Healing From Within – The Changing Face of Religion and Hip Hop in Contemporary Society
Host: Sheryl Glick R.M.T.
Special Guest: Dr. Monica Miller
In today’s episode of Healing From Within, your host Sheryl Glick author of The Living Spirit: Answers for Healing and Infinite Love which shares stories of spiritual awakenings, spiritual communication Universal healing energies, miracles and offers ways to go “within” to find your authentic Self and to further improve your spiritual and physical realities, welcomes Dr. Monica Miller who in her new book Religion In Hip Hop explores the changing face of religion in today’s culture by researching the odd, deviant and outcast of our society to show us how religion is being remade in certain segments of the population.
Dr. Miller will share her insights into the topic of religion, youth culture, and Hip Hop exploring data from controversial events like recent text by rappers who fashion their books after bibles, dance subcultures and analysis on the declining significance of churches among youth- offering a bold proclamation that what we think is religious isn’t so religious, after all, suggesting we must begin again. Dr. Miller is serves as a professor at Lehigh University and is co-founder of the first ever American Academy of Religion Group on Hip Hop…Critical Approaches to the Study of Hip Hop and Religion.
No stranger to the odd deviant and outcast, Dr Monica Miller turned her passion for understanding all things “marginal and pop” into a lifelong career of researching some of the most pressing social issues today. Breaking the mold on traditional scholarship and the look of a scholar she is emerging as the voice for understanding the once deemed strange relationship between the sacred and the profane… Miller’s work shows how moralizing stereotypes of Hip Hop and Youth Gone Wild have everything to do with social cultural and political interests rooted in the struggle for and over meaning and power.
Monica says she never imagined herself a scholar in religion…in fact she wanted to be a lawyer and when an undergraduate became very interested in human behavior and exploring why people do, think and choose the way they do in the world…. What influences people to believe certain things even in cases where there remains little tangible evidence…What drives people to ask the big questions of life?…These questions led Monica to the study of religion theology and philosophy….what she was really grappling with is the ways in which ideology past and present functions in society.
Sheryl says “It sounds much like me …I thought I’d be a lawyer instead I married one and became more active in answering the big questions of life that some people never even contemplate… As a child I felt that the religious institutions were functioning from old belief systems and were rigid and unchanging and I felt that a personal connection with God or Spirit was perhaps a more worthwhile and empowering process …but of course it took me a long time to realize that my sensitivities to energy, people, places, and my heightened intuition was the way for me to make this personal connection to source… I was simply too taken in by the patterns and socialization process of my family and educational background. Later on during an awakening process stimulated by my growing dissatisfaction with the state of the world, I began to notice coincidences and synchronicity which lead me to a study of psychics, mediums, energy healing and spiritual communication allowing for the development of my natural spiritual gifts. Wishing to share the extraordinary knowledge that we are spiritual beings having a physical life and as such, have unlimited potential to manifest and create either our best reality or our worst…the choices is ours I devoted time to teaching Reiki energy healing and the development of mediumship abilities to interested students.”
Sheryl asks Monica her motivation for working with co-authors to write her newest book Religion and Hip Hop. Monica says she became fascinated with Hip Hop in graduate school especially the many uses and shout-outs to religion in rappers lyrics and religious symbols and imagery that pervade music videos. There were no books in the field of religious studies to make sense out of what she was seeing and hearing. Monica became frustrated with the all too common cookie cutter approach to religion in Hip Hop couched within a Christian frame of analysis and within a certain understanding of religion as belief and confessionality.
The main question that has dominated this field of study is “What is religious in Hip Hop? And then What is religious? Religion and Hip Hop is one of the only texts in the field of religious studies to leap beyond the confines of just exploring rap music. I want to showcase what Hip Hop can teach us about the messy world of religion and, more importantly, why it matters in unlocking the code of the changing face of religion in culture today. America has become obsessed with religion with many feeling that ‘belief’ is on a drastic decline. My research has shown that this type of concern is based on a faulty understanding of religion; one that is rooted in manufactured crisis. Religion and Hip Hop reveals why it is vital to pay attention to how religion is used in culture today.
