Music, Ritual, and Diasporic Identity: A Case Study of the Armenian Apostolic Church

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2004-04-26

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This study examines the relationships between music, music-making, and ritual performance in the Armenian Apostolic Church. By looking at music-making as a ritual liturgical symbol of faith, I explain the meaning of liturgical music practice and its function in teaching the fundamentals of faith. Drawing upon the fields of ethnomusicology, theology, and ritual studies, I explore the theoretical orientations and methodological strategies that assist in the interpretation of music in ritual contexts. By examining various theories of symbol and ritual combined with fieldwork, I interpret Armenian Apostolic liturgical music using a theoretical methodology that investigates the operation of liturgical music within ritual contexts. Because "faith" is not empirically observable, I focus on "the conception of faith" as it is performed by participants in the Divine Liturgy.

In addition to looking at these aspects, I also extend my search past that of the "official" Christian Armenian community by asking what purpose the Armenian Apostolic Church serves in the community as a whole, even amongst non-Christians or non-practicing Armenian Christians. There is a discourse that runs through Armenian literature and politics that to be "Armenian" is to be "Christian." Is this the reality of the situation? Is Armenian Christianity perceived as faith, heritage, or both, and to what extent does the Divine Liturgy play a role in realizing Armenian identity? The purposes of this study are to interpret ritual in light of our physical, social, political, moral, aesthetic, and religious existence, to analyze and interpret liturgical music, to contribute to the development of a critical theory of music as a ritual symbol, and to address issues of identity.

I conclude that if the symbolic activity of ritual performance evokes participation that is empirically observable, as an outward performance and transformation or "rite of intensification" of a deeper display of the conception of faith, liturgical music-making becomes integral to the liturgical rite itself. Also, in terms of Armenian identity, the Armenian Apostolic Church is essential to the negotiation of cultural identity outside of their historic homeland of Armenia, even amongst Armenians who do not actively perform the Divine Liturgy.

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