International Council for Traditions of Music and Dance

A Non-Governmental Organization in Formal Consultative Relations with UNESCO

ICTM Study Group on Sacred and Spiritual Sounds and Practices

Mission Statement

The Study Group on Sacred and Spiritual Sounds and Practices attends to sounds, musics, movement and all practices related broadly to belief systems, religious and spiritual doctrines and traditions. This group serves as a forum for cooperation through scholarly meetings, projects, publications, and correspondence.

Sacred belief systems, religious and spiritual doctrines and traditions, and their means of expression have a significant impact on understandings of boundaries between musical and non-musical phenomena, and between acceptable and unacceptable sound, music, movement, and dance practices in various spatial and temporal contexts. They are often the key components of ritual traditions essential for identity maintenance. In contemporary times, their fluidity and intersectionality often engender new developments and practices that can blur and blend the sacred and the secular through elements of expressive culture. These developments can in turn contribute to a deeper and broader understanding of religion and spirituality.

Sacred world views, ideologies, and rituals, as well as religions, faiths, and spirituality affect and are reflected in the domains of sound, music, movement, and dance. They sometimes contribute to experiences of political and social repression, migration, refugee status, diasporic and immigrant concerns by individuals, groups, and communities. Suitable research frameworks, essential for their understanding, include precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial environments on a war-peace continuum, and contemporary movers and sites of innovation.


Executive Committee

Co-Chairs: Irene Markoff and Marcia Ostashewski

Vice-Chair: Daniel Avorgbedor

Secretary: Hilde Binford


Dr. Irene Markoff,

Department of Music

Graduate Program in Music; (Graduate Program in Anthropology, Graduate Program in Interdisciplinary Studies)

School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design

York University 

Toronto, Canada



Because of pandemic-related concerns, the international interdisciplinary symposium Music-Religion-Spirituality, originally planned for August 2020, was postponed to 26-28 August 2021. Organized and hosted by the University of Ljubljana’s Department of Musicology and several partners (Institute of Ethnomusicology of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts’s Research Centre, the Cultural and Ethnomusicological Society Folk Slovenia, the Slovenian Musicological Society, the City Museum of Ljubljana, and the Imago Sloveniae Foundation), it took place in an online form, using the Zoom platform for registered participants, and streaming for other interested audiences.

The response to the call for papers was positive with submissions from twenty-two scholars exhibiting diverse interests and expertise. The papers presented investigated themes such as music and spiritual experience in present-day American liberal Jewish worship; music as a “tool” in religious or spiritual contexts; the relationship between music heritagization and alternative spiritualities; urban religious soundscapes and identity politics in Ljubljana; media replacements for Catholic rites suspended by the pandemic in Italy; Glagolitic traditional liturgical singing as a contested concept and an identity marker through public performance in Croatia; African intersections of “tradition” and Charismatic Christianity in Ghanaian royal stool ceremonies; passages in African Christianity with a case example from Kenya; ethnodoxology as history, nature, and dialogue; migration and diaspora involving the liturgical singing practices of Old Order Amish and Hutterites, the Slovenian Catholic community in Switzerland, the Byzantine Ukrainian rite in Canada, and new practices of Sikh shabad repertoire in Italy; Buddhist pirit chant as sound protection in Sri Lanka; performing emotion and caste in South Asian religious rituals; Sufi sources of tarab and the circulation of Sufi traditions, and Alevi music, rituals, and kinetic forms in Turkey and Bulgaria. Diverse and inspiring presentations encouraged stimulating discussions.

At the final discussion of the symposium, the participants opted to seek official recognition from the ICTM Executive Board for the new Study Group. A small group of participants then remained to create a draft of a Mission Statement and to consider the formulation of a potentially more appropriate name for the group. Input from all symposium participants was welcomed.

The decision to change the name of the proposed new Study Group from Music, Religion, and Spirituality to Sacred and Spiritual Sounds and Practices was motivated by several considerations. We felt that the term “sounds” rather than “music” was a better alternative as it embraces faith-based and related musical practices but doesn’t exclude extramusical sonic phenomena, kinetic forms, and orality as foci of research and discussion. We settled on the concepts “sacred” and “spiritual” as they effectively differentiate between formally structured, institutional devotional traditions and the non-institutional, non-organizational aspects of the multi-dimensional construct spirituality where blurring of the sacred and the secular can occur, and the transformational, affective potential of individual experiential needs is at the forefront. The term “practices” is of course suggestive of rituals and musical engagement but is more open-ended in the breadth it can encompass.

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