Sheryl says in her studies it appears all religions have attempted to morally attune the general population to a more cooperative and successful way to interact for the good of all. However religions are firmly connected to political economical and societal structures in a way that sometimes supports certain groups and beliefs while by passing others and in order to help humanity evolve and behave in ways that are positive, enlightened and respectful of higher values it is necessary for all religions to seek to purify human instincts and allow for a spiritual or soul view of life verses the ego or primitive fearful mind based look which detracts people from knowing more about Universal Energy and the laws of nature, man and God. Hip Hop has been a way for a segment of the youth culture to express their concerns and fears and reach out to the world to become more accepting and allowing of their physical and spiritual needs and if done in the name of peace good will and to raise them up to inspiration and love it is well designed to create personal growth… But when religion politics and education and medical practices seek to control and restrict any group of citizens we have serious problems as we can witness in the wake of evens in the Isis attacks on Paris (November 13, 2015). Religion or politics that allow or choose to dominate and squelch the human spirit and use violence and death to assert their belief system are deviant and dangerous and must be stopped by a civilized World Leadership.
Monica says, “I call myself the Pop Ph.D because not only am I a pop culture junkie, but I get my ideas from researching and being drawn to unlikely people places and things…. I like to say I go where many scholars are often to respectable to go… the main problem with current trends in religion in Hip Hop scholarship has been experts not being able to stick to their ‘academic’ position, and rather, capitalizing on data such as Hip Hop to market their own political, social and cultural interests. I think this type of thing should have no place in the academic setting. I pay attention to the mundane and that which seems to be ‘insignificant’.”
Hip-hop culture is made up of four general elements.
1. Mc’ing (the lyrical part such as beat boxing and rapping)
3. Graffiti production
4. Dance (breakdance)
According to Raquel Rivera “Hip-hop is a fluid culturally space: a zone whose boundaries are internal and external matter of debate… it is a profoundly diverse trans-local, multiethnic, and multicultural phenomenon.” According to famous rapper Ludacris, In hip-hop, there is a language. Some words don’t always mean something negative. I feel like people should understand where we are coming from. We live it, and the people that criticize it so much have never lived it and are just hearing us talk.
Taking up a thread of youth religiosity, Monica conducts an analysis of data on church attendance over time, adding to the knowledge even while finding that connections between belief and practice are complicated and not always best captured through the empirical studies where survey instruments remain confined to traditional understanding of religiosity. There is a constant decline in youth church attendance overtime, across race and gender and especially in urban areas, this level of understanding, lived experiences of youth, as self-defined and self-manifested.
The theme of when the religious isn’t so religious is a constant theme throughout Monica’s book…. Monica’s main point is that while experts of religion are continually searching for religion in Hip Hop and youth culture…it doesn’t exist as an entity –a thing that can be picked up like an apple from a tree… She writes, “I suggest the apple we claim to see is not really there but more a projection of the expert’s imagination….Maybe we should get rid of the word religion then..Religion is not a thing, there is no sacred or profane…rather it is a way of talking about the world for particular human interests and for various reasons in certain cultural economies…we need to begin again rethinking the religious if we truly want to understand the changing face of religion in culture today.”
Sheryl agrees that the tenants of all religions from ancient times have centered around political economic and power issues to dominate groups of people and attain power and control of the many often by the few….The uses of religion in popular cultures is tricky and witty and has changed. Even many of the words or terminology of ancient concepts and beliefs have different meanings in today’s technological world….
Monica mentions two interviews with Erykah Badu, who depicts her specific understanding of how art functions in identity formation. Badu acknowledges that her multiplicity of personas points to a unified artistic articulation of whom she is as a person. Badu recognizes music as an outlet, by means of which she can creatively express these various conceptions of herself. Badu says, “What I believe in whole-heartedly is that people want to be loved and acknowledged and needed. So however they go about getting whatever they need to connect with the higher part of themselves … it’s just what they need. I understand human beings.”
Sheryl feels comfortable with Badu’s quote and says…”So therefore, throughout time all religions have sought to help people know who they are as spiritual beings having a physical life experience and remembering their connection to the eternal life force, universe or God and it is through self investigation that we remember our inner essence or soul life and whether it comes through biblical texts or life experiences, nature, music, art, or creative thought and expressions as in modern day hip hop or any art form- it is still the search for love.”
