SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Music and Religion in South East Asia

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

This specialist course is designed to run in alternate years to the more general course Music of South East Asia. For students who have taken the latter, this course is intended to allow them to pursue and interest in this topic further; it is also suitable for students new to this subject area and for non-Music students: it might, for example, be paired with other courses in South East Asian history and culture. This course is designed to complement and enhance the Department’s provision of courses on music and religion (for instance, Music, Shamanism and Healing).

Music and religion in South East Asia examines classical, popular and folk musics of the region, focusing on how they interact with religion. Religion in this context includes very diverse local forms as well as major world religions. The diversity of these musical-religious relationships create areas of particular focus, which include mysticism and spiritual practices, reformist movements, community and life-cycle rituals, religiously oriented dramatic forms, spirit mediumship, shamanism and trance, and local interpretations and expressions of religions such as Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, as well as interaction with politics, nationalism, globalisation and tourism.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate an in depth knowledge of particular aspects of South East Asian musics, including the major classical music traditions of Indonesia and mainland South East Asia and of the impact and importance of religion on these forms. Religion here is considered in a general sense, covering such diverse beliefs and behaviours as trance-mediumship and spirit possession and the influence of major world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity on the region.

Through this course the students should gain critical understanding of issues surrounding the use of music in ritual, the impact of religious ideology on musical aesthetics and form, the relationships between music, religion and other global and local forces including political power structures, gender, nationalism, tourism and globalisation.


You will spend two hours per week in lectures.

Scope and syllabus

Outline of lectures:
  1. Introduction to the music cultures and religions of SEA
  2. Central Javanese court culture, gamelan and dance, agami jawi (Javanese religion)
  3. Balinese music in ritual, Balinese Hinduism and reform
  4. Thai classical music: Buddhism, the wai khruu and cremation rituals
  5. Music and shadow puppetry: epic, ritual and ideology
  6. Reading week
  7. Music, spirit mediumship and politics in Vietnam and Burma
  8. Music and Christianity in the Philippines and “outer island” Indonesia
  9. Music and shamanism in Borneo and West Malaysia
  10. Music and Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia
  11. Balinese Calonarang: magic and healing
  12. Balinese Sanghyang and Kecak and the impact of tourism

Method of assessment

One 2,000 words essay (40%);one 2,500 words essay (50%); one listening test (worth 10%).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules