Why is Music a Religious Experience?

This fascinating article from the Huffington Post by a neuroscientist discusses how music affects us in the same way as religion does.  The author describes his own experience as a reverent non-believer.

Many people, myself included, experience a religious-type awe when listening to certain pieces of music. What exactly is the relationship between music and religion and where in the brain does that commonality emerge?

As I’ve written before in books and blogs, I am an atheist and yet I have an empathy for religion. Intellectually, I do not think there is a literal God. Emotionally, I am not anti-religious. One of the reasons why I feel an emotional empathy for religion is that it reminds me of my attitude toward music.

Many of the moral generalizations that have been applied to religion apply just as well to music. Music is a cultural phenomenon. It intensifies emotions. It helps cement communities. It can range from the terroristic to the sublime….

Yet something else harder to put into words, something that goes beyond cultural impact, unites music and religion. When I am listening to certain pieces of music I feel a reverence creeping over me, an awe that has a spiritual quality…

My brain is treating the music like a universe of complexity and investing that universe with its own deity, for whom I feel some measure of awe and reverence. My relationship to the music is, in the most fundamental sense, the same as a religious relationship to the real world.

How does this compare to your experience of music?
Susan Forsburg

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1 thought on “Why is Music a Religious Experience?”

  1. You have this self-transcendant feeling of a connection between music and religion because music and ritual impulses evolved virtually together in the human brain. See an excellent discussion of art (of all kinds) and ritual in Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why by Ellen Dissanayake.

    Ken Gary


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