Mark Porter

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 work 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.

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For the Warming of the Earth: Music, Faith, and Ecological Crisis

For the Warming of the Earth

How do you go about writing music for a climate-focussed worship album? What does it mean to sing alongside trees in a forest? How can we process the loss of animals and habitats in the music of a Requiem? As issues of climate and ecology become ever more important, Christian communities are increasingly looking for appropriate ways to respond to the current crisis in their worship and liturgy. In this book, Mark Porter draws on more than 40 interviews with activists, song-writers, Christian leaders, and musicians to explore what it means to develop new Christian musical practices for a time of ecological crisis. Through these different conversations, the book enters into fundamental questions regarding our relationships with the world around us, the relationship between spirituality and ecology, and the different ways in which we can engage with the climate crisis which we are facing.

[Book Minisite]

This is a much-needed book. Musical Christian responses to the climate emergency are immensely varied and astonishingly creative, including musicking in well-known formats and innovations in sonic worlds that bring the human and other-than-human sound worlds together. The debates are carefully and clearly set out with remarkable respect for diverse theological and musical positions… This is an excellent and inspirational book that is an essential read for anyone concerned with Christian ecology.

—June Boyce-Tillman, University of Winchester

This well-conceived and clearly-written series of interview-based case studies lifts the curtain on an important but under-studied aspect of music for the environment: the explosion of musical creativity and experimentation among progressive Christians and other faith-based groups in response to the existential crisis of climate change. A thoughtful and pioneering contribution to applied ecomusicology, this stimulating book offers a great deal to scholars, musicians, and environmental activists.

—Jeff Todd Titon, Brown University

SCM (Publisher) (with discount)

Ecologies of Resonance in Christian Musicking

Ecologies of Resonance in Christian Musicking

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

  • Dr Mark Porter (Author)
  • The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy (The Dean, Christ Church, Oxford)
  • Dr Jonathan Dueck (Vice President Academic and Academic Dean; Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Canadian Mennonite University)
  • Dr Monique Ingalls (Associate Professor of Music; Church Music Graduate Program Director, Baylor University)

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

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Ethics and Christian Musicking

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.

  • Introduction: Music and Ethics in Contemporary Christianity (Mark Porter and Nathan Myrick)

The Body and Beyond

  • Praise, Politics, Power: Ethics of the Body in Christian Musicking (Marcell Silva Steurnagel)
  • The Silence of the Monks—The Ethics of Everyday Sounds (Marcel Cobussen)
  • Delay, or, When Breath Precedes Encounter: Aesthet(h)ic(al) negotiations in black gospel’s Afro-Asian crossings (Bo kyung Blenda Im)

Fulfilling Responsibilities and Negotiating Values

  • “That Worship Sound”: Ethics, things, and shimmer reverberation (Jeff R Warren)
  • Amateurism-without-Amateurishness, or Authenticity as Vanishing Act in Evangelical Worship Music (Joshua Kalin Busman)
  • Music Business, Ethics, and Christian Festivals: Progressive Christianity at Wild Goose Festival (Andrew Mall)
  • The ethics of adaptation in hymns and songs for worship (Maggi Dawn)

Identity and Encounter

  • “Hillsong and Black”: The Ethics of Style, Representation and Identity in the Hillsong Megachurch (Tanya Riches and Alexander Douglas)
  • A Worship-Rooted Lifestyle? Exploring Evangelical Ethics at Bethel Church, Redding, CA (Emily Snider Andrews)
  • Applied Ethnomusicology in Post-Mission Australian Aboriginal Contexts: Ethical Responsibility, Style and Aesthetics (Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg)
  • Singing Together as Global Citizens: Toward a Musical Ethic of Relational Accompaniment (Maren Haynes Marchesini)

Valuing the Self

  • Deceitful Hearts and Transformed Lives: Performing Truth and Truthfulness in Fundamentalist Christian Vocal Music (Sarah Bereza)
  • Beyoncé Mass and the Flourishing of Black Women (Tamisha Tyler)
  • Ethics, Experience and Western Classical Sacred Music (Jonathan Arnold)

Read a summary of the chapters on Thread reader

All of the studies featured in Ethics and Christian Musicking exemplify work at the forefront of congregational music studies. The book as a whole is filled with theoretical discussion, ethical tensions, and varying methodological approaches that will surely be a treasure trove for any scholar who wishes to familiarize themselves with historical and current conversations in the study of Christian musicking. I would also highly recommend this book to worship practitioners who are not familiar with academic texts, but who still wish to critically consider the ways they worship the Lord through music. Overall, the Congregational Music Studies series has succeeded in producing another edited volume that challenges antiquated church traditions and highlights studies that show their care for Christian musicking through topically informed, interdisciplinary, and diverse methodologies.

—Kathryn Minyoung Cooke (Yale Journal of Music and Religion)

Online Stores Buy from the Publisher Taylor and Francis Online

Contemporary Worship Music and Everyday Musical Lives

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)

Online Stores Buy from the Publisher Taylor and Francis Online

Shorter Writings & Media

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.

