have developed an aptness over the previous months for many readers; his work here is very much worth attention.
—James Crockford in Theology
This is an important book in looking at church music in its context, rather than a simply musical aesthetic appraisal ... The book raises many important questions, especially for the digital world. I am particularly interested in how it might encourage improvisation in liturgy and shared leadership ... it [presents] useful analytical tools for people studying music in worship and raises important questions about the direction digital religion may take and its relation with the developing secular world.
—June Boyce-Tillman in Practical Theology
The relationship between musical activity and ethical significance occupies long traditions of thought and reflection both within Christianity and beyond. From concerns regarding music and the passions in early Christian writings through to moral panics regarding rock music in the 20th century, Christians have often gravitated to the view that music can become morally weighted, building a range of normative practices and prescriptions upon particular modes of ethical judgment.
In both contrast and complement to such traditions, recent scholarship has sought to interrogate music’s ethical potential in new ways, emphasising the significance of the diverse ways in which music is employed in relation to different situations and structures. As studies of Christian musicking have moved to incorporate the experiences, agencies, and relationships of congregations, ethical questions have become implicit in new ways in a range of recent research - how do communities negotiate questions of value in music? How are processes of encounter with a variety of different others negotiated through musical activity? What responsibilities arise within musical communities? This volume seeks to open out this conversation, asking how ethical perspectives can be brought to bear on a range of experiences and activities.
Whilst Contemporary Worship Music arose out of a desire to relate the music of the church to the music of everyday life, this function can quickly be called into question by the diversity of musical lives present in contemporary society. Mark Porter examines the relationship between individuals’ musical lives away from a Contemporary Worship Music environment and their diverse experiences of music within it, presenting important insights into the complex and sometimes contradictory relationships between congregants’ musical lives within and outside of religious worship. Through detailed ethnographic investigation Porter challenges common evangelical ideals of musical neutrality, suggesting the importance of considering musical tastes and preferences through an ethical lens. He employs cosmopolitanism as an interpretative framework for understanding the dynamics of diverse musical communities, positioning it as a stronger alternative to common assimilationist and multiculturalist models.
This is an important question to explore [...] and Porter approaches it with great subtlety.
—Revd Dr David Martin (Church Times)
An impressive debut from a promising scholar. It is ethnographically sensitive and theoretically sophisticated.
—Dr Tom Wagner (Music and Letters)
Porter argues persuasively that worship music practices need to be analyzed from a “musico/ethical” perspective and envisioned as crucial places where congregations can (and perhaps ought) to engage in ongoing negotiations over diversity in order to maintain healthy community
—Dr Anna Nekola (Journal of Popular Music Studies)
Mark Porter's work [...] advances the important conversation on the relationships between music, worship, culture, identity, and, ultimately, Christian formation at work in 21st-century ministry
—Adam Perez (Global Forum on Arts and Christian Faith)
A number of these publications are behind paywalls. I am happy to send PDFs of all work to anyone who requests them. Please just email.
This article surveys recent musical innovation at the intersection of Christianity and changing ecological relationships. Drawing on a series of extended interviews carried out in late 2019 and early 2020 with participants involved in the evangelical song-writing project Doxecology, musical aspects of Christian Climate Action protests, the creation of forest church songbooks, and requiems for lost species, the author describes the experiences and concerns of individuals who are currently active in or beginning to explore new forms of musical activity in this area. The article seeks to document the range of motivations, concerns, and issues surrounding recent musical innovation, drawing attention to the diverse nature of the current scene and highlighting the potential importance of musical and ritual activity in negotiating the current climate crisis. The author suggests that music participates in broader inter-religious tensions present in this area while providing an additional space for negotiation, experience, and activity.
Traditional practices of congregational singing have often been brought into question within the contemporary so-called ‘Emerging Church’ movement. Emerging Church groups, through their self-consciously post-modern re-imaginings of Christianity, challenge not only ideas of group singing but also of the congregation itself, intentionally deconstructing the boundaries, patterns, and norms which have typically served to define the congregational group. Nevertheless, music and sound remain important, if contested, components of Emerging Church practices. Patterns of sonic, social, and spiritual resonance established within evangelical or charismatic settings are deconstructed, modified, and reconstructed in a broad variety of ways. This article explores musical dynamics within contemporary Emerging Church communities in the UK, examining how new patterns of resonant interaction are constructed when previous patterns are brought into question. In particular, it is suggested that a variety of practices are used in order to create acts of musicking which offer space for multiplicity and diversity of experience, in a move which shares a range of values with ambient musics.
