Review: Hendricks and Boyce-Tillman, eds.: Queering Freedom

Karin S. Hendricks and June Boyce-Tillman, eds. Queering Freedom: Music, Identity, and Spirituality. (Anthology with perspectives from over ten countries). Oxford: Peter Lang, 2018, xxi + 374 pp. £44/$66.95.


Eighteen contributors, a wide interdisciplinary engagement, and international institutional bases engage with the editors’ introduction to the book (‘Invocation: Queering Freedom’), which encourages the interplay of spirituality (very broadly construed), music, ‘queer enquiry’, and pedagogy via a list of fifteen possible questions, and focusses on largely unexamined and maybe indefensible assumptions. So far as Christian tradition is concerned (at least in its western cultural forms), the editors sensibly suggest that Trinitarian doctrine should not be deployed to emphasise unity whilst pathologising diversity [p. xi], and they moreover urge the embrace of ‘an apophatic view of the Divine – a way of uncertainty, a contentment with not knowing’ [p. xii]. Identifying both a fault and a remedy may indeed widen horizons. There are four groups of essays, categorised as ‘Historical Perspectives’, ‘Community and Culture’, ‘Questions for Music Education’, and ‘Emerging Identities’.

Whilst the editors indicate how in their view the essays relate to one another, it may be helpful to read the more ‘biographical’ essays first and thus come to realise how and why it is necessary to add ‘queer enquiry’ to the existing complexities of understanding and sensitivity in human lives; this is imperative in any case in respect of the essay ‘What’s a Music Teacher to Do? An Exploration of Opportunities and Obstacles to Personhood and Music Within and Towards the Muslim World’ [pp. 203-218]. One essay [‘Thrice Blessed’, pp. 281-303] is outstanding in its illumination of the essayist’s personal life, his role and responsibilities in worship as a richly blessed synagogue congregation cantor and a full member of the clergy team, his aspirations to extend unconditional hospitality to all, and – beyond his Reformed Jewish synagogue – his work as a music educator. There are also examples of learning how ‘Every Person’s Voice Matters’ from a teacher of transgender singers [pp. 219-242; cf. ‘The Body we Sing’ pp. 35-51]; and some unconventional presentations of profound importance for their writers [ ‘Belonging in Moments’ pp. 263-279; ‘Throbbing Dissonance’ pp. 305-321; ‘Passagio: Learning to Sing an Unfinished Song’ pp. 341-355].

Moving as it were from the personal to the overtly institutional and political, there is salutary reading in an essay from the experience of the Afrikaans Reformed church in South Africa [on ‘The Heterosexual White Man as God’, pp. 53-78], indubitably of relevance beyond its particular context. There is a harrowing essay on ‘Nurturing Vulnerability in Imprisoned Manhood’ [pp. 187-200] which may well enlighten not only the brutality and miseries experienced by imprisoned women as well as men, but also practices of ‘detention’ (including that of children) cross-culturally, of which the UK is an unenviable exemplar. A varied collection, therefore, which breaks new ground.


  • Ann Loades CBE is Professor Emerita of Divinity, University of Durham UK and Honorary Professor in the School of Divinity, University of St Andrews UK.

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