Articles and Chapters

  • Porter, Mark (2024) ‘Singing the Climate Crisis—In Outdoor Spaces’ in: The Hymn.
  • Porter, Mark (2024) ‘Singing the Climate Crisis—In Worship’ in: The Hymn.
  • Porter, Mark (2024) ‘Encountering, exploring, and teaching ecomusicology – a personal journey’ in: Hingehört! Der Sound des Anthropozäns.

    In diesem Artikel veranschaulicht Mark Porter, wie sehr der Unterricht in die gesellschaftlichen Bedingungen und Aufgaben seiner Zeit eingebunden ist. Ausgehend von seinen eigenen Erfahrungen in der Lehre und (Feld-)Forschung ermutigt er andere Lehrer, mit forschungsbasiertem, kooperativem Unterricht zu experimentieren. Die Ökomusikologie ist weit davon entfernt, eine kleine thematische Nische zu sein. Vielmehr ist sie zunehmend Teil der wesentlichen Verflechtung von Musik und Wissenschaft in der sozio-ökologischen Umwelt und ihren Krisen. Um Themen im Kontext der Umweltkrise entwickeln zu können, brauchen Studierende viel Raum, thematische Freiheit und methodische Breite. Unterstützt durch die Offenheit für andere Formate als die üblichen akademischen Formate und die ständige Selbstreflexion ihrer Akteure kommt den Hochschulen damit eine zentrale Rolle bei der Bewältigung gesellschaftlicher Herausforderungen zu.

  • Porter, Mark (2023) ‘Christian Musical Innovation and Changing Ecological Relationships’ in: Journal of Contemporary Religion.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (forthcoming) ‘The intersectional ecologies of civic musical spaces’ in: Oxford Handbook of Music and Christian Theology.

    Civic spaces serve as locations in which different groups can assemble and express or enjoy themselves, and where they can do so in a place where encounter with a wider spectrum of others is not only likely but is expected. Such spaces are full of ambiguities, intersections, and uncertainties as the encounters which they enable are subject to continual contestation and negotiation. Musical practices in civic space are diverse and varied, as are the different relationships to faith and spirituality which they can open up. Stadium concerts by artists or worship leaders, musical entertainment in a local pub and the musicality of protest each bring with them a different set of dynamics, layers, and possibilities. Whilst recent trends to understand concert performances in sacramental terms offer an important recognition of the significance of such spaces for matters of spirituality, the tendency to reach for established theological categories can often fail to do justice to the multiplicity that is a fundamental part of civic dynamics. Through a consideration of ethnographic explorations alongside the work of recent theologians, this chapter argues that dynamics of encounter, play, contestation, layering, and intersection are crucial to the theological and spiritual potential of civic musical spaces. These spaces serve an important role in negotiating the intersection of faith with a range of activities, individuals, groups, and concerns which are often not so immediately present within the spaces of Christian worship. At the same time, patterns of meaning-making in civic spaces are highly distributed and at a distance from traditional controlling theological paradigms. Music provides a medium for the mixing and layering of different experiences and interactions and it offers both the potential for productive encounter and for more-dangerous varieties of polarisation and division.

  • Porter, Mark (2020) ‘Fleeing the Resonance Machine: Music and sound in “emerging church” communities’ in: Journal of Contemporary Religion.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (2020) ‘How (Ethno)musicological is God? Ethnomusicology, Theology, and the Dynamics of Interdisciplinary Dialogues’ in: Religion – Musik – Macht. Ed. by Wolfgang Müller and Franc Wagner. Basel: Schwabe Verlag.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (2020) ‘(Almost) a decade of congregational music studies’ in: The Hymn.
  • Porter, Mark (2017) ‘Charismatic worship and cosmopolitan movement(s)’ in: Liturgy.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (2017) ‘Singing beyond territory: Hillsong and church planting in Oxford, UK’. In: “You call me out upon the waters”: Critical Perspectives on the Hillsong movement. Ed. by Tanya Riches and Tom Wagner. Palgrave Macmillan.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (2016). ‘Sounding back and forth: directions and dimensions of resonance in congregational musicking’ in: Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (2016). ‘Marginal spaces at St Aldates, Oxford’ in: Journal of Contemporary Religion 31.2, pp. 239–253.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (2014). ‘The Developing Field of Christian Congregational Music Studies’ in: Ecclesial Practices 1.2, pp. 149–166.

    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.

  • Porter, Mark (2013). ‘Moving between musical worlds: Worship music, significance and ethics in the lives of contemporary worshippers’. In: Christian congregational music: performance, identity, and experience. Ed. by Monique M Ingalls, Carolyn Landau and Tom Wagner. Aldershot: Ashgate.

  • Porter, Mark (2013). ‘Contemporary worship music: different perspectives’. In: Church Music Quarterly March 2013, pp. 16–18.