In previous work I have suggested that developments in ethnomusicology have served as a crucial driving force behind the study of Christian congregational music. Such study inevitably draws in theological concerns alongside musical ones; however, whilst there has been increasing interest in the relationship between music(ology) and theology, much of this has focused around traditional musicological paradigms, with explicit dialogue between ethnomusicology and theology often remaining somewhat incidental in nature. I suggest that ethnomusicology has the potential to provide crucial critique of current paradigms of dialogue and that future conversations may well involve a greater degree of tension.
The pentecostal movement, from its very origins, is rooted in ideals and realities of cosmopolitanism. The events of Azusa street, as much as the pentecost event itself broke across boundaries of race and nationality to form a group rooted in the work of God’s Spirit over and above socio-political loyalties and identities. Birgit Meyer has proposed a deep connection between Pentecostal’s global growth and the power of its sensational forms (i.e. music and worship) whilst Joel Robbins has analysed the complex dynamics pentecostal/charismatic christianity negotiates between processes of globalisation and indiginisation, dynamics fostered by particular elements of pentecostal belief. In this article I draw upon previous fieldwork in Oxford, UK as well as my own more recent experiences as a migrant in Germany in order to explore the ways in which contemporary charismatic and pentecostal musical forms are deeply implicated in dynamics of cosmopolitanism. I examine the importance of understanding pentecostal/charismatic worship in relation to contemporary processes of both macro- and micro- level cosmopolitan movement. As charismatic/pentecostal music and individuals circulate across national borders, so are individuals able to form more-localised cosmopolitan communities of worship centred around negotiation across difference. The alliance between pentecostal/charismatic music and global/local diversity and movement is key to its rise and to its place within contemporary experience.
In early 2014 Hillsong planted a congregation in Oxford. Oxford is no stranger to church plants, however Hillsong’s status as a global brand makes its disruptive capacity particularly potent. St Aldates, currently one of the largest congregations in Oxford has, over recent years, increasingly drawn on Hillsong’s musical output in order to establish its own musical identity whilst also sharing a similar charismatic evangelical theology to Hillsong. What does Hillsong’s arrival in Oxford mean for St Aldates’ role within the Oxford church landscape? How do the churches occupy and differentiate themselves within a common geographical space? This chapter highlights Hillsong Oxford’s cosmopolitan characteristics, and suggests the importance of seeing the two churches through metaphors of network and flow rather than exclusively within local territorialized space.
The concept of authenticity has become increasingly ubiquitous within both contemporary social and cultural analysis and within studies of congregational music. In this paper, I suggest that it has become stretched through overuse, but that it can be usefully supplemented through the concept of resonance. I survey existing social and sonic usages of “resonance” and suggest the need to hold together a number of different understandings in order to take advantage of the term’s expansive ability to point towards the multi-directional and multi-dimensional complexes of relationships that surround the activity of congregational music. I suggest, rather than aiming to arrive at a strict definition of resonance as a phenomenon, that it is useful to allow the concept a degree of messiness and suggest, instead, that a list of questions might serve as a useful starting point for further exploration.
St Aldates is a large Charismatic Anglican church in the centre of Oxford. The music of the regular Sunday services stands within the tradition of Contemporary Worship Music and the musical leaders cultivate an intentional sense of consistency. Within this environment, individuals are often expected to set aside existing musical tastes and attachments, adopting an attitude of worship regardless of their relationship to the musical environment. Away from the Sunday services there are a number of more marginal musical spaces in which a wider range of musical forms find expression. In this article I draw on third-space theory and my own ethnographic fieldwork to explore the alternative musical dynamics which two such spaces open up and the different relationships which they enable between individuals’ diverse musical attachments and the musical life of the church. In line with divergent streams in the literature, I suggest that these spaces carry both productive and disruptive potential, both challenging and supporting prevailing musical norms.
Whilst Christian congregational music has long been an object of reflection and study it has often been pushed towards the margins of the various disciplines that it inhabits. In this article I survey some of the challenges such study has faced before suggesting that recent disciplinary developments have served to prepare the ground for increased study of Christian congregational music. I suggest that ethnomusicology, in particular, has played an important role in motivating recent enquiry across a range of disciplines although not without facing a number of further challenges itself. I suggest that a field of Christian congregational music studies is beginning to emerge and finish by outlin- ing recent contributions to scholarship from a range of perspectives.