Religion and the History of Black Music

Join Josef Sorett, Professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, for this six-part series run in coordination with two Columbia Summer Session courses: Gospel Music in Modern America and Religion and the History of Hip Hop.

The series brings together scholars, musicians, media workers, and fans for a discussion of the evolving role of religion in shaping the history of Black music. Each Wednesday will be organized around a selection of songs that guests will discuss as a means for thinking about the play between religion and music during a specific moment in time.


PART I: Gospel Music in Modern America

Part I focuses around the play between sacred and secular in gospel music, from the advent of modern gospel during the Great Migration era, through the rise of Contemporary Gospel Music, up through the early years of the 21st century.


Wednesday, May 26th, 2021

6:00PM–7:00PM ET

Opening Conversation on Religion and Black Music with Columbia Undergrads

Professor Sorett will introduce the series and engage three Columbia undergraduates: Colby King, ’22CCMalachi Jones, ’22CC, and Briana Wood, ’22CC, who also co-host a campus radio show. This conversation will survey the full span of the religion and the history of Black music, from the early years of Gospel music through Hip Hop music during the most recent decade.


Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

6:00PM–7:00PM ET

Gospel Blues to Modern Gospel (1930s–1970s)

Featuring Juilliard Professor and Ethnomusicologist Fredara Hadley, this conversation will dig deeper into the early history of Gospel music, focusing on the three decades that followed the emergence of the genre in the 1930s.


Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

6:00PM–7:00PM ET

Trajectories in Contemporary Gospel (1980s–present)

Professor Sorett focuses in on the years that follow the period typically considered to be the Gospel genre’s “golden age.” Joined by UVA Professor Claudrena Harold, historian and author of When Sunday Comes: Gospel Music in the Soul and Hip Hop Era, they will discuss developments in Gospel music from the 1970s to the present.


PART II: Religion and the History of Hip Hop

Part II follows the history of Hip Hop music from the 1970s to the present, examining the range of religious ideas and practices that have animated the performance, production, reception, and consumption of rap music.


Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

6:00PM–7:00PM ET


The first event in Part II kicks off a discussion of the various ways that religion appeared in Hip Hop music as it was first emerging, as well as the response by religious leaders to the sounds of a new genre.


Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

6:00PM–7:00PM ET


Joined by public intellectual and Teachers College Professor Christopher Emdin, this conversation will follow shifts in the religious dimensions of rap music during the 1990s and 2000s.


Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

6:00PM–7:00PM ET


Wrapping up the series, the final conversation will feature a discussion of place of religion and spirituality in Hip Hop music over the last decade.



For questions, please contact

For additional information about program offerings at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, please contact an Admissions Counselor at 212-854-9666 or