Monica tells us “The body is the main tool in a growing trend of religion today. When the “Word becomes flesh” in hip hop, experts in religion will need a new approach to uncover the dizzying world of religion in hip hop culture today. Watkins (2003) argues that God-conscious rappers, “create a dialogue among the faithful who listen to, and repeat, the rhymes in their daily lives, allowing the lyrics to influence their religious worldview and how they understand God. ” The “ faithful ” here refers less to those who are observing faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and more to those who follow popular artisans, in this case, larger than life hip hop figures — especially Tupac — whose eschatological lyrical reflections invite a dogmatic dedication to his existential creeds.”
Monica writes, “I explore the often misplaced and exaggerated ways in which youth practices and Hip Hop cultures are sometimes discursively constructed as “dirt”, “risk” and societal “threat”. Discourse that fashions hip hop and youth culture as an ‘exaggerated presence’ to societal norms, is often grounded in and makes use of religious narratives. When religion is positioned socially and intellectually, as the “sanitizer” of “deviant” cultural productions, this conflation produces and maintains dominant power. That is, religion becomes understood as hegemonic, dominant, and hierarchal agent of moral maintenance and deviance management. A more thorough investigation into the material culture of hip hop necessities, a third way, a more complicated theoretical posture situated and investigated with multidimensional interdisciplinary corrective lenses.”
Sheryl believes that Religious structures may not yet recognize the components of this modern day hip hop population who seek in their own way to go deep within themselves to find the connection to each other, the music, love and perhaps spiritual energy, or God. As it deviates and is setting up a new system using words and images in tune with changing technological input. In my new book, The Living Spirit, through my use of healing energy and music, meditation and research into the different religions of the world, I wrote “perhaps through dialogue, I thought people could find new understanding of what Jesus lived and died for. Like other enlightened souls throughout history, Jesus believed in the solidarity between all brothers, all races, religions and sexes….As Jesus had to rise above his agony and forgive his persecutors, so we must also do that in order to bring true peace and harmony to ourselves and to the world. This includes, forgiving those among our friends and family who ostracize us for our metaphysical views, for they too, know not what they do.”
It would seem that music- all music, comes from within the soul essence and is reaching out to embrace a higher dimension of life and there are many ways to finding who we are, where life is all about, and where we come from, and in days to come, perhaps people will begin to see that the musical community, including hip hop, is again a search for truth, and for the human condition to evolve into more accepting human beings.
The objectives of this text are threefold:
1. To offer an expansive contribution to the field of hip hop and religion that highlight critical issues, formative/new questions that engage a variety of hip hop cultural products and sources.
2. To bring hip hop artists and scholars together in an equitable way —hoping that such a text will be of use not only to academicians, but also the larger public, especially hip hop cultural workers and the wider community.
3. To provide the study of hip hop and religion with a critical roadmap that not only provides a material base but one that is thematically organized according to major topics, questions, and critical trends. Our goal is to be able to provide students with both introductory and critical introductions to major topics of considerable weight and purchase.
Monica Miller, author of Religion In Hip-Hop gave us an updated search into modern day youth culture and the effects of hip-hop in exploring the concept of self, oneness and unity to universal life.
We have become aware of the changing face of religion by studying hip-hop and youth culture. On every page, Monica Miller strives to share the importance of why attention to religion on popular culture matters from both an expert and laymen’s perspective. Monica has written in the concluding chapter of her book, what expresses part of the reality, presence and forward moving hope to continue to evolve and understand our spiritual and physical world finding Universal Source within our creative expressions of music, art, and the youth culture of today.
Monica quotes in her book Religion in Hip Hop from Rapper Bernard (Bun-B) Freeman, “At these times, when even hip hop has contributed to the existing condition, it has learned to point the finger at itself and admit its own culpability. Hip hop culture sees itself not as perfect or infallible but as an ever-learning community open to outside opinions and constructive criticism. We, within hip hop culture, are constantly trying to learn more about the world around us, as well as our place and duties in it. This is necessary for self-improvement, and for the development of useful answers to the large and hard — even religious — questions of life: Who are we? Why are we here? It is only through this type of work that true growth can be achieved.”
Monica and Sheryl would ask you to become as the evolving people of an expanding world of love and infinite wisdom in search of our personal divinity or soul life, connected to each other and to universal source that we continue to allow, accept, and surrender to the best qualities within each of us and to help humanity rise above the imperfections and limitations of any of the lower emotions such as greed, jealousy, extreme materialism, anger, fear and anything that restricts our ability to love and appreciate life in its higher state.