“Goin’ Up Yonder”: Sounding a Secular/Sacred American South in Gospel Music Performance
Event: 04/08/2017 – 04/08/2017
Abstract: 12/31/2016
Categories: American, African-American, Comparative, Gender & Sexuality, Graduate Conference, Interdisciplinary, Cultural Studies, Popular Culture
Location: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Organization: Department of English & Comparative Literature

At times of great political unrest and/or aesthetic stagnancy, black artists and leaders often have looked to the church and its music to provide a source for renewed inspiration and spiritual reassurance. Both W.E.B. Du Bois’s descriptions of the early “sorrow songs” and Amiri Baraka’s designation of the black church as the “focal point” of the earliest black social life lend to an understanding of gospel music as a unique sonic space, historically, in which the black soul is made legible for public consumption. As such, the continuing place of gospel music as a key component of African American religious and cultural practice cannot be given enough scholarly attention. Recent reimaginings of gospel music within hip hop culture, including Kanye West’s Life of Pablo and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, provide small glimpses into how the genre continues to define popular concepts of blackness in the United States—particularly in artistic renderings of black community, the South, and a more-inclusive future America.

This one-day symposium, to be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, welcomes papers that examine gospel music performance in literary texts, widely imagined, particularly as they relate to experiences of belonging, as they mediate ideas of an “old South” and “new south,” and as they explore black identity at the cusp of these shifting landscapes. In particular, this symposium will consider gospel’s return to its “southern roots” as a stage for contemplating historical and contemporary black cultural performances, and as a necessary meditation on literary, musical, and artistic experimentation in the figuring of blackness/the South/America. We encourage examinations of gospel music or gospel soundings and/in the literary text that imagine the future possibilities of the genre as it might be used to figure race, gender, sexuality, and belonging in the United States. Papers are welcomed by authors from a diverse array of academic disciplines, including (but not limited to) American studies, English literature, comparative literatures, history, religious studies, ethnomusicology, and gender and sexuality studies.

Possible topics may include (but also are not limited to) the following:
-The idea of boundaries in gospel music: past/present/future, black/non-black, religious/secular, Southern/Northern, church/club, spiritual/non-spiritual, rural/urban/suburban
-Constructions of gender, race, nation, boundary, the South, the rural, the urban in gospel music
-Reimagining the American South through the discourse of gospel music
-The future of gospel and its ability to help imagine future possibilities for racialized identity
-The vexed site of secularization/popularization/commercialization within contemporary gospel music
-Intersections between gospel music and hip-hop culture, or other vernacular forms (blues, jazz, soul, funk, and so forth)
-The representation of gospel music and performance in literature
-Spirituality and the performance of blackness in music/literature of all genres
-Mergers of past and future in the discourse of gospel music
-Gospel music and Afro-Futurism
-Gospel music and Feminism
-Gospel music and Humanism
-Gospel music and Sexuality
-Gospel music in international contexts
-British Black gospel music
-Gospel music of the Caribbean
-Southern gospel music

Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words, as well as a short biography that includes any academic title and/or affiliation, to [UNCGospelSymposium@gmail.com] by December 31, 2016. We strongly encourage panel presentations organized by applicants. If you wish to submit a panel presentation, please include the abstracts of all panel members together along with the contact information for the panel organizer. Decisions about acceptance will be sent by January 15, 2017, along with the announcement of our Keynote Speaker and symposium performances.

For more information, please direct all queries to the symposium’s organizers:
Andrew Belton (abelton@email.unc.edu) and
Kimberly Burnett (klgibbs@email.unc.edu)